Italian Grand Prix: Walk in the park for Vettel, but Alonso keeps it alive

Sebastian Vettel led the Italian Grand Prix from start to finish

Sebastian Vettel led the Italian Grand Prix from start to finish

It was second successive victory for Sebastian Vettel as he bagged another easy 25 points at the Italian Grand Prix, while extending his lead at the summit of the world championship table. Fernando Alonso managed to salvage some pride for Ferrari with second place in their home race and keep his title bid alive.

As in Spa, two weeks earlier, Vettel started from pole at Monza and apart from a front wheel lock up into Turn 1 on the opening lap, it was yet another faultless and dominant performance from Red Bull’s triple world champion. His sixth win thus far in a campaign that is slowly but surely edging him towards his fourth title.

As Vettel celebrated, on his slow down lap, he whooped and exclaimed over the radio, “Very good boys, very good race. Sorry for the lock up into the first corner, made the first stint a bit tricky.”

He added on the podium,  “It was a fantastic race but you can hear the difference when you don’t win here in a red suit but it means you have done well and beaten the red men but it was a great team effort today. The race was terrific for both of us, we had problems with the gearboxes at the end, but I was OK because I had a good cushion and it was a fantastic win.”

There was even more joy for the fizzy drinks backed squad as Mark Webber overcame some gearbox issues in the race, which forced him to short shift out of second and third gear corners, and with third place claimed his first ever podium at Monza at his final Formula 1 race on European soil.

Sebastian Vettel celebrates win number six after the Italian Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel celebrates win number six after the Italian Grand Prix

Webber summed up his afternoon,  “I felt a bit better on the tyres at the end of the race. I got better speed out of them. It was a good battle with Alonso but a great team result and thanks to Monza on my final time here in F1.”

In the middle of the Red Bull sandwich in the final standings was Alonso, embroiled in Ferrari politics, the Spaniard set these aside and from fifth on the grid took second place to the delight of the tifosi. The result keeps the Spaniard in the title hunt for now, and with Vettel on a streak damage limitation on the points front was vital. In that sense it was mission accomplished for the Maranello squad.

Alonso said afterwards,  “Second place is good, to have this podium ceremony which is the most spectacular podium of the year. Hopefully we’ll come back next year and have first place.  I’m extremely happy, it’s a good weekend. We had top five for both Ferraris in qualifying, many races we didn’t achieve that. In the race, to be on the podium again is always a unique experience. We did a nearly perfect weekend, but Sebastian won. When someone dominates Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we just need to congratulate him. This is sport, we need to do better soon.”

It was a messy start to the race, as the field hurtled into Turn 1 with Vettel big onto the breaks and behind him cars forced to cut across the chicane after Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus tagged the back of Sergio Perez’s McLaren. When the smoke had settled Webber’s Red Bull was missing a front wing end-plate too, and Raikkonen’s wing was bent.

Paul di Resta was a first lap casualty

Paul di Resta was a first lap casualty

Things got worse when they pummeled into Roggia and Paul di Resta got on the brakes too late and climbed over Romain Grosjean’s Lotus. The latter survived but the Force India was bent out of shape and it was race over for the Scot of Italian heritage.

Raikkonen was forced to stop to and change the front wing of the car. Beyond that there were no other major incidents despite some very close racing – and high speed contests – throughout the field.

Felipe Massa did his bit for Ferrari teammate Alonso, allowing him through into second place unchallenged on lap eight into Turn 1. Thereafter he tried to fend off Webber, but  soon succumbed and settled for fourth place where he remained (apart from a brief period in the pitstop window) pretty much untroubled until the flag dropped on the 53rd lap.

“The race was very good, the start was very good, I overtook two cars straight away. The pace was OK but then the pit stop was the worst problem of race, I lost a position to Mark. That was the only negative point of race. In terms of driving, I did everything in a great way,” said Massa at the end of the afternoon.

Sebastian Vettel's biggest 'moment' was a lock up into Turn 1 at the start

Sebastian Vettel’s biggest ‘moment’ was a lock up into Turn 1 at the start

The star of the weekend was without doubt Nico Hulkenberg who qualified the under performing Sauber in third place on the grid, then proceeded to punch well above his weight to take fifth place and thus providing a much needed boost to his beleaguered team, while doing his shares no harm on an important stage.

The performance promped journalists to ask if he was out to impress Ferrari on their home turf amid uncertainty over their drivers for 2013, Hulkenberg replied,  “It’s definitely something I wouldn’t deny which I’m definitely interested in, it’s a no-brainer. I don’t know if it will happen, time will tell.”

“This is a 100% weekend for [Sauber], after yesterday we had another great day. To finish fifth was probably the right result for us because we only finished behind Red Bull and Ferrari which was great. It was a tough race, keeping Nico [Rosberg] behind me, because he didn’t leave me alone but it was great to get some more points and hopefully that will give us some momentum,” predicted the German.

Sixth place went to Nico Rosberg who started sixth, but the Mercedes driver was never quite at the sharp end of proceedings during the course of the weekend as he has been at some previous races. He pursued fellow Nico to the very end, but was half a second short when they crossed the line.

Italian Grand Prix podium at Monza

Italian Grand Prix podium at Monza

Daniel Ricciardo had a hassle free race in the Toro Rosso, keeping out of trouble the Australian finished seventh after starting from the same position on the grid. His team mate Jean Eric Vergne was luckless again, his day ending early with an engine failure.

Big mover on the day was Romain Grosjean who turned 13th on the grid to eighth with Lotus enduring another below par race weekend, as they did at Spa a fortnight earlier. Raikkonen tried hard to make up for time lost in the first corner incident, but 11th was his reward on the day. The team’s third place target in the constructors’ championship and Raikkonen’s title ambitions took another huge dent.

If Hulkenberg scooped the prize for driver of the weekend, we will give Lewis Hamilton prize for drive of the day. After a woeful qualifying performance, where the Mercedes driver declared “I drove like an idiot” he more than made up for it for a gutsy show stealing display on the day.

He spent the afternoon in battles throughout the field, having started with the (harder) Medium tyre he avoided the first corner melee to emerge tenth where he held station for several laps, while at the same time he lost radio contact with his team. Then it got worse for him as a slow puncture forced him to pit early, dropping him to the back of the field and nullifying his one stop strategy.

The first chicane on the opening lap was messy as it tends to be

The first chicane on the opening lap was messy as it tends to be

What transpired thereafter was pure Hamilton, a racer at his very best as he carved his way through to fifth and making easy work of some of the top names in the game. But he needed another stop while the others, bar Raikkonen, did not. With the softer (white band) tyres bolted on he did it all over again.

From fourteenth he again set about clawing his way back to ninth, muscling his way past both McLarens and Raikkonen in the process.

Hamilton reflected on the radio silence, “It’s almost like driving blind, you don’t know when to pit, when to push and what is going on. It’s awful when you are just empty of energy and have given everything for just two places and that’s it for the championship now.”

“It was a difficult weekend. I am ninth, we should have been much further ahead I am very disappointed with myself. I blew it in qualifying and it was impossible to make up the places. Overall it was a disaster of a weekend,” added the 2008 world champion.

It was a big result for Red Bull which prompted Adrian Newey to be sent up to the podium to celebrate with Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel

It was a big result for Red Bull which prompted Adrian Newey to be sent up to the podium to celebrate with Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel

McLaren dominated the very same race last year but, despite showing signs of a revival on the first two days, they were simply well below par when it mattered in the race. A solitary point was their only reward at the end of the grand prix marking their 50th year in Formula 1.

Final word to Red Bull boss Christian Horner, whose team celebrated their 40th grand prix victory, “Sebastian has been amazing here this weekend. His only mistake has made was on the rundown to Turn One, when he locked up. That was a great team performance today. It’s a great victory for us, but there’s still 175 points left. Anything can happen but we’re in a healthy position.” (GP247)

Subbed by AJN.

Italian Grand Prix, Race Result from Monza – Sunday, 8 September 2013

Pos No Driver Team Laps Time Grid Pts
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 53 Winner 1 25
2 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 53 +5.4 secs 5 18
3 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 53 +6.3 secs 2 15
4 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 53 +9.3 secs 4 12
5 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 53 +10.3 secs 3 10
6 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 53 +10.9 secs 6 8
7 19 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 53 +32.3 secs 7 6
8 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 53 +33.1 secs 13 4
9 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 53 +33.5 secs 12 2
10 5 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 53 +38.3 secs 9 1
11 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 53 +38.6 secs 11
12 6 Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 53 +39.7 secs 8
13 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 53 +40.8 secs 16
14 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 53 +49.0 secs 14
15 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 53 +56.8 secs 18
16 15 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 52 +1 Lap 17
17 20 Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 52 +1 Lap 20
18 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 52 +1 Lap 19
19 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 52 +1 Lap 21
20 23 Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 52 +1 Lap 22
Ret 18 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 14 +39 Laps 10
Ret 14 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 0 Accident 15

Note – Sutil qualified 14th but was penalised three grid spots for impeding Lewis Hamilton during Q2.

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