Lewis Hamilton has secured the twentieth Grand Prix win of his career – his first on Italian soil – with a lights-to-flag drive at Monza. Hamilton benefited from the misfortunes of three of his fellow championship rivals, with Jenson Button, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel each failing to finish.
After enduring the disappointment of being knocked out at the first corner of the Belgian Grand Prix just a week before, the Englishman led home the hard-charging Sergio Pérez and Fernando Alonso, who both drove imperiously through the field to complete the podium.
Alonso’s remarkable recovery drive – coupled with the retirements for Vettel, Webber and Button – ensured that the Spaniard was able to extend his lead in the Drivers’ Championship as the chasing pack continued to pick points off one another.
One would have to be a serious F1 ‘anorak’ to recall the last time that three first-lap retirees managed to finish on the podium at the very next Grand Prix, but that was one of several headline items in another exciting chapter of motorsport this year.
With several fast runners starting in the midfield after problems in qualifying – the most notable being Fernando Alonso, Paul di Resta and the two Red Bulls – the run off the grid looked set to deliver more of the same first-lap tears that we had witnessed just a week before.
But for what felt like the first time in a thousand years, there was no accident at Monza’s notoriously tight first corner complex. No doubt the one-race ban imposed on Romain Grosjean had rung loudly in the ears of the entire grid, and everyone was determined to be on their best behaviour and survive the opening lap.
And so it was Hamilton who made a clean getaway from pole, fending off the attentions of a fast-starting Felipe Massa as they headed for the Rettifilo, while Jenson Button settled into third place through the opening sequence of corners.
Michael Schumacher made another good getaway to slip into fourth, while Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel also made early ground from their respective grid slots, gaining a few places to set themselves up for the early phase of the race. Schumacher acted as bit of a roadblock for the opening laps until Vettel and Alonso got ahead to set up their race strategies.
But it was Alonso who was considerably quicker, showing incredible straight-line speed as he worked his way into the top-six, before challenging Vettel for an effective fifth place.
The Spaniard got great traction exiting the first chicane and set himself up for a move on Vettel through the Curva Grande.
Attempting the same trick his rival had tried the year before – that being a sweeping move around the outside of the long right-hander – Alonso found himself run out of road as the German took what looked to be the conventional racing line.
The move sent Alonso slewing off the track and bouncing through the run-off, but undeterred, he kept his foot flat and quickly rejoined without damage, although furiously demanding via the radio that Vettel be penalised for dangerous driving.
And the stewards duly responded to give Alonso’s main championship rival a major kick in the pants, awarding the German a drive-through penalty for failing to respect the ‘one car’s width’ rule dictated by the FIA in a new edict issued after the British Grand Prix. (Interestingly, a largely identical incident between Bruno Senna and Paul di Resta, for which the Force India driver was clearly at fault, went unpunished…)
Vettel was ropable at being dragged into the pits to serve his penalty, duly dropping out of the points as the final laps approached.
Wail as he might against the penalty, Vettel is among the first of many drivers who will fall foul of the FIA’s long-overdue tougher stance on rough driving. While the sport continues to make major strides in improving safety, the standard of driving seems to have slipped, and perhaps the sport’s stars are becoming too complacent in assessing the consequences, and too desperate in the era of overtaking-friendly F1…
Ultimately, it would be academic. Vettel suffered a repeat of his race-ending alternator failure he suffered while leading the European Grand Prix at Valencia, pulling off the circuit with a handful of laps to run.
In what was a truly wretched day for Red Bull Racing, Vettel’s team-mate Mark Webber also retired late in the race. The Australian was set to finish with his best points haul since his win at the British Grand Prix in July, only to suffer a frightening spin as he exited the Ascari chicane. Lucky to avoid spearing into the barriers, Webber opted to pit and retire, with his massively flat-spotted Pirelli tyres resembling fifty-cent pieces after his near-miss with the Armco.
The team’s double-DNF – its first since the 2010 Korean Grand Prix – was a major dent to the lead it held in the Constructors’ Championship standings, with McLaren closing the gap to just 29 points.
All of McLaren’s 25 points – as was the case a week ago – came from the one driver, as this time it was Jenson Button who failed to see the chequered flag, peeling off the circuit with ten laps to go when he suffered a fuel feed problem.
Up at the front, Hamilton serenely cruised to victory. The only time he surrendered the lead was during the pit stop sequences, but quickly redressed that with a straightforward passing move on Pérez, who had steadily climbed through the field after electing to start the race on the harder Pirelli tyres and opt for a single visit to the pits late in the race.
Closing at almost two seconds a lap on Hamilton, fans were left hopeful of another grandstand finish, but he ultimately ran out of laps to close down and overhaul Hamilton, who confidently declared in the post-race press conference that he had the race in hand, regardless of Pérez’s late-race speed.
Nonetheless, it was an exemplary drive from the Sauber driver, which had many questioning if Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo was indeed correct in his claims earlier this year that Pérez was not yet cut out for a seat with the Italian team.
Alonso managed to work his way past Massa and into third place with a neatly-coded radio message to the Brazilian, who duly made it easy for the team’s number-one points scorer to get onto the podium. It was, nevertheless, one of Massa’s better race weekends, but he still remains without that elusive podium finish…
Kimi Räikkönen had a fairly quiet run to fifth place, picking up another ten points to move him ahead of Vettel and Webber in the championship standings and into third overall. While still very much in the championship hunt, the Lotus team is seemingly unable to string an entire race weekend together, and this was another case in point.
Stand-in team-mate Jérôme d’Ambrosio finished a distant thirteenth, slowest of all the drivers bar the usual tail-end trio, and only marginally ahead of Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham. It was hardly the one-off outing the Belgian would have hoped for, but he’d have been mightily lucky to have achieved much more given his lack of F1 mileage this year. An F1 simulator is no substitute for a real car.
Mercedes collected more points with Michael Schummacher and Nico Rosberg chasing Räikkönen over the finish line, but it was another tough outing for the Silver Arrows, who have continued to inexplicably stall since that famous win all those months ago in Shanghai.
The team now lies a very distant fifth in the Constructors’ Championship standings, and with a points haul that totalled six less than those gathered by Sauber (Kamui Kobayashi also picked up two points with ninth), the Brackley-based outfit is rapidly coming under threat from the giant-killing Swiss team, which now lies just 26 points adrift. If Sauber continues to pick up points at this rate against Mercedes, they will easily claim fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship – a feat few would have bet good money on at the start of the season.
Paul di Resta finished in eighth place to move on point ahead of Force India team-mate Nico Hülkenberg in their Force India intra-team battle. Penalised five grid places for a gearbox change after he’d qualified an excellent fourth, the Scot couldn’t translate his one-lap pace into the same kind of speed over 53 laps. Unable to make his tyres last in the final few laps, he was passed by both Mercedes runners.
Bruno Senna managed to avoid di Resta’s uncharacteristically aggressive track defence to finish in tenth place and claim the final points spot, only after he and Pastor Maldonado bulldozed their way by Daniel Ricciardo on the sprint to the finish line.
Ricciardo’s team-mate Jean-Éric Vergne had the most eye-catching incident of the race when he suffered a rear suspension failure while braking for the Rettifilo – the Frenchman was launched over the exit kerbs and landed heavily, bruising his back in the process.
And as the paddock packed up their motorhomes for the final time this year ahead of the remaining seven flyaway races, it was another treat for Formula 1 fans where the veterans mixed it with the sport’s next generation of would-be champions.
A champagne-soaked Lewis Hamilton would enjoy his third win of 2012 and the twentieth of his career, bringing him level on the all-time list with former McLaren driver Mika Häkkinen.
While McLaren is seemingly playing hardball with their star driver over money and trophy rights – with his XIX Management team are feeding a series of Mercedes rumours to the happy tabloids – Hamilton has earned himself a useful bargaining tool in the next two weeks as he tries to secure his future in the sport beyond this year.
Perhaps we’ll have an announcement by Singapore? Then again, perhaps not…
2012 Italian Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (53 laps):
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||53||1:19:41.221|
|2.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber Ferrari C31||53||+ 4.356|
|3.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||53||+ 20.594|
|4.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||53||+ 29.667|
|5.||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus F1 Renault E20||53||+ 30.881|
|6.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||53||+ 31.259|
|7.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||53||+ 33.550|
|8.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM05||53||+ 41.057|
|9.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari C31||53||+ 43.898|
|10.||Bruno Senna||Williams Renault FW34||53||+ 48.144|
|11.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Renault FW34||53||+ 48.682|
|12.||Daniel Ricciardo||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||53||+ 50.316|
|13.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Lotus F1 Renault E20||53||+ 1:15.861|
|14.||Heikki Kovalainen||Caterham Renault CT01||52||1 lap behind|
|15.||Vitaly Petrov||Caterham Renault CT01||52||1 lap behind|
|16.||Charles Pic||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||52||1 lap behind|
|17.||Timo Glock||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||52||1 lap behind|
|18.||Pedro de la Rosa||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||52||1 lap behind|
|19.||Narain Karthikeyan||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||52||1 lap behind|
|20.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||51||Withdrew|
|21.||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India Mercedes VJM05||50||Brakes|
|22.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||47||Alternator|
|DNF.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||32||Fuel Injection|
|DNF.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||8||Suspension|
|Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||53||1:27.239|