Sebastian Vettel is now looking almost certain to make it four consecutive World Drivers’ Championship, after taking a dominant victory at Monza ahead of his main (and now realistically only) title rival, Fernando Alonso. Vettel is 53 points ahead of Alonso at the top of the drivers’ table with seven races remaining in the season.
To put Vettel’s lead into perspective: If Alonso wins the next two races and Vettel takes a two-race holiday, Vettel will still have a three point lead going into the Japanese Grand Prix on 13 October.
Another illustration: If Vettel comes second in each of the remaining seven races, he will take the title, even if Alonso wins every time. Vettel’s lead is massive.
And how did Vettel get to this point? By taking yet another comfortable and controlled victory. This time it was at Ferrari’s home race, which is at least part of the reason for all the booing directed at him on the podium. Vettel led from the start, losing the lead only briefly when he pitted earlier than a couple of the cars running close to the front. As soon as they changed tyres, he was back in the lead and far enough in front that there was never any real threat to him from Alonso and Webber behind.
Alonso played his part superbly, making an aggressive pass on Webber when the opportunity presented itself and accepting a position from Felipe Massa when it was offered. But ultimately, the Ferrari was no match for the Red Bull and Alonso had no real chance of catching Vettel. Even in the closing stages, when Vettel was told by his team to manage a potential gearbox issue, Alonso was not quick enough to catch Vettel by the chequered flag.
Mark Webber stood on the podium for the first time at Monza, by taking third place for Red Bull. It’s the last time Webber will stand on the podium at a European Formula One race, as the European season is now over and Webber is leaving Formula One at the end of 2013. He looked quite pleased with his performance at Monza, but was not altogether thrilled at the booing directed at Vettel by the crowd. Webber, like many viewers, thought it was in bad taste.
Felipe Massa had a strong race without as much reward as he perhaps deserved. He finished fourth for Ferrari, but it could easily have been third had he not lost out to Webber as a result of pit strategy. Massa passed Webber off the start line and stayed ahead until the first round of pitstops, but emerged from the pits behind Webber. From then on, Massa as unable to make much of an impact on the Red Bull ahead, and finished 3 seconds behind Webber.
Arguably the drive of the day came from Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg, who finished a very impressive fifth after qualifying an astonishing third on Saturday. Hulkenberg lost two places on the opening lap, but then held position until the end of the race, except for a brief period when Kimi Raikkonen was ahead of him through use of a different strategy. Ultimately, however, Raikkonen had to pit again, which gave the place back to Hulkenberg. It’s his highest finish for Sauber and Sauber’s strongest result of the season, which will certainly have buoyed the Swiss team.
Hulkenberg is one candidate to take the place of Felipe Massa at Ferrari in 2014. An announcement is expected from Maranello in the next few days. Hulkenberg’s performance at Monza demonstrates quite clearly that he is worthy of a drive in a stronger team. If not Ferrari, there will no doubt be other teams interested in signing him for next season, possibly including the Lotus team.
Mercedes had a tough Sunday afternoon. Nico Rosberg started and finished sixth, and was unable to make much of an impression on Nico Hulkenberg, despite being quite close to the Sauber throughout the race. Lewis Hamilton had a strong start from 12th on the grid, and was up to 10th on the opening lap, but an early slow puncture wrecked his strategy and Hamilton had his work cut out to score points with the disadvantage of making an extra pitstop. To add to that, his radio was not working for almost the entire race, which meant the team had only the pit board to use for communication with their driver.
Hamilton nonetheless put in an entertaining drive and finished ninth after fighting his way through the field from 14th after his second pitstop. It was, however, not enough to keep him realistically in with a chance of taking the 2013 Drivers’ Championship, which he admitted was now out of reach after the race.
Daniel Ricciardo celebrated his recent signing for Red Bull by finishing seventh for Toro Rosso, exactly where he started. He was followed home by Romain Grosjean’s Lotus, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes and the McLaren of Jenson Button, who took home a single point after a frustrating Sunday.
Button’s problems started before the race even began, when a problem was discovered with his fuel system. The McLaren team had their work cut out to repair the car in time for Button to make the grid, which they managed, but then in the race, Button and Perez discovered they lacked straight-line speed compared to their rivals. It turned out that McLaren had miscalculated when choosing gear ratios for the race, and had selected a top gear that was slightly too short. Consequently, Button and Perez were handicapped in any battles they had on the track. One point was a small victory for Button considering the circumstances.
Force India’s day was a disaster. Paul Di Resta misjudged his braking for the second chicane on the opening lap and cannoned into the back of Romain Grosjean’s Lotus, destroying the front of the Force India in the process and putting him out of the race. Surprisingly, Grosjean seemed quite unaffected by the incident and went on to finish eighth. Force India’s troubles weren’t over, however, and Adrian Sutil retired from the race at the end of the penultimate lap with a brake issue. He was not in the points at the time, so the retirement cost him nothing, but it was the end of a miserable weekend for Force India.
Williams were another team that went unrewarded for a weekend’s hard work. Maldonado and Bottas had an incident-free race, but just did not have the pace to challenge for points. It was a little surprising to see them struggle so much, as Maldonado in particular had been quite confident about the race pace of his Williams after qualifying on Saturday.
Formula One now heads to Asia for a few races, the first of which is the Singapore Grand Prix on 22 September.
Full results from the Italian Grand Prix:
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||53||Winner||1||25|
|2||3||Fernando Alonso||Ferrari||53||+5.4 secs||5||18|
|3||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull||53||+6.3 secs||2||15|
|4||4||Felipe Massa||Ferrari||53||+9.3 secs||4||12|
|5||11||Nico Hulkenberg||Sauber||53||+10.3 secs||3||10|
|6||9||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes||53||+10.9 secs||6||8|
|7||19||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso||53||+32.3 secs||7||6|
|8||8||Romain Grosjean||Lotus||53||+33.1 secs||13||4|
|9||10||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||53||+33.5 secs||12||2|
|10||5||Jenson Button||McLaren||53||+38.3 secs||9||1|
|11||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus||53||+38.6 secs||11|
|12||6||Sergio Perez||McLaren||53||+39.7 secs||8|
|13||12||Esteban Gutierrez||Sauber||53||+40.8 secs||16|
|14||16||Pastor Maldonado||Williams||53||+49.0 secs||14|
|15||17||Valtteri Bottas||Williams||53||+56.8 secs||18|
|16||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India||52||+1 Lap||17|
|17||20||Charles Pic||Caterham||52||+1 Lap||20|
|18||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham||52||+1 Lap||19|
|19||22||Jules Bianchi||Marussia||52||+1 Lap||21|
|20||23||Max Chilton||Marussia||52||+1 Lap||22|
|Ret||18||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||14||+39 Laps||10|
|Ret||14||Paul di Resta||Force India||0||Accident||15|