Italian GP: Hamilton wins as Red Bull falter
Lewis Hamilton led from start to finish to win the Italian GP in sublime fashion on a day of high drama and misfortune at Monza.
Last Updated: 09/09/12 6:26pm
And for once the drama wasn't centred on Lewis Hamilton. While the McLaren driver enjoyed the virtues of the quiet life as he cruised to a relatively comfortable victory in the Italian GP, controversy and torment raged behind him on a day of wildly contrasting fortunes for the World Championship contenders.
For while the faultless Hamilton was the big winner on the road, his joy was matched by that of Fernando Alonso as the Spaniard salvaged a podium finish after starting tenth on the grid to extend his advantage in a compelling and utterly unpredictable World Championship battle that he now heads from his former McLaren team-mate.
With the MP4-27 quickening with every race, it appears that a season which has already produced so much excitement and theatre is approaching its conclusion with the promise of a titanic fight to the finish between the two most renowned drivers of their generation.
In any case, this was certainly a day to be mutually appreciated by Alonso and Hamilton as their rivals faltered. With Jenson Button's title hopes effectively surrendered by his retirement from what had appeared to be a comfortable second place, Red Bull's ambitions in both championships were rocked by the double DNFs of reigning champion Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.
With an ecstatic Sergio Perez crossing the line in a career-best second place, can there have ever been a more satisfied podium? And what a contrast from last Sunday when Hamilton, Perez and Alonso were the first-corner victims of Romain Grosjean's misadventure. A week is a long time in F1.
The sight of Perez zipping past first Massa and Alonso on Ferrari's home soil as Sauber successfully rolled the dice on strategy will only heighten the expectation that the young Mexican will, sooner rather than later, be on the move to Maranello. Perez's joy, though, might be tinged by a pertinent 'if only' given the rate he hauled in Hamilton at the end of the race before running out of laps.
Yet this was nonetheless a deserved victory for Hamilton and one which made a mockery of any thought that the 27-year-old would be distracted by the tidal wave speculation which has enveloped him for the past week. After holding off a fast-starting Felipe Massa into the first corner, Hamilton delivered a masterclass in frontrunning driving to claim his first win at Monza and McLaren's third in succession. In this sort of form, and with this sort of performance advantage, his 37-point deficit to Alonso is more than redeemable.
"It's incredibly close between us and the Ferraris, and obviously the Saubers were incredibly quick this weekend, but we've done a fantastic job," a delighted Hamilton told Sky Sports F1. "We came with a really good package for the last couple of races and it's been a shame I have not got the maximum I needed to get from the performance that we've had for the last few races.
"But obviously to have two wins in the last three grands prix is good and I hope that we can continue with that pace."
Alonso, though, is proving a master at salvage operations and looked to be at the peak of his powers as he muscled past the twin disappointments of Mercedes and Lotus in the opening seven laps.
Alonso's subsequent duel with Vettel was arguably the highlight of the race and certainly the most controversial with the stewards judging the World Champion to have overstepped the mark when Alonso was forced on to the grass as he attempted to pass the Red Bull. Though a marginal call it was a judgement made academic by Vettel's retirement on the World Champions' worst day since Turkey 2010.
Webber had least looked set to rescue some useful points heading into the final laps but, after being overtaken by the newly-tyred Mercedes of Schumacher, the Aussie took too much kerb on the inside of Ascari and spun 180 degrees on exit. Though his trip through the grass somehow saw Webber avoid the barriers, the resulting flat spots on his tyres forced him into retirement.
"Towards the end of the race, I had no rear tyres left and I was pushing reasonably hard. Rosberg was coming on his fresh two-stop tyres, so I had to keep pushing and staying on it - for the sake of getting a couple of points, maybe I shouldn't have pushed as hard, but I was trying to stay on it," Webber explained later.
"The rear tyres were completely finished, so I dropped it out of the Ascari chicane; I managed to keep it off the wall, but then the tyres were so heavily flat-spotted, I was worried about damaging the car. We do 330 km/h round here, I couldn't see the track, so we decided to retire."
After inheriting the Australian's sixth place, Schumacher then stormed up to the back of Kimi Raikkonen who had experienced his most low-key afternoon for several months - although one which yet again yielded a handy amount of points to keep the Lotus driver, mathematically at least, as much in the title hunt as Hamilton.
But appearances can be deceptive. The much-fancied E20 has seemingly had its wings clipped since the season's resumption by the inability of the Lotus team to make its 'Double DRS' device race-ready and, with the McLaren victorious at Budapest, Spa and now Monza, there is no doubting which car has been developed into the fastest of the field as the season enters its decisive period.
Hamilton's long-term future might remain clouded in uncertainty, but his short-term prospects are beginning to gain a tantalising momentum. Remind us again, why would he want to leave?