9 Sep 2012

F1 - Italian Grand Prix at Monza - Race Review

At the first F1 race run at Monza in 1922 only three cars finished.    Only eight started.  The others withdrew following a fatal accident in practice that claimed the life of Gregor Khune in his Daimler.  Pietro Bordini won in a Fiat.

Since that first race the Italian Grand Prix at Monza has claimed the lives of a further thirteen drivers during grand prix weekends as well as a further 52 spectators and officials.

Monza is the fastest track on the F1 calendar and, following the first corner accident at Spa last weekend, the drivers pulled away from the line and threaded through the first corner chicane with due respect to each other - notwithstanding Grosjean's one race ban.

The first three on the grid - Hamilton, Button, Massa - pulled away cleanly but Button's McLaren didn't quite have the pace of the Ferrari off the line and Felipe Massa edged ahead of him into the first corner.

Sergio Perez, thirteenth on the grid, got off to a good start - more of him later.

The first few laps saw little action at the front as Hamilton pulled away from Massa who held a few seconds to Button.  Behind them the field remained close together with various cars passing and attempting to pass each other. 

Paul DiResta in his Force India fell backwards from fourth on the grid and soon fell into the clutches of Bruno Senna when the two had a ding dong of a battle at Variante Ascari which ultimately Senna won.

On lap 10 Jean Eric Vergne had a frightening moment when his suspension collapsed on the pit straight and his Torro Rosso spun and hit the kerbs at turn one sideways on, flinging him brielfy into the air.

Also on lap 10 we found that the Mercedes of Rosberg and Schumacher would be the only top cars who would be stopping twice - everyone else was due for one stop.

Sure enough on lap 16 Schumacher came in from 6th place and re-entered the race in 15th.  He would need to put in some demon laps to regain position.

Raikkonen inherited 6th from Schumacher but shortly afterwards Perez's Sauber came flying past him to take the position.  On the next lap Kimi pitted and came out in 14th - just ahead of Schumacher.

On lap 19 we learned that Felipe Massa's Ferrari was sending no telemetry to the Ferrari pit.  Whether that slowed him or not we do not know but Jenson Button in his McLaren put a lovely move on him to take second.

The McLarens were running first and second and looking imperious.

On lap 23 Button pitted - a long stop at 4.8 seconds - and came out in 3rd.  On lap 24 Hamilton pitted and came out in 2nd, just behind Perez who was yet to stop.

Lap 26 and Fernando Alonso, chasing down Sebastian Vettel, tried to overtake the Red Bull round the outside of Curve Grande.  Vettel gave Alonso half a car's width which meant Alonso taking to the gravel (yes, gravel) round the outside of the corner.  Alonso recovered and slotted in behind Vettel who shortly afterwards received a drive through penalty for his imprudence.

On lap 29 Hamilton caught and passed Perez.  On lap 30 Perez pitted and came out in 7th.  The top positions were Hamilton, Button, Massa, Alonso, Vettel (yet to take his drive through), Schumacher, Raikkonen, Perez, Rosberg and Webber.

One lap later Vettel took his penalty.  The lap after that Jenson Button's McLaren ground to a halt.  His team told him over the radio it had been a fuel pick-up problem.  Massa was now second and Alonso third.

On lap 37 Perez overtook Raikkonen in a breathtaking move into Variante della Roggio.

He then set off after the Ferraris catching them at 2 seconds a lap.  Within a few laps it became apparent Massa was holding Alonso up and the Brazilian received a radio message and moved over to allow Alonso to scarper off.

But neither Ferrari scarpered off fast enough for, within a few laps, Perez had overtaken both of them.  The Sauber, with the same engine as the Ferrari's, was simply faster.

On lap 48 Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull coasted to a halt on the pit stop - the team screaming down the radio for him to turn the engine off to save it from being destroyed.

Not long afterwards Mark Webber, in seventh, spun his Red Bull coming out of Variante Ascari.  he retired with huge flat spots on his tyres.  Both Red Bulls out, one McLaren retired.  Despite running in third this was looking good for Alonso's championship.

Lewis Hamilton crossed the finish line in first place.  Perez was second and Alonso third.  The rest of the top ten were Massa, Raikkonen, Schumacher, Rosberg, DiResta, Kobayashi and Senna.

Perez' performance was extraordinary.  Thirteenth to second with no help from safety cars or rain.  Yes, Button, Vettel and Webber retired but given his pace Perez would surely have been battling with Button for second place regardless.

F1 has given us some fantastic races in recent times thanks, in part, to Pirelli, DRS and KERS, but, as Martin Brundle remarked, these aids seem to have given the drivers the confidence to attack in places deemed impossible to overtake a few years ago.

F1 is safer, but also more exciting than ever.  The championship now seems to be down to Alonso and Hamilton.  Button gave himself a boost at Spa but, with his retirement at Monza, now seems consigned to fighting for 3rd rather than 1st.  The Red Bulls can be fast but their fragility seems to have resurfaced.

McLaren have won 3 races in a row.  Hamilton may be 37 points behind Alonso but has the impetus.  Ferrari may always be there or thereabouts but the McLaren is the currently fastest car.

The rest if the season should be spellbinding.