Fernando Alonso took an emotional victory in today’s Italian Grand Prix, on his Monza debut with Ferrari.
It was his 24th career victory, which puts him equal with the great Juan Manuel Fangio and perhaps more importantly, puts him right back in the championship hunt with five races to go. He is now just 21 points behind Mark Webber, who regained the lead today.
“I can only compare it to 2006, my win in Barcelona. I touched Jenson’s car in the first corner, it was very stressful. I thought maybe the car will be damaged. But everything was fine.
“Our chance to be champions or not will not depend on the others, we need to find consistency and more podiums.”
Alonso won the race thanks to pit strategy and being ready to attack when Button unexpectedly pitted before him. The McLaren mechanics were 0.8 sec slower on the stop than the Ferrari mechanics, but Button feels the race was lost on his out lap on the hard tyre.
Pre-race expectations had suggested that the soft tyre would be able to last quite a long time, Vettel got them to last until almost the end of the race. The leaders went well beyond half distance and timing when to change them was what decided the outcome.
Jenson Button got the best start and held the lead for 37 laps, but he blinked first, pitted for new tyres and Alonso nicked the win with a stunning lap on worn soft tyres, to undercut the McLaren driver when he stopped a lap later.
Button won the start, holding his line into Turn 1 to lead Alonso, meanwhile the Spaniard had a very determined attack from his team mate to fend off. Alonso’s nose tapped Button’s diffuser in the middle of the first chicane and part of the diffuser few off.
As Alonso and Massa battled on the run to the second chicane, Lewis Hamilton had a run down the inside of Massa and the Ferrari tagged his front right wheel, sending him out of the race. Hamilton was clearly not thinking of the championship when he made that move, it was optimistic to say the least. Hamilton took the full blame, he hasn’t made many mistakes this season but this was a bad one,
“I’m disappointed with myself and sorry for the team. I had a good start, up to fourth and I should have stayed there. I tried to put my car up the inside and I lost position, ” said a crestfallen Hamilton.
Both Red Bull cars again made poor starts; Mark Webber got stuck in no -man’s land, dropping from 4th to 9th, while Vettel lost places to Rosberg, Kubica and Hulkenberg. The two Mercedes made great starts, Rosberg climbing to 4th to 7th, Schumacher from 12th to 8th.
Alonso started attacking Button early on, using his straight line speed advantage, while Massa stayed with them. Rosberg held the Red Bull cars behind him, a gap opening up to the leading trio, of almost a second a lap.
Massa was able to drop out of the slipstream of Alonso’s car and then close up by three tenths in the first sector, indicating that the Ferrari was a faster car than the McLaren in the sectors which feature the straights.
Button was faster in the middle sector and it was enough to prevent a challenge from Ferrari. Button pressed home his advantage around lap 11/12 lapping half a second per lap faster than Alonso, mostly in the middle sector.
The tyres on the Ferrari didn’t like following in the wake of the McLaren and Alonso dropped to 1.5 secs behind.
But the speed was still there as demonstrated by Alonso setting the fastest lap of the race to that point on lap 16.
Alonso closed up the gap as the pit stops approached. Meanwhile Webber was able to pass Vettel for P7, Vettel complaining that his engine was dying on him. But the following lap he set a personal best lap time, having been able to sort the problem by changing settings.
Button lost time behind the Virgin car of Glock, allowing Alonso to close up, but the Spaniard couldn’t get close enough to pass.
An ambulance was in the pit lane around lap 27-30 to attend to a technician in the Hispania garage, who was working on Yamamoto’s car when the Japanese drove off.
The decisive moment came on lap 36 when Button stopped, defying predictions that he could stay out longer than Alonso. He lost the lead a lap later when Alonso made his stop. He came on the radio to ask why they had brought him in, to which they rather lamely replied that the hard tyre was faster, a number cruncher’s decision not a racing one.
McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh argued that the data from Kubica’s car on the hard tyres showed that they were faster, hence the decision and that whatever they had done, Alonso would have beaten Button today.
They expected the new hard tyre to be faster than the worn soft on Alonso’s car – they were wrong. Button was incredibly magnanimous after the race,
“I spent the whole race looking in my mirrors, trying to judge how far Fernando was behind,” said Button. “We pitted one lap early, which possibly was a mistake. The team thought the prime tyre was quicker than the option and they were right, but I couldn’t get the prime going on the out lap. I don’t think it was the right call, but when you have 0.5 sec lead, it’s difficult. Today we had a quick car, but these guys had the edge.”
Webber attacked and passed Hulkenberg on lap 51, putting him sixth, still two places lower than he started.
Vettel stayed out the longest of anyone on the soft tyre, pitting only at the start of the final lap. The tactic worked and he held on to fourth place.
ITALIAN GRAND PRIX, Monza, 53 laps
1. Alonso Ferrari 1h16:24.572
2. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 2.938
3. Massa Ferrari + 4.223
4. Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 28.193
5. Rosberg Mercedes + 29.942
6. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 31.276
7. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth + 32.812
8. Kubica Renault + 34.028
9. Schumacher Mercedes + 44.948
10. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth + 1:04.200
11. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1:05.00
12. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes + 1:06.100
13. Petrov Renault + 1:18.900
14. De la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari + 1 lap
15. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap
16. Sutil Force India-Mercedes + 1 lap
17. Glock Virgin-Cosworth + 2 laps
18. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth + 2 laps
19. Di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth + 2 laps
20. Yamamoto HRT-Cosworth + 2 laps