Lewis Hamilton was never threatened as he dominated a dramatic Italian GP in Monza ahead of inspired displays from Sergio Perez and Fernando Alonso.
It was Hamilton’s third win of the season and the 20th of his career as well as one of the most dominant. Once he’d got clear at the start, he was able to control the race on a one stop strategy and even a surprise late charge from Perez was containable.
“I was cruising,” admitted Hamilton. “The last 20 laps I had a 14 second gap. At the time Felipe was behind and even though I was cruising, he was going slower than me and then I heard that Fernando had overtook (sic), and it was Fernando who began to catch so then I pulled out a little bit more time and matched his time just to keep it relaxed and then this guy here [Pérez] started catching me at a second a lap. So probably the last four laps I started to push a little bit more, just to maintain a little bit more of the gap.
“I think Ferrari were as quick as us this weekend. At least as quick as us this weekend. I think if Fernando had better qualifying, I’m sure he would have been up there with me and made the race perhaps a little bit harder than it was. We need to stay on it to try to continue to compete with them.”
Perez fought his way through from 12th on the grid to second, while Alonso started 10th and ended up third. He survived a scare when Sebastian Vettel put him on the grass at over 300km/h as they battled mid way through the race. Vettel was given a drive through penalty, but the Spaniard is likely to pursue the discussion behind closed doors with his fell champion over the incident.
There was quite a bit of unreliability; Vettel suffered a repeat of the alternator failure which forced him to retire in Valencia and hit him again in practice in Monza. Jenson Button had a fuel pick up problem which robbed him of second place.
It was a day when Alonso put himself back in the driving seat of the World Championship as the season heads out of Europe as both Red Bulls failed to make the finish and the Ferrari driver saw his lead stretch to 37 points over Hamilton, who is now second.
McLaren closed the gap to Red Bull in the Constructor’s Championship to just 29 points.
The victory for Hamilton and McLaren in Ferrari’s back yard comes amid increasingly strong rumours that Hamilton is heading for Mercedes next season, leaving behind the team that brought him to F1 and took him to the 2008 title.
It had looked very much like a one-two result for McLaren as Jenson Button also drove a very strong race. But it was not to be as he pulled over with a fuel pick up issue in the closing stages in what could have put McLaren just 11 points from Red Bull. This is McLaren’s first hat-trick of victories since 2008 and will continue to be the team to beat for the remainder of the season, but if Alonso continues to move through the field as he did today it will take another streak of victories from Hamilton to overhaul him with the Spaniard’s consistency.
The leading cars were able to complete the race with just one stop and with more ease then was initially predicted. Perez used a set of the hard prime tyre in the opening phase of the Grand Prix and was able to use Sauber’s kindness on its tyres to cover 30 laps in the first stint and the remaining 23 laps on the option tyre, moving through the field in the process and closing towards Hamilton in the final few laps.
With Hamilton out of sight for much of the Grand Prix there was many battles behind, with Alonso making his way past four cars on the opening lap and then hunting down Vettel and Massa he looked set for a second place finish. And when Massa let the Championship leader through with 10 laps remaining the Brazilian came under pressure from Perez as the Brazilian’s first podium since 2010 began to slip away. Massa had a very good get away from the start line and went in to the first turn alongside Hamilton, but had to slot in to second. He held this position for the first phase of the race in his strongest showing of the season, but a superb drive by next year’s potential Ferrari driver Perez has not let off any pressure.
Behind, Kimi Raikkonen and the Mercedes duo had a fairly uneventful race as Mercedes made two stops and could not match the pace of those ahead. It had always been the plan for Mercedes to make an extra stop with their cars being harder on the tyres than the three leading teams.
Raikkonen stopped once on lap 17 and did 36 laps on a set of hard tyres, he was catching Massa at the end and finished just one second behind him. Another lap and he would have taken fourth. He now lies third in the championship on 141 points, one less than Hamilton; quite an astonishing comeback from two years in rallying.
The only major incident of the race, apart from Vettel and Alonso’s clash, came for Jean-Eric Vergne when his rear suspension failed under braking and he got air borne after spinning across the “sausage” kerbs at turn one.
One final point about the three drivers who stood on the podium today – they were the three “victims” of Romain Grosjean’s start line pile up last weekend in Spa. Funny how things turn around!
[Additional Reporting: Matt Meadows]
* Watch out for the UBS Race Strategy Report on Tuesday with a full analysis of how Sergio Perez’s strategy got him from 12th to 2nd.
ITALIAN GRAND PRIX, Monza, 53 laps
1. Hamilton McLaren 1h19:41.221
2. Perez Sauber + 4.356
3. Alonso Ferrari + 20.594
4. Massa Ferrari + 29.667
5. Raikkonen Lotus + 30.881
6. Schumacher Mercedes + 31.259
7. Rosberg Mercedes + 33.550
8. Di Resta Force India + 41.057
9. Kobayashi Sauber + 43.898
10. Senna Williams + 48.144
11. Maldonado Williams + 48.682
12. Ricciardo Toro Rosso + 50.316
13. d’Ambrosio Lotus + 1:15.861
14. Kovalainen Caterham + 1 lap
15. Petrov Caterham + 1 lap
16. Pic Marussia + 1 lap
17. Glock Marussia + 1 lap
18. De la Rosa HRT + 1 lap
19. Karthikeyan HRT + 1 lap
20. Webber Red Bull + 2 laps
21. Hulkenberg Force India + 3 laps
22. Vettel Red Bull + 6 laps