Red Bull had put their cars on the front row again, as you might expect. And with Vettel on pole, the fear was that he would run away with the race as usual, leaving the viewers at home and the Italian tifosi with a pretty boring race to watch.
Vettel’s nearest Championship rivals were nowhere to be seen. The closest was Alonso, in fifth. But it had been a dismal qualifying session for both Raikkonen and Hamilton ¬– who failed to make it into Q3 – and started from 11th and 13th respectively.
The only hope the fans clung onto was the rain. It had already drizzled a bit before the race started, but had stopped by the time the formation lap began – meaning the drivers were free to start the race on the slick tyres.
There was a 60% chance of rain during the race, and many fans hoped this would ruin Vettel’s chance of running away with another victory. But sadly the rain never materialised, which was good news for the teams – though bad news for those of us hoping for an exciting afternoon’s racing…
Vettel got a great start off the grid. The Ferraris were flying, too – but it was Massa not Alonso who overtook Webber for second place, leaving his furious team mate with a lot of work to do back in fourth.
By lap three, Alonso had cruised up right behind Webber, and overtook him in a breathtaking move on the outside of the second chicane.
Lap eight saw Alonso pass team mate Massa in an altogether easier move – and Massa confirmed after the race that he’d been asked to move aside to let Ferrari’s number one driver past. It was hardly surprising, given that Massa’s fighting for a place in the team next year.
But while Massa was proving his worth as a Ferrari driver by complying with team orders, the man hotly tipped to take his place in 2014 – Nico Hulkenberg – was proving his raw pace in the Sauber not far behind.
He’d started the race from an impressive third. Nobody realistically expected him to finish the race in the same place, especially after he slipped back to fifth on the opening lap.
But the young German was determined to prove that he can mix it with the big boys at the front. He had an ongoing tussle with Rosberg’s Mercedes in sixth place for much of the race – a battle in which you’d expect Rosberg to come out on top.
But after a mistake on lap 36 where he went off the track while trying to overtake, Rosberg couldn’t quite catch his rival, and Hulkenberg was to remain in fifth for the rest of the race. It was certainly a good advertisement for the talented young driver at a time when he’s almost certainly looking for a new team for next season.
Out front, Vettel was still in the lead. He’d flat-spotted his front right tyre after a massive lock up in the first corner, and the team were keeping a close eye on the tyre in case it gave them any trouble later on in the first stint.
It looked as if Vettel may have to pit earlier to get rid of the offending tyre, switching him from a one to two-stop strategy. But as the one-stop window opened on lap 20, with Grosjean the first of the big names stopping, Vettel still hadn’t been in for a change of rubber.
It was lap 24 when Vettel finally came in to change his tyres – perfectly on course for one stop. Webber came straight in behind as Red Bull conducted a faultless double pit stop, getting both their drivers out exactly where they wanted them, with Webber leapfrogging Massa in the process.
Alonso was now up into first place, and clearly relishing leading the race in front of the Ferrari tifosi. But Vettel was flying behind him on the fresh tyres, and it was obvious that Alonso needed to pit ASAP if he was to stand any chance of keeping in touch with the Red Bull driver.
But for some reason, Alonso opted to stay out for a few laps longer. It was lap 28 before he finally came in to the pits – and although he headed back out into second place, he was now a whole 10 seconds behind Vettel, leaving him with a lot of work to do for the remainder of the race.
Further back, there was a lot of exciting racing going on. Despite their terrible qualifying positions, both Hamilton and Raikkonen were absolutely flying, trading fastest laps and giving the fans some thrilling overtakes to watch.
Neither of them had the best of starts. Raikkonen had contact with Perez on the opening lap, causing him to lose part of his front wing. He’d pitted at the end of lap one for fresh tyres – which actually gave him an advantage as he came back out onto the track on the faster medium compound.
Meanwhile, Hamilton hadn’t been making much gain in the first stint on the harder tyres. He was called into the pits on lap 12 with a slow puncture – but his radio wasn’t working, so he couldn’t hear the call. Cue some frantic pit board waving by the team, and eventually Hamilton sauntered into the pits two laps later to put on a fresh set of boots.
He came out in 19th and last place, just behind Kimi. It seemed as though this race was over for both of them. But on their new tyres, the pair were soon matching Vettel’s pace out front and eventually managed to claw their way up towards the top ten.
Their pace was blistering, and certainly proved exciting in the final stages of the race, when it became evident that we were on course for a Vettel win once again. Both Hamilton and Raikkonen were just on the bubble of scoring points, and their scrap in the last few laps proved to be the most compelling part of the race.
Hamilton eventually finished in ninth place, while Raikkonen just missed out on a point in 11th. It was a disappointing end to the race for both drivers, who knew that their cars had the race pace, but had been hampered by their poor showing in qualifying yesterday.
Which begs the question: if they’d both made it through to Q3, could we have had a much more thrilling race this afternoon? And would the drivers’ championship look much less like a done deal had they been able to challenge Vettel for a win today?
At the front, Alonso was still pushing – but there was just no chance of catching Vettel. In fact, he spent much of the final stint looking in his mirrors as the Red Bull of Mark Webber closed in on him, and threatened to overtake Alonso for second position on the podium.
Alonso’s only saving grace was the fact that both Red Bulls were suffering from gearbox problems. They’d been told to short shift for the rest of the race to avoid any more issues. It was enough to keep Webber at bay for the remaining few laps – but with Vettel still over 10 seconds out in front, even his problems weren’t enough to stop him being first past the chequered flag.
There were only two retirements from the race – Di Resta went out on the first lap, after running into the back of Grosjean and losing a wheel. Paul held up his hands and admitted that the incident was entirely his own fault. But the stewards still felt the incident warranted an investigation after the race, resulting in a reprimand for Di Resta.
The second retirement was Vergne, who stopped on lap 16 with smoke coming out of the back of his car. It was a dismal end to the weekend for the Toro Rosso driver, while team mate Ricciardo was riding high on his seventh place finish, having just been announced as a Red Bull driver for next year.
It was also a weekend to forget for McLaren. They may have been celebrating the team’s 50th birthday, but that was certainly the only reason they had to smile in Monza.
Button was lucky to make it out onto the grid at all, after a fuel pump problem was discovered just before the race. The mechanics worked hard to rectify it, and Button was able to make the start. But despite some nice battles with former team mate Hamilton, he only just managed to scrape into the points in ninth place.
Perez was caught up in a first lap incident with Raikkonen, and things went downhill from there. Despite being ahead of Button by the time the pit-stop window opened, he opted to let his team mate go first.
But a quick stop for Button and a slow one for Perez meant the Mexican came out behind the Brit, and he ended up finishing the race outside the points in 12th place.
As the European season draws to a close and we look towards Singapore in two weeks’ time, it looks as though the drivers’ championship is all but sewn up – unless another team can suddenly find an answer to Red Bull’s pace.
It’s surely as frustrating for the teams as it is for the fans watching. But is there anything F1 as a whole can do to match Vettel’s raw speed and make the F1 circus thrilling for us all to watch again? By Sarah Ellis
Italian Grand Prix race results:
1. Sebastian Vettel Germany Red Bull-Renault 53 laps 1hr 18m 33.352s
2. Fernando Alonso Spain Ferrari-Ferrari +00m 05.4s
3. Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault +00m 06.3s
4. Felipe Massa Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +00m 09.3s
5. Nico Hulkenberg Germany Sauber-Ferrari +00m 10.3s
6. Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes-Mercedes +00m 10.9s
7. Daniel Ricciardo Australia Toro Rosso-Ferrari +00m 32.3s
8. Romain Grosjean France Lotus-Renault +00m 33.1s
9. Lewis Hamilton Britain Mercedes-Mercedes +00m 33.5s
10. Jenson Button Britain McLaren-Mercedes +00m 38.3s
11. Kimi Raikkonen Finland Lotus-Renault +00m 38.6s
12. Sergio Perez Mexico McLaren-Mercedes +00m 39.7s
13. Esteban Gutierrez Spain Sauber-Ferrari +00m 40.8s
14. Pastor Maldonado Venezuela Williams-Renault +00m 49.0s
15. Valtteri Bottas Finland Williams-Renault +00m 56.8s
16. Adrian Sutil Germany Force India-Mercedes +1 lap
17. Charles Pic France Caterham-Renault +1 lap
18. Giedo van der Garde Holland Caterham-Renault +1 lap
19. Jules Bianchi France Marussia-Cosworth +1 lap
20. Max Chilton Britain Marussia-Cosworth +1 lap
Rtd Jean-Eric Vergne France Toro Rosso-Ferrari 14 laps completed
Rtd Paul di Resta Britain Force India-Mercedes 0 laps completed