Sebastian Vettel is one step closer to a second world championship today with a relatively straightforward victory at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza.
Jenson Button put in a decent drive to finish second ahead of Fernando Alonso. Lewis Hamilton, who spent a significant proportion of the race trying to get past a super-defensive Michael Schumacher, just missed out on a podium position in fourth.
Schumacher drove an excellent race to take fifth place, meaning that the top five finishers consisted exclusively of world champions.
Felipe Massa was sixth, whilst Jaime Alguersuari, who started in eighteenth, scored a decent haul of points by finishing seventh. Paul di Resta finished eighth and Bruno Senna scored his first ever F1 points by finishing ninth. Sebastien Buemi was tenth.
Mark Webber recorded Red Bull's first DNF since last year's Korean Grand Prix after an early collision with Massa, allowing team-mate Vettel to significantly increase his lead in the drivers' championship. That lead now stands at 112 points and, if Vettel can add another thirteen to that lead next time out in Singapore, he will be world champion.
It was a hot day in Monza and there was a lot of talk before the race about tyre wear and blistering. All this talk took a backseat though after some exciting and very eventful opening laps.
Fernando Alonso got a great start off the line and was leading into the first corner. Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton were banging wheels down the start/finish straight but entered the first corner in second and third place respectively. Michael Schumacher got another excellent start and was up from eight to fourth on the first lap.
Further down the grid, Vitantonio Liuzzi lost control of his HRT down the opening straight. He slid in the first corner side-ways, clattering into Vitaly Petrov. Nico Rosberg also got caught up in the accident and was forced to retire whilst several others needed early pit stops to repair minor damage to bodywork.
All this brought the safety car out for the first four laps of the grand prix whilst the marshals cleared the stricken cars. All the drivers involved were unhurt.
On the restart, Schumacher caught Hamilton napping and got himself up into third place whilst Vettel was quickly on the back of the Alonso's Ferrari. On Lap 5 the world champion made it past Alonso but Mark Webber, who was stuck behind Felipe Massa, crashed into the back of the Ferrari, lost his front wing, and sent the Brazilian driver into a spin. On recovering to the pits, Webber still had part of his front wing stuck beneath the car, lost steering, and ended his race in the barrier. Massa recovered from his spin, albeit now down in tenth place.
At the front, the top five consisted of Vettel, Alonso, Schumacher, Hamilton and Jenson Button. Schumacher against Hamilton was the most intense battle between the five, but Hamilton was having difficulty matching the top speed of Schumacher's Mercedes, even with help of DRS.
By the end of Lap 10, Vettel had a lead of six seconds from Alonso, and was quickly disappearing into the distance. Alonso was not in a position to challenge the Red Bull and Hamilton, who probably could catch him, was stuck behind Schumacher.
Finally, at the start of Lap 13, Hamilton got back from an impressive Schumacher in the first corner of the lap. However, Schumacher used DRS to get back past the McLaren, and now Jenson Button was catching the battling pair.
On Lap 16, just as Schumacher was complaining of rear tyre degredation, Hamilton was forced out on the grass by the Mercedes driver, and Button made it past his team-mate. He got past Schumacher within a couple of corners, something that Schumacher had been unable to do for over ten laps. Schumacher pitted at the end of that laps, finally releasing Hamilton.
Button was in the pits at the end of Lap 17. He re-joined in fifth, still ahead of Schumacher. Hamilton pitted on the next lap, but came out, once again, behind Schumacher.
Fernando Alonso, who had been running second, took his first pit stop at the end of Lap 19. He emerged in third, behind team-mate Felipe Massa, who was still yet to stop. Race leader Vettel pitted next, and re-emerged comfortably in the lead.
Still the battle with Hamilton and Schumacher continued. Hamilton's gearing meant that he was bouncing off the limiter along the straights, and so he could not match the top speed of Schumacher. Added to that, there was some 'robust' defensive manoeuvres from Schumacher, which Hamilton had now begun complaining about over his team radio. Lap after lap this continued, with Hamilton unable to find a way past.
Finally, on Lap 28, Hamilton made it past. Schumacher's rear tyres seemed to have given up, and the German could no longer hold on to the position that he had defended for so long.
Just as one epic battle was ended, another tussle was beginning further up the field. Vettel had a lead of 12.7 seconds from Alonso. Button had closed up to the back of the Spaniard in third, and was now beginning to challenge for his second place.
The second round of pit stops began at the end of Lap 33 with Jenson Button the first driver to take on a third set of tyres. Alonso and Hamilton came in on the next lap and Vettel came in for a simple final stop the next time round.
Alonso got out of the pits ahead of Button but the McLaren driver quickly took the position off him and was free to chase down Vettel. Schumacher pitted at the end of Lap 37 but Hamilton remained ahead of his new nemesis – just.
So with the scheduled pit stops over, the order of the top five was Vettel, Button, Alonso, Hamilton, Schumacher – still the world champions in the field were showing the rest how it should be done.
Hamilton then began to hunt down Alonso over the closing laps of the race, and came tantalisingly close to the back of the Ferrari on the final lap. If only he had an extra lap, Hamilton would have been on the podium. As it was, he had to settle for fourth.
Italian Grand Prix 2011: Provisional Race Results
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||53||1:20:46.172||25||Report|
|2||4||Jenson Button||McLaren||53||+9.5 secs||18||Report|
|3||5||Fernando Alonso||Ferrari||53||+16.9 secs||15||Report|
|4||3||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren||53||+17.4 secs||12||Report|
|5||7||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes||53||+32.6 secs||10||Report|
|6||6||Felipe Massa||Ferrari||53||+42.9 secs||8||Report|
|7||19||Jaime Alguersuari||Toro Rosso||52||+1 Lap||6||Report|
|8||15||Paul di Resta||Force India||52||+1 Lap||4||Report|
|9||9||Bruno Senna||Renault||52||+1 Lap||2||Report|
|10||18||Sebastien Buemi||Toro Rosso||52||+1 Lap||1||Report|
|11||12||Pastor Maldonado||Williams||52||+1 Lap||Report|
|12||11||Rubens Barrichello||Williams||52||+1 Lap||Report|
|13||20||Heikki Kovalainen||Team Lotus||51||+2 Laps||Report|
|14||21||Jarno Trulli||Team Lotus||51||+2 Laps||Report|
|15||24||Timo Glock||Virgin Racing||51||+2 Laps||Report|
|NC||22||Daniel Ricciardo||HRT||39||+14 Laps||Report|
|Ret||14||Adrian Sutil||Force India||9||Steering||Report|
|Ret||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull||4||Accident||Report|
|Ret||25||Jerome D'Ambrosio||Virgin Racing||1||Gearbox||Report|