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2010 Italian Grand Prix (Monza, Round 14, September 12th)

September 12, 2010

Monza track map. © FIA

2010 Italian Grand Prix
Coming into the 2010 Italian Grand Prix, it looked as if the title battle was down to just Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton. However, once the chequered flag dropped at Monza, the five-way battle had once again reopened as Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel pulled themselves back into contention with some stunning drives.

For the most part, it was a fantastic race too. The moment Button, in his silver and red McLaren carefully nudged ahead of Alonso’s all-red Ferrari into the Prima Variante chicane, the battle was on. The McLaren – running a higher downforce setting for cornering stability – had the lead, but was instantly under attack from the low downforce Ferrari, tailored for higher top speed.
Behind them, the second Ferrari got off to a decent start as Felipe Massa limply challenged Alonso into the first turn before letting the Spaniard get away. Lewis Hamilton was not quite as gentle when plying Massa with pressure – on approaching the second chicane on the opening lap, the 2008 World Champion went for a gap that didn’t exist and he clattered Massa as a result. With a broken steering arm and damaged suspension, Hamilton was out on the spot. Massa, still 3rd, carried on regardless.
Button was also on the receiving end a Ferrari-styled thump after losing part of his rear wing endplate to Alonso’s nosecone.

The other title challenges also had a poor opening lap – Webber started 4th and was 9th at the end of lap 1, while Vettel slipped from 6th to 7th in the opening three miles. With the Red Bull’s down the order, it was Nico Rosberg (Mercedes – 4th), Robert Kubica (Renault – 5th) and Nico Hulkenberg (Williams – 6th) that filled out the rest of the top six spots early on.
As Alonso continued to push Button hard, looking for any opportunity to get by the reigning Champion, Webber was finding things less difficult – the hard charging Australian made a move down the inside of Michael Schumacher into the first corner on the 6th lap and began chasing after his team mate.

Sadly things were not quite so rosy for Sauber or Force India – Kamui Kobayashi had originally qualified 13th in his Ferrari-powered Sauber, but a gearbox failure pre-race saw him retire early on. At Force India, Adrian Sutil had a decent start, but suffered an off prompting the German to change to the harder Bridgestone tyre at the end of the third lap. Sutil would soon pick off the backmarkers with Lucas di Grassi falling by the wayside first, followed by Sakon Yamamoto (lap 12), Heikki Kovalainen (lap 17) and Timo Glock (lap 18) for 17th position.
His team mate Vitantonio Liuzzi required an engine change pre-race and had a good start, jumping from 19th to 13th in the opening tour. Liuzzi would make that 12th with a pass on the second Sauber of Pedro de la Rosa ten laps later.

While the Ferrari’s and McLaren surged ahead, Hispania’s Bruno Senna must be wondering what such a car feels like, as his morbidly slow Dallara pulled off at the second Lesmo corner on the 13th lap with another hydraulic failure. The Italian Grand Prix may rank as a new low for the Spanish squad – this represented the fifth time over the weekend that Senna’s car had broken down; a shocking statistic, even for Hispania.
Thankfully, Yamamoto in the second Hispania wasn’t doing too badly. The oft-derided Japanese driver found himself in 19th in the opening stint and was running ahead of di Grassi’s Virgin. In fact, despite having a Monaco-spec rear wing, Yamamoto was actually running faster than di Grassi during the first-third of the race – a fact that the young Brazilian will not like to be reminded of.

Yamamoto may have been running fast, but Alonso, Button and Massa were faster – much faster. Alonso continued to harass Button – the gap between the pair rarely more than 1.5 seconds and often around 0.7 of-a-second as they crossed the line, with Massa stalking not far behind. In fact the leading trio busied themselves setting fastest laps each time around the famous Monza track; the gaps shrinking and growing with alarming elasticity. Yet none of the leaders could still make the decisive move.
While Alonso kept to lines and stayed on the right side of the rules, Jaime Alguersuari ignored such formalities. Having pitted on lap 16, Alguersuari found himself in a battle with the Lotus of Jarno Trulli three laps later; he cleanly jumped the first corner while attacking for 17th position – it did not take long for the stewards to react and the Toro Rosso driver found himself slapped with a drive through penalty. The Spaniard was somewhat miffed afterwards claiming that “…at the moment, I don’t really understand why I got the drive-through penalty. As far as I’m concerned (…) I did not gain an advantage…”
The stewards, however, disagreed.

Mark Webber was rather more clean with his overtaking, although the Australian had a little help. Still chasing his team mate on lap 21, Vettel suddenly slowed while exiting the Ascari chicane with what initially sounded like a sick engine – it cost the German nearly three seconds and 7th place. It was soon discovered that his brakes had stayed on lock after the corner, slowing Vettel and straining his Renault power unit as he accelerated and broke at the same time. Vettel was back on power almost as soon as the brake released itself.

Vettel’s scare was nothing compared to the panic in Hispania Racing’s pitbox. On lap 25, Sakon Yamamoto made his one and only stop, yet as the 28-year-old was signalled to leave his stall, a radio mechanic was still working on the car, slightly to the rear of the driver. The mechanic, caught unaware, was taken down by the speeding car and clouted heavily by the rear wing – within moments, an ambulance had arrived to whisk the mechanic away.
At this stage, I have heard that the mechanic suffered no serious injuries, but is being held in hospital for observation. The team would later be fined $20,000 for an unsafe release of its driver. With the ambulance present, the pitlane remained closed for a few minutes, reopening on lap 31.

One of the first to take advantage was Robert Kubica. The Renault driver had spent much of the race running in a solid 5th position between the two Nico’s (Rosberg 4th and Hulkenberg 6th). Sadly for the Pole, his stop was not as smooth as it should have been; trouble changing the front tyres resulted in him dropping back – when both Rosberg and Webber pitted two laps later, the Mercedes driver beat Kubica out, but Kubica just nudged ahead of Webber into the first turn.
Hulkenberg made for new tyres on lap 37 and also got out ahead of the Renault driver – in fact, Kubica had to get out of the throttle to avoid an accident with the Williams driver in the first chicane. It was enough to give Webber some good momentum and the Red Bull driver pushed by the Renault man at the Variante della Roggia to swipe 7th position. In the meantime, Sebastian Vettel stayed out and jumped this entire group.

Lap 37 was also hugely significant for Jenson Button. Having received the message that his stop was coming, the McLaren driver put his foot down and set some impressive times – only for the Ferrari pair to match and occasionally beat the McLaren. Even after two-thirds of the race, the top-three were only separated by three seconds, with Alonso still on Button’s tail. It was make or break for the leading trio and come 37, Button pitted first.
The reigning Champion rejoined to a clear track in 3rd, but the following tour by Fernando Alonso was simply mesmerising. Leaving nothing to spare, the Spaniard got everything just right on his in lap and with the gap less than one second, it would be game changer. The Ferrari driver pulled in one lap later and with a clean tyre change, rejoined the circuit mere feet ahead of Button’s McLaren.
The pair fiercely tackled at the opening corner wheel-to-wheel, but there was no way through for the Englishman. A further attempt at the Variante della Roggia would also yield no success – with his Bridgestone’s now up to temperature, this was Alonso’s race.
The game had still yet to finish for Felipe Massa. While the race contenders pitted, the Brazilian stepped up a gear, eventually pitting on lap 39 – sadly for Massa, despite some very quick times, the gap to Button was simply too great to make up as he emerged back into 3rd position; however the distance to the McLaren had been halved.

One could say that while Alonso’s defence of his newly found lead was “sturdy”, Nico Hulkenberg’s was simply overboard. The young Williams driver was under deep pressure from Mark Webber, with his 6th position was under threat from the Australian. Following his poor start, this was damage-limitation Mark Webber on track during the race and the urgency to get passed the German rookie was more than apparent.
So much so, that mistakes began to creep into Hulkenberg’s racecraft – the occasional locked wheel was eventually matched by the 23-year-old jumping the Rettifilo twice as he defended. For an unknown reason, Hulkenberg was not punished by the stewards for his indiscretions.
This chicane hopping gave Webber some free air behind the Williams and it allowed the Australian to set the (at the time) fastest lap of the race, as Hulkenberg surged into an ill-gotten lead. It was a pace that Webber had struggled to set all weekend long, yet on lap 46, he managed it. Several more fast laps brought the Red Bull driver back up to the tail of Hulkenberg again by the 48th tour – this time Hulkenberg made another mistake, as he again cut the second chicane and swiped across the front of Webber, nearly wiping out the nose of the Red Bull in the process.
It was yet another ridiculous move from the young German, however it still was not enough to garner a penalty. Webber was frustrated by the lack of action against Hulkenberg, deeming that “…he spent every second lap going through the chicanes. The stewards did a hard job on him… they left him alone, so that was interesting…”
With Hulkenberg getting more and more ragged in his defence, Webber was finally able to pass the Williams a lap later and grab 6th; however with only four laps remaining and Rosberg a long way up the road, it would be as good as the Australian could manage. Hulkenberg maintained his 7th spot, but spent the remaining tours under the watchful of Robert Kubica – unfortunately for the Pole, there simply was not enough time to make a difference.

Hulkenberg was not the only driver to lose a spot at this late stage, however for Jarno Trulli, his problem was somewhat more terminal. His Lotus spent much of the race struggling due to a failing gearbox and with only a short distance remaining, the Italian pulled off on the start/finish straight while in 20th place – his day done.
The Lotus team was announced a year to the day, so a great shame that the team were unable to celebrate the anniversary with a double-finish.

With the front three now settled as the race hit its final moments (Alonso leading Button by 3 seconds and Button 2 seconds ahead of Massa), Sebastian Vettel still held on to 4th place. In what may be one of the cleverest strategic moves of the year, the German was left out until the penultimate lap, finally pitting with just over three miles to go.
As others behind him pitted much earlier and battled amongst themselves thereafter, Vettel stayed out and continued to register some very good lap times, to the point where he had secured a 25-second gap over 5th place Rosberg. Vettel – changing to the obligatory soft tyres – had more than enough of space ahead of Rosberg to keep his 4th place; a wonderful result for the 23-year-old and a brilliant strategy employed by the Red Bull team, especially considering Vettel’s poor start. A series of stellar laps when in clear air helped the young German jump Rosberg, Kubica and Hulkenberg in one swift move.

As for Alonso, he played it perfectly – the only blip on his Italian Grand Prix record being a chicane hop when lapping Pedro de la Rosa with two laps remaining. The mistake cost him one second, but his gap over Button was enough for him to not worry too much – in fact, Alonso followed it up with the fastest lap of the race on the penultimate run.
Just over three miles later, the Spaniard in Italian red crossed the finish line to roars of manic approval from a fanatical Tifosi. Incredibly, this was Ferrari’s first victory at Monza since 2006 and it was a truly marvellous drive by Alonso to take that win by just 2.9 seconds. Alonso was pragmatic in his post race account, saying that “…the pitstop was superb…” – while it may have been key in getting him ahead of Button, but it would be foolish to ignore his own stellar efforts. It is a victory will have endeared the fiery Spaniard to the Italian fans for years to come.
Realistically, the soft tyres had been lasting so unbelievably well in the race that it was purely a waiting exercise for Ferrari – even if Button had waited an extra ten laps, the red-team would have still just pitted one lap later in order to try for the lead.

Runner-up Button oozed quality too after his race-long battle – the Englishman remains determined to retain his crown and although an element points collection creeped into his late race performance, he still had enough to hold station ahead Felipe Massa in 3rd. This result was enough to bring both Alonso and Button back into the title hunt, but Sebastian Vettel’s 4th place reinvigorated his title hopes as well.
Nico Rosberg’s 5th place was enough to jump Robert Kubica in the standings – Rosberg had a solid if unspectacular race, but is proving himself to be one of the best of the rest when the occasion fits. Kubica crossed the line in 8th after also having a quite race – sadly for the Pole, he could not regain ground lost in the pitlane in the second-half of the race.

Ahead of Kubica were embattled pair of Mark Webber (6th) and Nico Hulkenberg (7th). Webber was indeed disappointed after the race, as he lamented missed opportunities and potential lost points – despite retaking the lead in the Championship, there could have been much more there for the Australian had he not got stuck behind the Rosberg, Kubica and Hulkenberg following his poor start. Despite his often ragged style, it was a good race for Hulkenberg – solid points for the young man should be good to keep the young man in good stead with English team.
Michael Schumacher secured a double-points finish for Mercedes with a solid 9th and two points at Monza, although he was some 10 seconds adrift of Kubica and the battle that entailed as he faded during the race. Rubens Barrichello picked up the final point at the scene of his last win one year ago. This was the first race of the year where the veteran was truly beaten by Hulkenberg, his younger team mate; however he still has a good lead over the rookie in the points standings.

Sebastien Buemi (11th) and Vitantonio Liuzzi (12th) crossed the line less than two seconds behind Barrichello, but it was not enough to a garner points reward for the pair. Vitaly Petrov secured 13th spot after an unremarkable weekend; he will need to improve on this performance should he wish to be retained at Renault.
Pedro de la Rosa (14th), Jaime Alguersuari (15th) and Adrian Sutil (16th) all finished one lap down and rounded off somewhat indifferent days for their respective teams, while the final three finishing drivers were from the new squads as Timo Glock (17th), Heikki Kovalainen (18th) and Sakon Yamamoto (19th) all finished two laps down.
While the battle between Lotus and Virgin continues, it must be pointed out that this was easily Yamamoto’s best performance in his Formula 1 career, having spent much of the race doing battle with (and beating) the Virgin of Lucas di Grassi. The Brazilian rookie actually retired on the final lap with a suspension problem and although classified, he would join Jarno Trulli, Bruno Senna, Lewis Hamilton and Kamui Kobayashi on the non-finishers list.

There may be some that will lament the lack of overtaking during this years Italian Grand Prix, but I see this a little differently – for much of this race, we witnessed a startlingly close battle between two of the fastest drivers in the world in two of the fastest racing cars in the world.
For so long, this really was a tense battle as Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso were neck-and-neck around the famed Italian circuit – and with that, one of the most competitive seasons in the history of Formula 1 continues to get better.
Race Rating: 4 out of 5
——–

Monza, Italian Grand Prix (Round 14, September 12th)
1  ALONSO       Ferrari      1h16m24.6s (53 laps)
2  BUTTON       McLaren      +2.9s
3  MASSA        Ferrari      +4.2s
4  VETTEL       Red Bull     +28.2s
5  ROSBERG      Mercedes     +29.9s
6  WEBBER       Red Bull     +31.3s
7  HULKENBERG   Williams     +32.8s
8  KUBICA       Renault      +34.0s
9  SCHUMACHER   Mercedes     +44.9s
10 BARRICHELLO  Williams     +64.2s
11 BUEMI        Toro Rosso   +65.1s
12 LIUZZI       Force India  +66.1s
13 PETROV       Renault      +78.9s
14 DE LA ROSA   Sauber       +1 lap
15 ALGUERSUARI  Toro Rosso   +1 lap
16 SUTIL        Force India  +1 lap
17 GLOCK        Virgin       +2 laps
18 KOVALAINEN   Lotus        +2 laps
19 YAMAMOTO     HRT          +2 laps
R  DI GRASSI    Virgin       +3 laps
R  TRULLI       Lotus        +7 laps
R  SENNA        HRT          +42 laps
R  HAMILTON     McLaren      +53 laps
R  KOBAYASHI    Sauber       +53 laps

Driver Team Points
1. Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 187
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 182
3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 166
4. Jenson Button McLaren 165
5. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 163
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 124
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP 112
8. Robert Kubica Renault 108
9. Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP 46
10. Adrian Sutil Force India 45
11. Rubens Barrichello Williams 31
12. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 21
13. Vitaly Petrov Renault 19
14. Nico Hulkenberg Williams 16
15. Vitantonio Liuzzi Force India 13
16. Sebastien Buemi Scuderia Toro Rosso 7
17. Pedro de la Rosa Sauber 6
18. Jaime Alguersuari Scuderia Toro Rosso 3
Constructor Team Points
1. Red Bull Racing 350
2. McLaren 347
3. Ferrari 290
4. Mercedes GP 158
5. Renault 127
6. Force India 58
7. Williams 47
8. Sauber 27
9. Scuderia Toro Rosso 10
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