The Italian Grand Prix was always going to be a pressure-filled kettle steadily boiling away in the simmering heat of Northern Milan. With all the political shenanigans that are taking place in the background, it was a surprise that McLaren were able to completely lock out the front row in such a convincing way. But with the professional operation still working away with the two cars, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton have converted their qualifying grid slots into ten and eight points respectively with a dominating one-two at Monza.
The Ferrari’s were on their back foot all weekend, in fact, since the test at Monza last week it appeared as though this season’s Italian Grand Prix wasn’t going to go quite as easily as it did in 2006. And the Scuderia’s problems were compounded on lap eleven when Felipe Massa pulled into his garage and retired his F2007 with a as-of-yet unknown problem concerning the rear of the car. The disconsolate Brazilian ejected himself from the car and debriefed with his engineer while the team poured over his stationary Ferrari.
From the start though, the boys in red did well. Initially Kimi passed Nick Heidfeld and more importantly, Massa passed Hamilton. However, not about to give up his place easily, Lewis was able to defend well and little trip over the kerbs allowed Hamilton to re-take P2 to force Massa to go a little wide. From then on the silver cars started to pull out a gap until the second lap two.
Moving through the field, David Coulthard was electric away from the grid slot and made five places very quickly. However, when moving past Giancarlo Fisichella, Coulthard clipped the rear of the Renault and his front wing become damaged. Heading into the Curve Grande, the wing dropped and lodged itself under the Red Bull. With the front wheels raised off the track Coulthard had no way of steering and no way of really slowing the car down. Shortly after the wing dropped David clouted the barrier heavily, but thankfully was able to get out of the car and walk away. However, due to the dangerous position of the RBR3, the race director decided to throw out the safety car and the gap that McLaren were building was quickly destroyed.
Interestingly though, considering Monza is a circuit where the drivers are put through a lot of stresses and the brakes and engines are tested to the limits, there were no more retirements. Out of twenty-two starters, twenty finished. Quite the reliability record, which shows just how much the Formula One machines have come along in recent years.
The second real drama of the race was relating to the strategies of the drivers. Lewis pitted quite early, although in the post-race press conference he explained this away with a flat-spotted tyre and vibrations. Fernando Alonso came in shortly after Lewis but Kimi just kept on going. It very quickly became clear that the sole remaining Ferrari driver was on a one stop strategy. Considered the fastest way to run the race, Kimi suddenly became a player and a considerable risk to the McLaren’s.
When Kimi Raikkonen eventually pitted, he spent eleven seconds attached to the fuel nozzle and as the Finnish driver trundled down the pit lane McLaren’s morale dissipated. Fast forward to lap forty and the Ferrari strategy played its trump card. Lewis Hamilton pitted, but despite the perfect work from the McLaren crew, Kimi Raikkonen sailed past and into P2. Hamilton’s title hopes took a large knock as the Briton followed the rear wing of the Ferrari through the first chicane.
Not intent on giving up easily though, and with fresh soft rubber on his car, Hamilton started the thump in some hot sectors and coming out of Parabolica and starting lap 42, the rookie driver decided to make a lunge on Raikkonen. From a seemingly long way back, Hamilton displayed the kind of boldness that Formula One fans haven’t really seen since Juan Pablo Montoya graced a Grand Prix in a Williams. Hamilton locked his right and struggled to get the MP4-22 down to 60mph. Kimi saw the McLaren at the last moment and locked his left in avoidance. With the McLaren in Kimi’s way he had no choice but to let Lewis though and turn in behind him. A couple of twitches later, Hamilton had regained second place.
Soon after, the pace at the front slowed as the leading trio decided to conserve their engines for next weekends Belgian Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso finally wins the Italian race, and Lewis Hamilton keeps his name at the top of the championship table.
Elsewhere in the race, a special mention should go to Jenson Button. For the first stint it seemed as though himself and Nico Rosberg were swapping places each and every lap. Fighting it out for seventh and eighth, the pair of drivers were yo-yoing back and forth. Eventually Button had to concede the position to Rosberg, and the German driver went on to collect three points for Williams and himself from a fine sixth place. Button brought his Honda home in eighth and earned the Japanese team a well deserved point and doubles their haul so far.
Heikki Kovalainen once again outraced his vastly experienced team mate Giancarlo Fisichella, and collected two points from his seventh place. Fisichella, racing at home in front of the Italian fans, could only manage twelfth, but from fifteenth on the grid his performance wasn’t too bad.
The race win for Fernando puts him in a very strong position to take the title lead before the month is over, and with Spa Francorchamps being a circuit that serves the experienced drivers well, the Spaniard is looking very well at the moment at only three points down on Hamilton. Kimi Raikkonen did well to finish third, particularly as he has a stiff neck resulting from his shunt on Saturday morning. However, the wheels are starting to come off Ferrari’s campaign a little and they really need to get back to the days of 100% reliability.
Ron Dennis collected the constructor trophy on the podium and his emotion was clear. However, Martin Brundle made a good observation while commentating for ITV.
You know what I find tragic? I don’t see one happy driver up there at all. Martin Brundle.
Referring to the pending case against McLaren and the Stepneygate saga that could see the team thrown out the title race, and of course to Kimi Raikkonen who finished third (the equivalent of last place to a competitive driver). With Thursday approaching quickly, all eyes will be on Paris to see if McLaren will even bother turning up to the Belgian paddock. But leaving that aside for the moment, the title chase is looking healthy.
Fernando and Lewis are separated by three points, and Kimi moves ahead of Felipe, although the Finn is still 15 points down on second place Alonso. Heidfeld is 17 points down on Massa in fourth, and Kubica is in a comfortable sixth. With his three important points gained in Italy, Nico Rosberg closes right up on his Austrian team mate in the tables and sits just one down on Alex Wurz. The Red Bul drivers are still tied on eight each, and Jenson doubles his load, although still remains on half of Sato’s total.
The constructors title is starting to look a little more dominating though. McLaren lead Ferrari by 24 points, and that is without the fifteen they may get reinstated if the appeal is successful. BMW are resting on 86 while Renault sit behind with 38.