Sebastian Vettel took a controlled Italian Grand Prix victory ahead of Fernando Alonso and third-placed Mark Webber, despite late-race gearbox troubles that forced the Red Bull Racing driver to drop his pace in the closing stages.
Starting from pole position, Vettel held his lead into turn one despite close attention from team-mate Mark Webber, who started second. As Vettel protected his lead, however, Webber was forced to back off and that allowed fourth-on-the grid Felipe Massa to steal P2 as the field swept towards the Curva Grande.
Behind them, though, there were incidents. A good start saw Kimi Raikkonen close on Sergio Perez but under braking the Finn collided with the rear of the Mexican’s McLaren in turn one. Perez continued but Raikkonen’s was forced to pit for a new front wing. The accident defined the Lotus man’s race and he spent the next 52 laps battling through the midfield to eventually finish 11th.
Force India’s Paul Di Resta also ran into trouble, slamming into the back of Romain Grosjean’s Lotus as the field entered the Roggia chicane. The Lotus driver continued on but Di Resta’s front left wheel was torn off and his race ended there.
Ahead, Alonso slotted into fourth behind Webber and on the third lap, the Ferrari driver made a brave move at the second chicane and passed the Red Bull. Alonso soon reeled in team-mate Massa and on lap eight he breezed passed Massa into the Rettifilo.
That leading order held until the first, and for many, only pit stop. Vettel and Webber both dived in on lap 23 for hard Pirelli tyres and Alonso swept into the lead.
It didn’t last long. The Ferrari’s pace was never a match for the Red Bull’s and when the Spaniard made his stop for hard tyres on lap 27, Vettel flew into the lead again. When Alonso rejoined, the gap to the Red Bull driver was more than 10 seconds and the race was largely run.
Webber, meanwhile, gained in the tyre switches. Massa stopped on lap 24 but when he exited pit lane he found the Red Bull alongside and Webber held a tough line into the first corner to take third place.
He set off in pursuit of Alonso and soon closed to within half a second of the Ferrari and for a while it looked like the race might turn into a Red Bull one-two.
But first Webber’s engineer told him to short shift second and third gears and then Vettel was given the same message. The duo duly moderated their pace and the order held until the flag.
Afterwards, Vettel admitted that while the issue had not been serious, it had caused nervous moments in the final quarter of the race.
“In the end we finished the race so it was not a disaster,” said Vettel of the gearbox issue. “I think the heartbeat was a bit higher in the car and also at the pit wall because we didn’t know what’s going on. Fortunately, as I said, we didn’t have any big issues. Just the last ten, fifteen laps, I tried to pace myself a little bit more and control the gaps.”
Alonso, meanwhile, said that his second place was the best possible with the car at his disposal.
“I’m very happy,” he said. “I think this weekend we took the maximum from the car. The car was OK and we overtook Nico [Rosberg] but then we had to overtake Mark and Felipe. With Sebastian we were not able to close to the gap, so we were fighting with Mark until the end. Second place is good to have [and] this podium ceremony is the most spectacular podium of the year. Hopefully next year, we’ll come back here but in the top place.”
Behind fourth-placed Felipe Massa, Nico Hulkenberg took an excellent fifth place for Sauber. After a successful 2012 in which it landed three podium finishes, the Swiss outfit has struggled with an uncompetitive car throughout this season, but on Saturday Hulkenberg took a shock third place on the grid to give his team hope of its best result of the year.
And the German didn’t disappoint. Despite losing two places at the start, any expected further drop failed to materialise and Hulkenberg matched the pace of those around him to take 10 points, three more than the team has managed in the whole of the season so far.
Behind him Nico Rosberg finished sixth for Mercedes, ahead of Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo and eighth-placed finisher Grosjean.
It was Lewis Hamilton who made the most significant moves in the closing stages. The Mercedes driver made a relatively early pit stop on lap 13 to shed his starting hard tyres and then cycled through two sets of mediums as he attempted to use their better pace to work his way up the order.
The tactic worked and in the closing laps he leaped from 12th place to ninth, passing Raikkonen, Pérez and McLaren’s Jenson Button, leaving Button to take the final point on offer.
Vettel 32nd career win means he extends his lead over Alonso at the top of the drivers’ championship leaderboard to 53 points. The German now has 222 points, Alonso 169. Hamilton lies third with 141. In the Constructors’ title fight, Red Bull Racing now have 352 points. Ferrari move back into second with 248 and Mercedes are third with 245.
Italian Grand Prix 2013 – Race result
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 53 1:18:33.352 25
2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 53 +5.4 secs 18
3. Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 53 +6.3 secs 15
4. Felipe Massa Ferrari 53 +9.3 secs 12
5. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 53 +10.3 secs 10
6. Nico Rosberg Mercedes +10.9 secs 8
7. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 53 +32.3 secs 6
8. Romain Grosjean Lotus 53 +33.1 secs 4
9. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 53 +33.5 secs 2
10. Jenson Button McLaren 53 +38.3 secs
11. Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 53 +38.6 secs
12. Sergio Perez McLaren 53 +39.7 secs
13. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 53 +40.8 secs
14. Pastor Maldonado Williams 53 +49.0 secs
15. Valtteri Bottas Williams 53 +56.8 secs
16. Adrian Sutil Force India 52 +1 Lap
17. Charles Pic Caterham 52 +1 Lap
18. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 52 +1 Lap
19. Jules Bianchi Marussia 52 +1 Lap
20. Max Chilton Marussia 52 +1 Lap
Ret Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 14 Transmission
Ret Paul di Resta Force India 0 Accident