Lewis Hamilton cruised to a comfortable Italian Grand Prix victory on a day when Sergio Perez staged another spectacular raid on the podium positions and Fernando Alonso maintained his title charge with third place.
Tue 11.09.12, 3:03PM
Pole winner Hamilton dominated from the start, holding off a strong first-corner challenge from the fast-starting Felipe Massa to maintain his lead. That was about as close to discomfort as the McLaren driver came over the next 53 laps. While behind him Massa and Jenson Button tussled for second, Hamilton simply stretched his legs and over the bulk of his two stints and effortlessly carved out a 13-second lead that remained largely unchallenged until the chequered flag.
“It was pretty trouble-free,” Hamilton said afterwards of his third win of the season. “I don’t think I had any problems throughout the race and the guys did a great job through the pitstop. Also, I got a good start for once, so very, very happy with that.”
However, Hamilton lamented the fact that team-mate Jenson Button failed to join him on the podium. The winner of last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix was forced to retire after 32 laps, his car suffering a fuel system problem while in second place.
“It’s very unfortunate for Jenson,” Hamilton said. “We were running 1-2 at the time and it would have been fantastic for the team to have won here and have first and second. I don’t really know what went on with his car but it was very unfortunate.”
While Hamilton’s strolled to his 20th career win, the real race developed behind him, with Fernando Alonso carving his way through he field in a bit to make up for a qualifying session in which mechanical problems left him tenth on the grid. On his first lap of the race he climbed to seventh and by two-thirds distance the championship leader had hustled his way up to third.
Part of that progress involved a nail-biting battle with Sebastian Vettel. However, the Red Bull Racing driver defended too hard under pressure from the Ferrari driver and the stewards handed Vettel a drive through penalty for “forcing another driver off the track”.
Vettel’s penalty freed Alonso to make his move on the podium positions and after being ushered through to second by team-mate Massa, it looked almost certain that he would take 18 points and further bolster his championship lead.
Sergio Perez, however, had other ideas. The Sauber driver had a difficult qualifying, starting 13th and as such his team opted to start the Mexican on the hard Pirelli tyre, taking their now traditional gamble on their driver’s ability to keep tyres alive and maintain good lap times over a long stint.
Perez didn’t disappoint. He kept his first set of tyres going until lap 30 of 53 and then moved onto the medium compound. He rejoined in seventh and running as much as three seconds faster than the drivers around him on older hard tyres, he began carving his way through the pack.
Eventually he came up behind third-placed Massa. It was no contest. Perez brushed the Brazilian aside and then a few laps later pulled the same move on Alonso, scything past the Ferrari to claim another spectacular, if unlikely podium.
He set off in pursuit of Hamilton, with the McLaren crew warning their driver that the Sauber man was setting lightning-quick times. Perez closed to within 4.5 seconds of the McLaren driver but the Briton always had something in reserve and crossed the line in comfort to record his 20th career win and his first Italian GP win.
Perez, though, was delighted with his efforts, especially as he admitted that keeping the hard tyres alive in his first stint had been difficult.
“It was really enjoyable. One of those races where you have the pace and you are the one attacking,” he said. “[However,] during my first stint, to go that long and to be able to keep the pace was not easy at all. I did quite a lot of laps on those tyres. Then in the second stint we managed to go maximum attack and I was able to have good fighting with some drivers. It was just a great race.”
Alonso, meanwhile, branded his race “absolutely perfect” despite losing second place to Perez in the closing stages.
“An absolutely perfect Sunday for us,” he said. “Obviously the win was out of reach after the problem yesterday, starting tenth is not easy to think about victory, so if you cannot win, podium is next target. In all the simulations and all the predictions we had, it was never a podium finish, so basically it’s much better than expected. Jenson was out of the race and the two Red Bulls… so perfect Sunday maybe.”
It was a far from perfect afternoon for Red Bull. After taking his drive-through penalty, Vettel rejoined behind team-mate Mark Webber. The pair soon swapped places and looked on course for a pride-salvaging finish of sixth and seventh place.
It wasn’t to be. Six laps from the flag Vettel pulled with an alternator problem similar to the one that had caused him stop late in Saturday morning’s final free practice session and four laps later Webber too exited the race. The Australian spun out while pushing on heavily worn tyres and limped back to the garage to retire.
With seven race left Alonso now has 179 points, 37 points clear of Hamilton, who is now second in 142 points. Kimi Raikkonen, fifth today, has stealthily moved up to third with 141 points. Vettle ins now fourth with 140 points and Webber is fifth with 132.
Red Bull Racing keep hold of top slot in the Constructors’ Championship however, though with an obviously smaller margin. McLaren move to within 29 points of the Milton Keynes team’s total of 272 points. Ferrari are third with 226 points and Lotus are fourth with 217 points.