Lewis and Sergio reign surpreme in Monza

 

After yesterday's qualifying 'disaster' for Fernando Alonso, where the double World Champion and current championship leader ended up in 10th, we knew we were in for a fight through the field from the supremely talented Spaniard in today's race. Alonso jumped up from 10th to 6th by the time the field headed down to turn 1 on the 2nd lap of the race. Moves on di Resta, Kobayashi, Rosberg and latterly Kimi Raikkonen were exactly what the Ferrari driver needed in an attempt to try and rescue a strong result in front of the Tifosi.

Other drivers to have a good opening lap or two were Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa, Bruno Senna and Nico Hulkenberg. Lewis got an excellent start and maintained his lead down to first corner, after battling with Felipe Massa into the braking zone; The Ferrari driver once again confirming what a great car it is off the line by overtaking Jenson Button almost instantaneously. Further back Bruno Senna leaped up from 13th on the grid to cross the line at the end of lap 1 in 10th. Further back Nico Hulkenberg, who started 24th and last on the grid after a fuel pump problem in qualifying, jumped up 6 places to 18th heading into the second lap.

It wasn't such a good first lap for the Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber though. Neither had a particularly great start and headed down into the first corner right in the midfield, where contact is almost inevitable. Unfortunately for Nico it was him who had contact, clipping the back of another car. It certainly appeared to affect the German as he dropped from 6th to 11th in just one lap. Webber too had a similarly poor opening lap, dropping back from 11th to 14th.

On lap 4 Sebastian Vettel overtook Michael Schumacher, his long time hero, down into the first corner. As we've seen in the past Michael is an extremely difficult opponent to overtake around Monza, so the move was a very important one for Vettel's chances of getting a strong result. Just 3 laps later Alonso pulled off the same manoeuvre, moving up into 5th place. Nico Rosberg in the other Mercedes continued to drop back after his poor opening few laps, falling down to 13th position. It seemed like the slight contact was certainly having an effect on the car and appeared to be struggling badly with rear tyre wear. A coming together with Bruno Senna down into the first corner saw Bruno keep the place, but in my opinion he should have been made to give it back as he wasn't ahead when heading into the corner and certainly gained an advantage on that lap.

Sergio Perez was flying on the hard tyre, and by lap 8 had moved up to 8th position after overtaking team mate Kobayashi. Just behind Paul di Resta and Bruno Senna had a slight coming together, Bruno's second of the race. Personally I didn't anything there was anything wrong with the move, something Senna appeared to disagree with. The Brazilian took to the extra tarmac on the outside before rejoining the track right in front of Mark Webber, a bit dangerously in my opinion. Then came the races first dramatic incident when the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne suffered a left rear suspension issue (that's what the commentary team thought anyway), causing the car to spin suddenly in the braking zone and fly across the kerbs at turn 1. Not for the first time this season the Force India appeared unable to convert the pace it shows in qualifying into a race situation as Paul di Resta continued to drop back through the top 10. Towards the back of the field Hulkenberg and Maldonado had made their way up from 24th and 22nd on the grid to 16th and 17th respectively. Kovalainen was again running ahead of team mate Petrov, with the ever increasingly impressive Charles Pic running ahead of his much more experienced team mate Timo Glock.

Back at the front Lewis Hamilton was continuing to edge out the gap at the front to the chasing pair of Felipe Massa and Jenson Button. Perez was still quick on the hard tyre and closing in Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher ahead of him. We're told by pit lane reporter Ted Kravitz that Jerome D'Ambrosio has a KERS issue, as the Belgian who is deputising for the banned Romain Grosjean this weekend, is overtaken by Nico Hulkenberg.

Pastor Maldonado was the first driver to pit, with the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg following suit the next lap. It wasn't long before Michael Schumacher also pitted for fresh rubber as the Mercedes once again appeared to be struggling with rear grip, something which has long been associated with the car. As soon as Michael pitted, Kimi and Perez picked up the pace and were matching the leaders. In fact all the top 7 drivers were at one point setting lap times within 0.1 seconds of each other. Perez was clearly quicker than the Lotus driver and soon pulled a move on the Finn with a move that started up the inside of the Curva Grande and completed around the outside of the Variante della Roggia. Raikkonen then headed to the pits at the end of that lap, maybe in an attempt to cover the Mercedes'.

Jenson Button then pulled off a much needed move on Felipe Massa down into the Variante della Roggia, as the Brazilian started to struggle a little on his tyres. Just like Raikkonen did after being overtaken, Massa too decided to pit. Back down the field and on fresher rubber, fastest lap times were being exchanged between Pastor Maldonado and Nico Rosberg. The times being set by these two were crucial for the front runners to know as it told them that being on fresh rubber was needed soon.

Vettel and Alonso pitted on the same lap, with the Ferrari pit crew doing a slightly better job, as the two came out almost side by side. Button pitted not long after and having pushed hard for several laps, came out ahead of the Massa, Vettel and Alonso battle, despite having a slight issue during his pit stop. Lewis Hamilton pitted the following the lap, and because of Jenson's slight delay, extended the lead by a couple of seconds. Sergio Perez in his Sauber, who started on the hard tyre, now took over the lead of the race.

Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso continued to battle for several laps, particularly on the run down to turn 1. The Ferrari was so much faster in a straight line and this caused one of the big talking points of the day. Alonso got the run on Vettel through the Curva Grande and looked set to overtake the German driver on the outside, before Vettel decided to run out a little wide and effectively force Alonso off the track. Alonso and Ferrari were clearly not happy with what Vettel had done and the incident was soon under investigation. Alonso eventually passed Vettel, ironically through the Curva Grande, and moved into 4th place. Within minutes of that happening Vettel was then given a drive through penalty for the incident. Now some will say that it was harsh, but in my opinion it was the right thing to do. Driving standards need to be improved and the stewards are clearly beginning to send out clear messages about what is and what isn't acceptable on the track. Some Vettel fans will say that the opposite thing happened at Monza in 2011, where Alonso and Vettel again came to together around the very same corner. That time however Alonso did give Vettel enough room to get his car around the outside and move was completed. This time around Vettel just didn't give enough room and forced Alonso onto the gravel, something which just isn't really acceptable. He should have known where the Ferrari was and deserved the drive through.

By now Perez had pitted from the lead, having lost 0.6-0.7 seconds per lap for the past few laps and came out down in 8th. Now that everyone had pitted, the top 10 ran as follows: HAM, BUT, MAS, ALO, VET, MSC, RAI, PER, ROS, WEB.

A big turning point came on lap 33, where the McLaren of Jenson Button suddenly ground to a halt. The team think it could have been fuel related problem, and left Jenson with no choice but to pull over to the side of track and retire from the race. It shows just how different can things be one week on. This moved both Ferrari's up into the podium positions in front of the adoring Italian fans. Vettel served his drive through the following lap and came out behind team mate Webber, down in 8th and 9th. The battling was fierce behind, none more than between Sergio Perez and Kimi Raikkonen. The two exchanged several smart and clean overtakes on the way in and out of the Variante della Roggia, before Perez eventually made the move stick the following lap by overtaking Raikkonen around the outside of the first chicane. Raikkonen appeared to have a lack of speed for much of the race as not long after Perez had gone through, the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg also moved ahead. Michael Schumacher in the other Mercedes pitted at the end of that lap as it became clear the Mercedes was not able to do a 1 stop strategy.

The clean air that Perez now found himself was clearly allowing the Mexican to demonstrate the Sauber's awesome speed on the day. He started reeling in the two Ferrari's ahead of him by up to 2 second a lap; something that must have had the Ferrari outfit worried. Within a matter of minutes Fernando Alonso was passing Felipe Massa up the inside of the first corner, a sensible move to provide a buffer between Alonso and the charging Perez.

The Sauber driver continued to take over 2 seconds a lap out of not only Massa, but race leader Hamilton too. What we were seeing here was yet more proof of just how good Sergio Perez is at managing and preserving his tyres, something he worked to perfection in the first half of the race, allowing him to push like this heading into the last 10-15 laps. Perez made light work of passing Massa and soon was right on the back of Alonso. Fernando would clearly not want to get involved in any potential incidents, something shown by the ease in which Perez breezed passed the Spaniard on the run up to Ascari.

As already stated, the Mercedes pair of Schumacher and Rosberg were unable to make a 1 stop strategy work due to the inherent problems of rear grip. The fresh rubber that the two were on allowed them them to have strong pace at the end of the race and fight their way through the lower parts of the top 10. Rosberg actually went on to set the fastest lap of the race.

We'd heard on Webber's team radio that team mate Vettel may have an issue that could cause him to suddenly stop. On lap 48 that came to fruition as the reigning double World Champion was forced to retire with the same problem that caused him to stop at P3 on Saturday morning. The retirement for Vettel compounded a thoroughly disappointing race for German as he failed to finish for the second time this season. Red Bull's weekend got even worse just a couple of laps later as Mark Webber was forced to retire after a spin coming out of Ascari. Webber had been on the same set of tyres for a long time and appeared to be struggling for grip. After clipping the inside kerb the Red Bull appeared to have next to no grip on the exit and Mark was forced to try and save a high speed spin. That part he did do, but unfortunately the horrible flat-spots that resulted from the spin made the car unsafe and un-drivable, forcing Webber to come into the pits with just 2 laps left.

Perez at the front had been catching Hamilton at 1 second a lap, but as Lewis himself said after the race, he had been 'coasting' for much of the latter part of the race. Perez just couldn't close in enough and despite forcing Lewis to up his pace, the Sauber driver couldn't get anywhere near close enough to mount a challenge. Hamilton crossed the finishing line 4 seconds ahead of the charging Perez, with Fernando Alonso a further 16 seconds behind.

So here is the final top 10 for round 13 of the 2012 Formula 1 Championship: HAM, PER, ALO, MAS, RAI, MSC, ROS, DIR, KOB, SEN.

A dominant performance by Lewis Hamilton saw the much talked about Brit lead from start to finish and secure a much needed 25 points for his title pursuit. Arguably the drive of the day though was by Sergio Perez. Not for the first time this season we've seen Sergio fight his way through the field to finish on the podium. His smooth style and almost unrivalled skill for managing and preserving tyres has once again allowed him to power through the pack. He set a string of fastest laps throughout the race and came home in a thoroughly excellent and deserved 2nd place; his third podium finish of the season.

Alonso has once again pulled out a result on a Sunday, coming home 3rd after starting down in 10th. Not only that, but he's only been beaten by one championship rival, with a further three (Vettel, Webber and Button) failing to finish. You'd have to say it has been a good weekend in terms of the result they've salvaged and with what has happened to their rivals. A strong Sunday was backed up by Felipe Massa's 4th place, a result that sees the Brazilian move into the top 10 of the drivers standings for the first time this season.

Raikkonen managed to salvage a 5th place from a race in which he and the car appeared to have strangely slow pace. Still, he's brought home 10 points and has moved up one place in the drivers standings, just one point behind Lewis Hamilton. Rounding out the top 10 were the two Mercedes of Schumacher and Rosberg in 6th and 7th, with Schumacher once again out performing Rosberg, something that seems to be happening a lot at the moment. Paul di Resta came home in 8th in a race where once again the Force India had slow race pace and yet another KERS issue. Kamui Kobayashi finished a staggering 40 seconds behind his team mate to cross the line in 9th, but will surely be worried as to why he's not able to pull out these stunning podium drives through the field. Completing the top 10 was Bruno Senna, just ahead of team mate Pastor Maldonado, as the Williams pair overtook the Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo on the last lap to deny the man with Italian heritage a point.

The day though definitely belonged to Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez. Lewis drove a great race, and despite never really being under any pressure, didn't make one single mistake. Perez had an incredible race and as Sauber have shown on multiple occasions this season, they can make the slower 'Prime' tyre work well in the first stint to put them in a position to fight for points come the end of the race. The Mexican's stock continues to rise and a move to Ferrari at some point in the near future would look ever more likely, even if Perez himself has said how much he loves it at Sauber.

Alonso extends his lead at the top of the standings to 37 points. With his rivals seemingly not capable of consistently outscoring him, can the Spaniard continue to hold and/or increase his lead? Another great F1 race weekend has finished; with McLaren and Sauber in particular coming out smiling. For full updated drivers and constructors standings, check out the Standings page

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Top Drivers

 
Driver Points
Hamilton 252
Rosberg 211
Vettel 203
Raikkonen 107
Bottas 101
Massa 97
 

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