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Vettel at Monza: Eight out of 10

2013-09-09 06:24

RED BULL GOES IN HOT: Monza 2013 start and pole-starter Sebastian Vettel almost blows his chances by flat-spotting his Red Bull's right front tyre into Turn 1. Image: AFP


10 Monza races, eight winners from pole - and so it was again on Sunday, reports DIETER RENCKEN from the 2013 Italian F1 GP. Could it have been different?

Be careful what you wish for: the motto is arguably as old as the 14th Century Monza Royal Park through which the eponymous, historic racing circuit threads.

Eight times in the 10 years the winner of the Italian GP has started from pole, a statistic extended on Sunday by Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel trouncing local hero Fernando Alonso in the blood-red Ferrari by six seconds.

But that was to be expected: take a high-speed circuit with low abrasive qualities, nominate Medium and Hard tyres virtually identical to the 2012 spec after almost universal complaints about unpredictable racing, factor in universal one-stop strategies focused on the mid-point of the 53-lap race, mix in an utterly dominant car/driver and, barring mechanical (or other) misfortune, the result cannot be less than a forgone conclusion, even in Ferrari’s backyard.


It can be no coincidence that the previous two races (Spa-Francorchamps and Monza – classic high-speed circuits both) have been the most soporific of the 2013 season. Hungary hardly delivered a top-drawer overtaking fest; tyre talk in Germany revolved around the Silverstone debacle which finally forced the switch to variations of 2012’s rubber, with the main conversation point being the injuries suffered by an F1 Communications cameraman when he was struck by a flying wheel shed in the pits lane.

Vettel has now walked three of those four rounds; compare that to the same number of victories in the opening eight races. Equally Alonso – for the past four years the serial champion’s only true competition – won two grands prix prior to Silverstone and has not won since. Thus it is clear the balance of grip has tipped in the triple champion’s favour since early-July, setting the 26-year-old up for a fourth consecutive crown.

Indeed, on Sunday Vettel was able to win virtually as he wanted: he flat-spotted his right front as he fought off team mate Mark Webber in the run down to he first corner after a poor start, then was forced to roll back for the final 15 laps due to a transmission malady, yet he still won by six seconds on a circuit which not too long ago held the record for Formula 1’s closest finish – less than a second covered the first five cars.


“I just managed to make Turn 1!” Vettel said after the race. “I locked my front right and it just didn’t seem to come back. I had a big flat spot, which I felt straight away, and I wasn’t sure if the tyre would survive. Fortunately I managed to make it round and have a strong first stint.

“[Later] we had a gearbox issue and I had to short-shift, which meant we dropped some time on the straights – but I tried to make it up in the corners.” Sound like a man under pressure?

Alonso drove like a demon after gridding fifth due to yet another Ferrari mix-up, and his muscular pass on Webber for what was then third was a master class in commitment. He was slightly compromised on strategy after running three laps too long on the Mediums upon which he started - disclosing post-race they hoped to have the fresher Hards in the closing stages - but, once past the Australian, was never challenged for second.

“When Vettel pitted, we were still doing green sector times so we opted to lengthen the stint as much as possible, at least while Webber was not a threat,” he explained. “That way we could have tried to get Vettel on Hard tyres that were fresher by a few laps. We tried our best…”


Webber, starting his last GP at Monza ahead of a switch to Porsche and sports-car racing for 2014, managed to break his duck by completing the podium: “It’s a great place here and it’s special to finish on the podium. It’s not the circuit where I’ve had the best results so it’s a bit of a personal best in qualifying and the race.

“I felt better on the soft tyres today; I had a good battle with Fernando, fair play to him on that.”

Felipe Massa looked haunted all weekend as rumours swirled that Kimi Raikkonen had been signed to replace him at Ferrari, yet kept it all together to qualify ahead of Alonso. He moved across for the Spaniard when the inevitable call came but one wonders whether this show of sportsmanship came too late to save his cockpit.

The next few weeks will certainly be telling…

So far so good at the sharp end but the quartet’s task had been made immeasurably easier by three factors:

• Hungary winner and recent pole king Lewis Hamilton, who started 12th after a scratchy qualifying which saw him damage the undertray of his Mercedes before being baulked by Adrian Sutil.
• The mysterious drop-off in pace suffered by Lotus twins Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean, who qualified 11th and 13th, sandwiching the silver Mercedes.
• The scintillating performance by Nico Hulkenberg for his beleaguered Sauber team, the German qualifying third behind the Red Bulls.

It was simply too good to last, Hulkenberg dropping back to fifth by the end, in the process building up a long train of cars behind him, enabling the leaders to make an unchallenged early break for it. Whatever, a top-five place was more than Sauber hoped for at the very circuit which 40 years ago sucked founder Peter into the sport in the first place.

2007 champion Raikkonen endured a long race en route to 11th; it was also a tough one for successor Hamilton who at least made it into the points with ninth before admitting he had underperformed. Team mate Nico Rosberg suffered a similarly frustrating race to sixth, with Daniel Ricciardo, Webber’s anointed replacement, taking seventh for Toro Rosso through consistency rather than pace.


Grosjean was eighth after being assaulted by Paul di Resta on the opening lap, the Scot being handed a reprimand for his action despite being forced into retirement with a badly damaged Force India. Hamilton took ninth ahead of final points-scorer Jenson Button and his McLaren.

The muggy, overcast Italian Sunday closed with Vettel (222) having an advantage of 53 points over Alonso (169) with Hamilton (141) and Raikkonen seven points further back, admitting their title chances were over despite seven rounds (of the original 19) still to be raced.

Alonso, too, made some forlorn noises in the Monza paddock: “We have to be realistic about our championship chances. It’s not an easy task to close down a 53-point gap in the few remaining races.”

Indeed, the championship could well be over by the time F1 reaches India, leaving four races with no title incentive at the front, and widening gaps further back.

Formula 1 truly needs to be careful of that for which it wishes…

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