Monday, 12 September 2011

Italian GP Report: Dominant win leaves Seb on the brink

Sebastian Vettel wins. Where have I heard that one before?

And for the second race in a row Seb took the honours at a circuit that many had anticipated wouldn't suit his RB7. But the Bulls have spent the whole season being the team to beat at tracks that were supposed to be about damage limitation for them (well, Vettel has at the very least). Their variation in competiveness from track to track evidenced in previous years is very much a thing of the past. Yes, it may make the racing for wins and the championship less nail biting than we'd like, but you have to take your hat off to driver and team for a job very well done.

Vettel's being headed was brief at Monza
Credit: formulasantander.com / CC
This all leaves Seb on the brink of his second title, which he can claim in the next round, at Singapore, with another win and other results going his way to a small degree. But to be honest the title is Seb's this year even if he starts his off season tomorrow and puts his feet up until next March.

Monza's had cars racing on it since 1922, and there can't have been many more dominant, decisive drives there than Seb's yesterday. Having claimed pole position by a distance, he was but ever so slightly inconvenienced by Fernando Alonso taking the lead at the first corner via another demon start, which looked like an action replay of his start in Barcelona. Just as in Barcelona it was never going to last for long though. After a safety car period in the early laps Seb took the lead back almost immediately like it was his by right, with a heart in mouth move around the outside of Curve Grande with two wheels on the grass, Alonso giving him no more room than strictly necessary as you'd expect. And not a shred of DRS was in sight (let's now give the 'Seb can't pass' idea a dignified burial). From that point on Seb had the race in the palm of his hand, and sure enough he brought it home almost completely unchallenged.

Button's second place continued
his recent good form
Credit: formulasantander.com / CC
Alonso never had the legs of Seb at any point, but battled gamely as we've come to expect (dare I say it was Villeneuve-esque?). Once again, Ferrari were unable to make the harder tyres work as well as their rivals did, which cost Alonso second place as Button clean out accelerated him out of the first chicane shortly after their last stops. Button's run to second continues his good recent form. Both Alonso and Button look well-placed in the fight for second place in the championship. They were assisted by Webber leaving the party early at Monza: notching Red Bull's first DNF of the season. He eventually speared off at the Parabolica after an early and clumsy clash with Felipe Massa.

But despite Seb's dominance it was an diverting race, and to some extent reminiscent of the classic slipstreaming battles on this the most classic of all circuits. Much of the in-race entertainment was provided by Schumi's absorbing dice with Lewis Hamilton. Schumi had snatched third place from Lewis after the early safety car, and then showed a lot of his old form, both good and not so good. In terms of pace it was an impressive performance by Schumi to run with the leaders and come fifth in the end, and he put the prodigious straightline speed of the Merc to good use in defending his place. But it was also laced with some of his old school extreme pushing of the boundaries in defending his place from Lewis (wherein at times the boundaries were but a speck in his rear view mirror). In turn, Lewis seemed a bit more circumspect than usual, perhaps with recent clashes in mind (indeed, Jenson managed to pass Schumi almost immediately after getting onto his tail). The fight lasted for half of the race, before being resolved in Lewis's favour, as it always was going to be. But the duration of Schumi's rear gunner services meant that Lewis didn't have enough laps left to improve on fourth place. A disappointing result for someone who in advance had looked like Vettel's most likely challenger.

Further back, a worthy shout out to Jaime Alguersuari, who continued the trend of 18th being the best place to start if you want to claim some points by coming home seventh. A relatively high attrition rate, from a first corner smash accounting for a few cars (Liuzzi tank-slapping broadside into the pack at the first chicane, a rather frightening impact), and mechanical retirement for both Saubers, helped Di Resta, Senna and Buemi complete the scorers, in that order.

But once again, this race was all about Vettel. He will be beaten again, because that's the way the world works. But at the moment it's genuinely hard to see how Seb can be beaten.

Race results
Race highlights courtesy of the BBC (UK users only)

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