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Italy 2012 - McLaren prevail around the mighty Monza - Sauber stun all, while Red Bull falter and Ferrari struggle at home

Published by Christine

Lewis Hamilton makes winning in Monza look easy
Credit: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

Intense back to back race weekends can be exciting enough but when the first event is at Spa and the second at Monza, you know you’re onto a good thing.

This past weekend saw drivers take on the challenge of the high speeds and low downforce of the Monza circuit, with the history overshadowing them and the Tifosi cheering them (well, a few of them) on. McLaren dominated the weekend, but it’s a surprise to see who fell behind HRT in the finishing order.


So far this year, it seems McLaren’s luck, or skill, can only extend to one side of the garage at a time. Where it looked like they could be on for a strong 1-2 finish at Monza, they ended up with a great victory and a not-so-great DNF. Coming off the back of Button’s win in Belgium, it was Hamilton’s turn at the top, making up for being out at the first corner last weekend.

Everyone anticipated Monza being a close grid, with the practice and qualifying times reflecting that. Even so, the McLaren pair didn’t seem troubled when it came to locking out the front row on Saturday - their nearest rival the unusually fast Felipe Massa. It was a similar story come Sunday, although Button found himself behind the Ferrari into the first corner. Hamilton, meanwhile, looked set for the victory from the outset and he did not look back.

Button’s poor start was topped off by a fuel system problem in the car that knocked him out of the race. A tale of two weekends for the team, but one that seems to have boosted the confidence of all just a little bit. Despite any behind the scenes politics that may be going on, Hamilton legitimately thanked his team and seemed grateful to be there. I did think it funny when he pointed out how smoothly the pitstops had gone, though. Indeed.



After qualifying on Saturday, Sergio Pérez was bemoaning the lack of straightline speed in the car. Fast forward one day and the Mexican has a trophy from finishing second in the race, after blitzing his way through the field from 12th on the grid. He even left teammate Kamui Kobayashi in his wake, overtaking his way forward.

Where did the speed come from overnight, and how long can it possibly be before a win? The team are riding high on the result and have since said it’s not going to be luck that takes them to the top step. Of course, we have to factor into Sunday’s result that there were two less Red Bull drivers to contend with, and one less McLaren as well.

Even with that, it’s hard to take away from the fact that both drivers looked strong at Spa before they were scuppered, and Pérez had a great race at Monza. Kobayashi’s ninth place finish gave him a point or two to take home but he was disappointed by having to stick with his qualifying tyres where his teammate didn’t need to. Sauber usually shine on strategy where the other teams do not, and as this was a race where one-stopping was the norm, I think the team came away with the best result they possibly could.



I think it took everyone by surprise to see Felipe Massa outqualify his teammate. The Brazilian finished ahead of Fernando Alonso on Saturday, making that the first time all season. However, Alonso found himself with reliability problems throughout the weekend, proclaiming that he thought he could have got pole position if it hadn’t been for the car letting him down.

We’ll take that with the pinch of salt it deserves, because Sunday was a completely different story. Starting from tenth place, Alonso found himself pushed off track by Sebastian Vettel, and claimed damage occurred to the car in the dusty grass excursion. Even with the supposed difficulties, the Spaniard still managed to race his way forward to third place. The amount of complaints coming from the red team would make you think they’d had to retire but they still picked up a podium position at their home race.

Meanwhile, Massa started from the front and pushed Hamilton into the first corner, but he couldn’t quite make it stick. A strong race from the driver saw him finish fourth, just behind his teammate. He blamed the tyres.



The Lotus team were faced with assimilating a new driver into their race weekend setup, not only welcoming Jérôme D’Ambrosio into the car, but putting up with Romain Grosjean mooching about the garage throughout the event as well. Despite his lack of experience in anything other than a Marussa, D’Ambrosio did a good job. It was an anonymous weekend for him, which is as much as you can ask for in a stand-in position.

Meanwhile, the real work was left to Kimi Räikkönen, who is desperately trying to keep in touch with the championship battle. He started seventh on the grid, and found the car to be slow in a straight line which made defending difficult. We saw the Finn be overtaken twice by Sergio Pérez, which must have been quite demoralising. Nevertheless, he wasn’t shaken and finished fifth - a position he was reasonably contented with.

The team were more than content, hailing it an exceptional drive from their star man. The track was never going to suit the car, so taking any points was a bonus, let alone seeing Kimi move into third place in the hunt for the title.



Overall, Mercedes had a reasonable time at Monza. Nico Rosberg started the race sixth, although he somehow managed to sound frustrated about that in his post-race video. Perhaps because Michael Schumacher was two places ahead of him, lining up fourth on the grid. They couldn’t make much forward progress from there, though, despite the fact that major rivals were dropping out of the race. Schumacher finished sixth with Rosberg just behind him.

Mercedes are clearly trying to see this as a positive double points result, which it is, but there are hints of frustration at what could have been. Rosberg blamed the tyres, whereas Schumacher believed the race was fun but wanted it to be longer so he could have moved forward some more.

Considering their recent struggles, the team did very well to overcome that, and we know they have some upgrades to consider this week at Magny-Cours. The Young Driver Test is nicely timed for Mercedes to consider a new exhaust layout and perhaps even more.


Force India

Force India had a great result in Spa, and looked set to continue the trend at Monza. Paul di Resta had the pace to secure the fourth fastest time in qualifying but that’s where the good news ends. A gearbox penalty forced the Brit down the starting order, whilst Nico Hülkenberg found himself at the back of the grid after only managing to complete two laps before succumbing to mechanical trouble.

Hülkenberg’s luck continued through to Sunday. He started at the rear of the pack and admitted to struggling with the brakes from the very start of the race. The team opted to retire the car midway through on safety grounds. Di Resta had a slightly better time of it, finishing eighth and picking up a couple of points. However, he was also involved in an early incident with Bruno Senna - not penalised, but not making any friends either. The Williams driver believes Di Resta should have been talked to by the stewards about it,



The other half of the Di Resta incident was Bruno Senna. Whilst proclaiming penalties for other drivers, he may need to have a quick look at how he rejoined the track. Could have been safer. Regardless, neither driver got into trouble and they both managed to finish the race.

Senna started from 13th on the grid, and moved forward to scrape into tenth place, securing that final points position. Considering how many times we saw him run wide during the race, that was quite a mission for him.

It’s unusual for Senna to be the one getting into mischief whilst Pastor Maldonado remains trouble-free, but that’s exactly what happened this weekend. The Venezuelan was squeezed down the starting grid by a ten place drop (two five place penalties for incidents the previous weekend) and from there it was only ever going to be a long afternoon. Still, he made his way up to 11th to finish just behind his teammate, which only goes to prove the relative pace of the two yet again.


Toro Rosso

Relatively speaking, it was another good qualifying for Toro Rosso. Jean-Éric Vergne was helped by Nico Hülkenberg’s bad luck to keep him out of the bottom seven, but there was only a tenth of a second between him and his teammate, even if that did equate to two whole positions.

Unfortunately, there was no chance the Frenchman could do anything in the race to capitalise on his 16th place start, as just eight laps in the car snapped out on him and threw him off track. It was a nasty landing after a brief trip across the kerbs, but the driver says he is uninjured and ready to race again.

The hopes of the team rested in Daniel Ricciardo’s hands, and he put on a good show, finishing 12th, ahead of Jérôme D’Ambrosio, both remaining on the lead lap at the chequered flag. 12th sounds reasonable but it could have been much more. The Australian was tenth up until the last corner of the last lap, where he lost drive and with it, two positions. As he calls it, “bitterly disappointing.”



For the rear teams, it was the same old story. The Caterham drivers qualified next to each other, 17th and 18th, Heikki Kovalainen ahead by about half a second. They finished the race 14th and 15th, Kovalainen ahead. He complained of lacking grip, particularly when the team would bolt on a new set of tyres, so there is plenty to be learned there.

On the flip said, Vitaly Petrov felt like he had a great birthday weekend, with a fantastic car. He can sense the improvement in each race and is keen to continue moving that development forward to Singapore and onwards. How different each teammate’s experience can be from the result which looks so straightforward.



Just behind Caterham, there sat Marussia. With Timo Glock qualifying 19th to Charles Pic’s 20th, the gap between these two teammates was down to the thousandths. The pair both completed two stop strategies to finish 16th and 17th, but by race end it was Pic who had got ahead.

Again, the two drivers have very different points of view. Pic is happy with the performance on his side of the garage, but Glock bemoans a touch with Petrov at the very first corner. We did see a small bit of carbon fibre flying off, and the resulting damage meant Glock felt he couldn’t challenge during the race.



HRT made yet more history with their young signing Ma Qing Hua on Friday, but the endless headlines they are getting from this first Chinese driver didn’t help them very much. Narain Karthikeyan outqualified Pedro de la Rosa on Saturday, which is an unusual sight to see, but they were both still firmly behind the others. Pastor Maldonado squeezed between them on the grid thanks to penalties, and Hülkenberg sat behind them thanks to reliability, but it didn’t take long for the order to reshuffle itself once the race began.

De la Rosa managed to get ahead of his teammate by race’s end, spurred on by it being his 100th Grand Prix, no doubt. Karthikeyan has a similar story to Glock, in that there was a small touch at the start of the race, some minor damage, and thus a lack of performance for the remainder of the afternoon.


Red Bull

There was a time when Adrian Newey was known for designing fast but fragile machinery, cars capable of winning but only if they could get to the finish line. That has long since fallen by the wayside, as Red Bull notched up their first double DNF at Monza since the Korean Grand Prix of 2010.

Sebastian Vettel was the biggest casualty, having started the race from fifth place. He could have been in for a good result if it wasn’t for that pesky alternator. This is a problem that occurred several times over this weekend, and has been on Renault’s agenda since Valencia. It’s time they sorted it, as the longer the season goes on, the more costly the retirements get. For Vettel, the only good news to come out of it is that the car failure covers up the fact that he was demoted via drive through penalty after pushing Alonso off track.

Mark Webber’s retirement came after a massive lockup at the Ascari chicane. The Australian puts it down to a lack of tyres, but if they were tricky to drive on before, they were absolutely impossible afterwards. The team decided to retire the car rather than risk damaging it on zero rubber. Webber started the race 11th, though, and never looked on for a major upset during the race.


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