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Red Bulls On The Rampage

ROUND 12 – Italy, 8 September 2013

1st: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 1hr 18m 33.352 (av. race speed 234.268 km/h)
2nd: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) gap: 5.467s
3rd: Mark Webber (Red Bull Renault) gap: 6.350s

Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:25.849 = 242.924 km/h on lap 51

Pole Position: Vettel 1:23.755 = 248.997 km/h

World Championship: Vettel 222 points • Alonso 169 • Hamilton 141

RED BULLS ON THE RAMPAGE

What a crazy mixed-up grid! Apart from the front row, of course, monopolised by Red Bull – their 50th pole position and the 40th for Sebastian Vettel, but also a personal best for Mark Webber with his first front-row start at the great Italian venue. Behind them was surprise package Nico Hülkenberg, doing his career prospects no harm at all as his Sauber ended up the highest-placed Ferrari-powered car on the grid. The German started ahead of Ferrari duo Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso, whose drafting plans failed miserably, prompting Alonso to refer sarcastically to the “geniuses” on pit wall. As for Lewis Hamilton, pole-sitter for the last four races, the Mercedes man had a disastrous Saturday and missed Q3 for the first time since Malaysia 201 – 67 races ago. And Kimi Raïkkönen’s Lotus started from 11th, one place ahead of Hamilton…

Yet it was a familiar enough formula that won the day. “Take pole, start well, cruise home” is the mantra by which Sebastian Vettel has lived his F1 life. At Monza the 26-year-old German did it for the 32nd time, racing into the lead, one-stopping after 23 of the 53 laps, and nursing the Red Bull Renault home despite late concerns over its gearbox. “Sorry for the lock-up in the first corner,” Vettel told his team on the slow-downlap, “it made the first stint a bit tricky,” but otherwise he was untroubled in extending his title lead to 53 points.

Teammate Mark Webber set himself up for a strong run-in to the end of his final F1 season with his best-ever Monza display. “It’s a great place here and it’s very special to finish on the podium,” said the Australian. “It’s not the circuit where I’ve had the best results in the past, so it’s a bit of a personal best for me in qualifying and the race.” Webber started well but had to make discretion the better part of valour in the first chicane as Felipe Massa’s Ferrari slipped by. Webber and Fernando Alonso laid on another of their personal moments to remember on lap 8 as the Ferrari muscled its way through; after leap-frogging Massa in the stops Webber just failed to catch Alonso but secured his first Monza podium in third.

Fourth may not be enough to rescue Massa’s Maranello career, especially as one of the drivers in the Ferrari frame was an unexpected fifth. Nico Hülkenberg stunned both himself and his Ferrari-powered Sauber team by qualifying third on Saturday then kept a cool head in the race. “Despite starting third, it was always clear keeping the Ferrari and Red Bulls behind was not realistic,” said the 26-year-old German who had not previously finished higher than eighth for Sauber. “I lost two places right at the start, but then the pace was good and, especially towards the end, I was able to catch up quite a bit again.”

Recent pace-setters Mercedes endured a low-key weekend. Nico Rosberg started sixth and finished in the same position. But Lewis Hamilton by his own admission had an awful Saturday and failed to make Q3. The Englishman lost radio contact early in the race and a slow puncture forced him into two stops, but he lit up the last few laps of the race: a burst of overtaking carried him to both ninth place and the fastest race lap but saw him drop to third overall behind Alonso once more. “That was a difficult weekend for me but these things happen and you have to say that it’s been a good year so far,” said Hamilton. “I gave it my all out there today; the pace of the car was great but unfortunately we paid the price for not qualifying far enough up the field.”

Other talking-points

Kimi Raïkkönen also lost ground in the Championship, punished for a poor qualifying effort that saw the Finn start 11th and finish in the same place. It might have been different but for a first-lap encounter with the rear of Sergio Pérez’s McLaren that forced the Lotus into the pits for a new front wing. Raïkkönen remains fourth overall but now has just four points in hand over Mark Webber.

Dan Ricciardo celebrated his promotion to Webber’s Red Bull seat next year by equalling his best result of the season in seventh for Toro Rosso while his current teammate Jean-Eric Vergne was one of only two retirements with a suspected transmission problem after 14 laps. The other non-finisher was Force India’s Paul di Resta, whose wretched run continued with a fourth straight pointless weekend when he locked up on the opening lap and damaged his car against Romain Grosjean’s Lotus. “It has been one of those weekends to forget, starting with the brake failure yesterday and the early retirement today,” said the Scot. “I just got caught out going into the second chicane because the cars ahead of me got backed up – I guess they were reacting to the tussle going on ahead of them.”

The final point went to McLaren’s Jenson Button, and an unwanted landmark looms for the Woking team as it celebrates its 50-year history in F1. Not since 1980 has McLaren failed to achieve at least one podium in a World Championship season; only seven more races remain and fifth is the highest finish Button or Pérez have managed so far…

Next race: round 13, Singapore, September 22

Light up F1! ‘The Monaco of the East’ is ready and waiting for its sixth Grand Prix. Can Vettel win it for the third time running? Can Webber keep his current form going? Check it all out right here in two weeks’ time…

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