World Champion has second title in his grasp... Massa clash ends Webber’s race early... Schuey and Lewis put on a show... Bruno puts the Senna name back in the World Championship points
The eighth victory of Sebastian Vettel’s 2011 season has put the 24-year-old German within touching distance of back-to-back World Championship successes, opening up a 112-point gap with only six races remaining.
Vettel laid the foundations for victory with another brilliant qualifying performance, taking his 10th pole position of the year at a track where historically Red Bull has been vulnerable. With 25 career poles already, Vettel has only seven drivers ahead of him on the all-time pole-winners’ list.
“It was an emotional win today,” said Vettel, who announced his arrival on the world stage with a stunning first pole and first win for Scuderia Toro Rosso at Monza in 2008.
“This circuit means such a lot to me and is very special. I had my first win here, so when I crossed the line I remembered every single bit of it. The podium is absolutely unbelievable here; when you stand up there you feel blessed, as it doesn’t happen to many people.”
Not so blessed was his Australian Red Bull teammate Mark Webber, who has never finished higher than sixth at Monza. The 35-year-old suffered more Italian disappointment when he clashed with Felipe Massa’s Ferrari after just five of the 53 laps, relegating him to fourth in the drivers’ standings.
Jenson Button, second for McLaren, and Fernando Alonso, who held off Button’s teammate Lewis Hamilton to finish third for Ferrari, leap-frogged Webber, with Alonso now second to Vettel on 172 points to the German’s 284.
The final race of the European season started dramatically when back-marker Vitantonio Liuzzi got his HRT on to the grass on the right of the run down towards Turn 1 and the car simply accelerated sideways, taking out a clutch of other runners as they negotiated the chicane.
The Safety Car came out immediately as Alonso led the field, but as soon as it was withdrawn Vettel pounced to take a lead he would never lose. Webber too seemed to have made hay on the restart, sweeping past Button, but an attempted move round the outside into the first corner came to grief when Massa closed the door at the left-handed exit.
“I got a good run down the straight and tried to go round the outside,” said Webber after his first non-finish since Korea last October. “Then I thought, ‘I maybe need to get out of here’ and I started to bale but the kerbs there are so high.” Trying to return to the pits, the Australian merely succeeded in tucking broken bodywork under the car’s nose and lost his steering completely.
From then on, as Vettel streaked away to win by nearly 10 seconds, the main interest was in an enthralling fight between Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes and the similarly-engined McLaren of Hamilton.
On lap 13 the Englishman wrested third place from the German veteran only to lose it immediately as the Silver Arrow proved its speed in the first sector. Three laps later Schumacher’s robust defence saw Hamilton put his right wheels on the grass, and as the dice continued the seven-time World Champion was twice reminded by team principal Ross Brawn to leave his fellow-competitor room.
At half-distance Hamilton was through, but not before Schumacher had reminded everyone of his competitive streak: “The fighting against Lewis was big fun, and my mirrors seemed to be very small at times,” he admitted. “We are both known for driving on the limit, and that is what we did. I had to make my car as wide as a truck, and had to stretch the possible as much as I could, but in the end, as expected, he was still faster.”
Massa recovered from his collision with Webber to finish sixth ahead of Jaime Alguersuari, claiming his best-ever finish in an increasingly competitive Toro Rosso despite starting 18th. “I am very happy with my race today. I think I would like to start even further back on the grid for the next one, because it seems that whenever I have a poor grid position, I finish in the points!” said the 21-year-old who last week released his first album of electronic music made in his home studio.
The closing laps saw Bruno Senna pass Alguersuari’s Sébastien Buemi and come within touching distance of Paul di Resta’s Force India before finally settling for ninth. The two points were the Brazilian’s first in the World Championship – and the first since his legendary uncle Ayrton won the 1993 Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide.
The first-corner drama contributed to an unusually low 2011 number of 15 finishers, the biggest casualty being Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes, while Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo got to lap 39 before his HRT cried ‘Enough’. The next round is the Singapore Grand Prix on September 25 – the first of six ‘fly-away’ races in an arduous finish to a season that has looked increasingly easy for Sebastian Vettel. As Webber observed wryly, “I think we’re all battling for second now...”
1. Vettel 284 points
2. Alonso 172
3. Button 167
4. Webber 167
5. Hamilton 158
6. Massa 82
1. Red Bull Racing 451 points
2. McLaren-Mercedes 325
3. Ferrari 254