Alonso revives title challenge with win at Monza

Fernando Alonso took the victory today the the Italian Grand Prix, to revive a title challenge that many had thought had already disappeared. He lost the lead to Jenson Button at the first corner, but kept the pressure on throughout, and his patience was rewarded by jumping the McLaren in the pit stops.

While Button led most of the race, he succumbed to Alonso’s charge on Lap 40, and was 2nd. Felipe Massa was close behind in 3rd, but never really made a move. However, Lewis Hamilton retired on the first lap after collision damage with Massa. The Red Bulls of Vettel and Webber were 4th and 6th.

At the start, Alonso was sluggish, and was caught out by the McLaren. At the first chicane, both cars got too close, and Fernando clipped the back of Button, taking a very small amount out of the undertray. At the second chicane, Hamilton tried to dive down the inside of Massa, but broke the left front wheel and steering, and understeered into the gravel trap at the Lesmos corners.

Hamilton’s only consolation was that his main title rival, Mark Webber, fell to 9th on the first lap. On the other hand, Nico Rosberg made a great start, and leaped up to 4th.

The top 3 started to move away, while Rosberg led Robert Kubica, Nico Hulkenberg and Sebastian Vettel. The Force India of Adrian Sutil was caught up in the first lap melee, and ran into the gravel trap, emerging in 22nd. He pitted instantly and changed to the harder tyre for the rest of the race.

The only other car who joined Hamilton on the sidelines was Kamui Kobayashi, who suffered more gearbox problems which had caused him to start from the pit lane. He was joined later on by Bruno Senna.

While Alonso hounded Button, Vettel was complaining of an engine problem with his Red Bull. He lost control of his 7th place, and fell behind Webber and Michael Schumacher. However, after a few laps of the Renault engine mechanics trying out a few different settings, the engine healed and Vettel began to set fastest laps. The problem was later diagnosed as electrical.

As opposed the the normal race strategy, the softer tyres were lasting much longer than expected, which allowed the first stint to be extended into around Lap 35. While Robert Kubica pitted on Lap 34, there wasn’t much of a performance difference on those tyres, so both McLaren and Ferrari opted to lengthen their soft tyre stint for as long as possible.

Sakon Yamamoto pitted on Lap 30, but a nasty incident occurred. While one of his mechanics was working on the radio transmitter behind his helmet, which was apparently broken, the lollipop man released the car, and Sakon drove off, running over the mechanic while he was at it. An ambulance had to be deployed, which closed the pit lane for two laps.

In the battle for the lead, Button blinked first, and pitted on Lap 35. Ferrari reacted within a minute, pitting Alonso and then Massa one lap later. A faster pit stop, combined with better pace from Fernando, allowed Alonso to take the lead from Button, and Massa remained in 3rd.

Sebastian Vettel, who had fallen back after his engine trouble, decided on a new strategy. He stayed on his soft tyres until the final lap, a choice that was mimicked by Vitaly Petrov, then pitted to change to the harder tyre. This allowed him to leapfrog Hulkenberg, Kubica, Webber and Rosberg to take 4th place. Petrov wasn’t so successful, falling back to 13th.

His team-mate Webber was furious after being held up for a lot of the race by Nico Hulkenberg, who cut chicanes on three separate occasions. While he gained an advantage or not can be debated, but it prompted Webber to complain to the stewards. However, they believed that Hulkenberg did not gain an advantage, so Mark was forced to make the move on track with 3 laps to go.

Further back, Schumacher had a solid race in 9th, while Rubens Barrichello struggled in 10th. Sebastien Buemi was within one second of a points-scoring position, while Vitantonio Liuzzi was 12th. Adrian Sutil’s strategy only got him 16th place, while Timo Glock was the best of the new teams in 17th, while Jarno Trulli and Lucas di Grassi retired.

Alonso was unchallenged after the stops, and won the Grand Prix 3 seconds ahead of Button, who held off Massa until the end. Like yesterday, it was an almost-perfect result for the Tifosi, with Alonso leaping back into the title hunt, now 1 point ahead of Button and only 21 shy of Webber, who retook the lead off Hamilton.

There are now only 25 points, or a single win, separating the top 5, and it will be a fantastic battle into the final 5 flyaway races. The standings are updated and available here.

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