Italian GP - Sunday - Race Report
McLaren (and the sport) win at Monza
In the days before the Italian Grand Prix, one might have got the impression that Formula 1 is about conference rooms and devious plots; about secret messages and underhand dealings. But it is not. What really matters is what the cars do on the circuits. It is about the emotion and excitement of it all. Behind a victory there is a vast amount of hard work, brainpower and good organization. And one needs to know one's rival, or at least as much as you can know. But when all is said and done it is about what happens on the race track. It is about the tears at the end of the day. We don't see the top people from the FIA much these days at the tracks and perhaps they have forgotten some of this. We don't see them crying. Let us hope that by next Thursday we will hear that the World Championship has not been settled in a committee room in Paris. Let us hope that a bunch of messages sent from misguided people will not spoil what has been the best World Championship for many year. Let us hope that the desperation of some of those involved for money or power or whatever it is that drives these sorry souls will not mess things up for everyone.
Some think that the credibility of McLaren is what is at stake on Thursday but that is not really the case at all. It is the credibility of the sport, the credibility of the FIA. Destroy these things and the sport will suffer. What makes a sport great is the passionate people who are in it. The passion to win. But not to win at all costs - as some people seem to think.
When it came to the race itself. It was not such a complicated story. There were different strategies and it was really just a case of seeing how these unfolded. Fernando Alonso led from pole position. Lewis Hamilton almost managed a challenge at the first corner but a tap from behind from Felipe Massa meant that Lewis had to make do with second place. The McLarens ran away after that and it was clear that Alonso had a small advantage over Lewis Hamilton. A little here and a little there. The Safety Car slowed them up but then they were off again and soon Felipe Massa disappeared into the pitlane. It was way too early to be strategic and it seemed that the writing was on the wall. A lap later he was out and Ferrari had failed on reliability once again.
Kimi Raikkonen took up the cudgels but it was very clear that he did not have the pace. He was on a one-stop strategy and that meant that the Safety Car flattered the Ferrari. This helped Kimi to get ahead of Hamilton after Lewis's second stop on lap 40 but Kimi was on hard tyres with 15 laps on them and Lewis was on new soft tyres. Lewis ate the gap. He knew had just two laps to deliver and he went past Kimi at the chicane at the start of lap 43 with a move that left Raikkonen with no answer.
"I thought he was too far ahead," Lewis said. "I had maximum two laps and he was on the harder tyre and I managed to pull out a couple of really good laps. I was surprised that I did not much of a slipstream so I had to do it on the brakes. I had an opportunity to pass and so I stuck it in there and got it. It was quite close. I didn't think I was going to make the corner but I somehow did. It was a very important point in the race. I needed the points. I wanted to do that for the team. I know how hard they had been working."
After that it was clear that Lewis did not have the car to catch and pass Alonso and so he settled for second. His World Championship lead came down to just three points, but the challenge from Ferrari is now fading. Raikkonen is 18 points down with a maximum of 40 left. Unless McLaren reliability fails, Ferrari is not going to win this game on the race track.
Alonso was delighted with the result. It was, he said, "the perfect weekend for me."
"To win here for the first time is a very very special win," he said. "The start was not fantastic and I looked in the mirror immediately and I saw Felipe behind me and I thought I had to defend myself in the first corner and then in the second corner I saw Lewis on the left and I was a bit worried that we might touch each other."
At the end there was little in the way of cheers from the grandstands but to Fernando it did not matter.
"Maybe they are Ferrari fans," he said, "But on top of that they are F1 fans. They love F1 in Italy and it is great to win here."
Is it significant? That is hard to say for at one race track the Ferrari is fast at another the McLaren is better so it is really down to which car works at which track.
For the moment no-one else is close enough to join the party and the indications are that no-one is going to do so before the end of the year and so it is a straight fight between McLaren, Ferrari and the FIA which could shake things up, depending on the decisions of the World Council. It would be nice to think that BMW might sneak in a victory but the cars are still not quite there.
When it comes to analysing the season - even if Ferrari wins by default - there is no doubt that the deciding factor was reliability. Ferrari's record is not as good as McLaren's. It is as simple as that. In addition the disastrous failure in the wind tunnel earlier in the year (because the maintenance was not done) is why Ferrari dropped behind McLaren and now cannot catch up. These are problems which will reflect poorly on the new organisation put in place by Jean Todt a year ago and one wonders if this may also reflect badly on Todt himself.
One team boss who will not be running into trouble in the winter is BMW's Mario Theissen and at Monza the cars were quick again with Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica taking fourth and fifth places, adding another nine points to BMW's score. Kubica's drive was particularly impressive given that his first pitstop was a mess after the car fell off its jacks when he arrived at the wrong angle. It cost him a lot of time and he had a serious charge to get back to his rightful place. To achieve that he had to fight past Heikki Kovalainen and then Nico Rosberg.
The Williams driver ended the day in sixth and was delighted with it. The cars are very reliable now and if Alexander Wurz had been able to qualifying better there would have been better results and Williams might possibly have been able to catch Renault in the Constructors' Championship.
"It was a good weekend for us," Nico said. "We showed a competitive pace. Well done to Toyota, as Monza's an engine track and we held our own." Kovalainen and Button completed the points scorers. The point for Honda was only the second of the year but every little thing helps.
Button has been in the shadows a lot this year because of Lewis Hamilton's appearance on the scene but he seems to be impressing the Honda team with his positive thinking and his development work and motivational skills. A point may not sound like much but down at Honda that is important.