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Italian GP 2012

SEPTEMBER 10, 2012

Race Report - Hamilton claims McLaren hat-trick

Lewis Hamilton, Italian GP 2012
© The Cahier Archive

By Tony Dodgins

With the paddock alive with conjecture over Lewis Hamilton's future, what better time for McLaren to score its first hat-trick of F1 victories since Silverstone/ Hockenheim/ Hungaroring in 2008?

It was the team's 180th F1 win and Lewis's 20th and, in truth, it was straightforward. Hamilton converted his pole position and was never troubled, with Felipe Massa getting between Lewis and team mate Jenson Button on the opening lap. By the time Jenson found a wat around Felipe, after 18 laps, Lewis was 7s up the road.

By rights, the race should have been a McLaren 1-2, but Button lost second place after 32 laps when he suddenly lost drive on the run down to the Parabolica. There was a fuel pressure issue and McLaren lost the opportunity to close down Red Bull Racing's constructors championship lead even more.

As it was, they did significant damage, the defending champions' lead now down to 29 points as Red Bull suffered its first non points score since Korea 2010.

Sebastian Vettel started fifth and was up to fourth by the end of lap 4, displacing Michael Schumacher's Mercedes.

Another man in charging mode was Fernando Alonso, who started 10th due to a broken anti-rollbar in qualifying. Alonso passed Senna, Di Resta and Kobayashi early on and caught Vettel just before the pair pitted on lap 20. They came out as one, the Red Bull still ahead, and then engaged in an action replay of their Curva Grande spat from last year (see separate story).

On that occasion it was Vettel attacking and Alonso who ushered him towards the grass. This time it was the other way around, Vettel appearing a whole lot les subtle as the Ferrari took to the grass with all four wheels at approaching 200mph on lap 26!

Alonso was deeply unimpressed and quickly radioed in telling his team to bring the matter to race control's attention.

"Don't worry," said race engineer Andrea Stella, "everyone saw it..."

The result was a stop-go penalty for Vettel, which he served from fourth place on lap 34, rejoining ninth just behind team mate Mark Webber.

Ultimately the penalty proved immaterial as Vettel was out after 47 of the 53 laps with a repeat of his alternator problem from free practice on Saturday morning, It was a potentially costly DNF with Alonso going on to claim the final place on the podium, a point not lost on team principal Christian Horner (see separate story).

Coming into the race, it was widely agreed among team strategists that a one-stop was the quickest strategy. The Monza race is over in less than 80 minutes and the pit stop time is a relatively long 20 seconds.

The concern though, was the inside shoulder of Pirelli's right-front tyre, which had been down to the canvas when the team's had the first proper full Friday's running for quite some time.

Pirelli had brought thinner gauge tyres to both Spa and Monza after the blistering issues experienced last year, but the 'dragging' effect around the long Parabolica at the end of the lap, was taking its toll.

The drivers were all looking out for a tell-tale white line around the right front inside shoulder but, in the final analsysis, it proved to be a non-issue.

Had it become one, however, the need for a pit stop would have been relatively immediate and a lot of one-stop plans would have flown out of the the window.

Some teams, therefore. opted to plan a two-stop from the outset, Mercedes among them. Better an optimum two-stop than a compromised one -- that was the thinking.

Even better than that though, was an optimum one-stop, which was the tactic employed highly successfully by Sergio Perez in the Sauber. It netted him his second runner-up finish of the season.

Having qualified outside the top 10 the Mexican had freedom of tyre choice and took a new set of Pirelli's hard (prime) tyres to the grid. He ran deep into the race, as far as lap 30, before pitting to go nto the option rubber.

Perez rejoined eighth, behind Hamilton, Button, Massa, Alonso, Vettel, Schumacher and Raikonen, with the Lotus just 3s ahead.

Seven laps later, with 16 still to go, the Sauber was past Kimi, and five laps later, with Schumacher pitting and Vettel serving a drive through penalty, he loomed large in the mirrors of the Ferrari. Going the best part of 2s per lap quicker, Perez made short work of Maranello's finest and was second with seven laps to go. He was 11.2s behind Hamilton and closing and, should Lewis have had problems on Pirelli primes that would be 29 laps old by the end, victory was not out of the question.

"I was crusing, controlling the gap to the Ferraris and still the team told me I was going quicker than them," Hamilton explained. "Then, suddenly, they're telling that someone is catching me by a second a lap!"

Lewis was able to respond sufficiently to keep the gap safe but the McLaren crossed the line just 4.3s to the good.

Third and fourth places for Alonso and Massa gave Ferrari the biggest haul of constructors championship points on the day and moved them into third place in the championship, 46 points adrift of Red Bull and 17 behind McLaren.

Kimi Raikkonen pitted after a 17-lap opening stint on the prime tyre and then ran a 36-lap stint on his primes to take an impressive fifth. The team, expecting that Monza would be a challange for the E20, which was lacking straightline speed, was much impressed as Raikkonen moved up to third place in the drivers' championship, just a point behind second placed Hamilton. Alonso is a further 37 points in front, but it's still all to play for.

Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg took sixth and seventh places from their two-stop race for Mercedes, while Paul Di Resta scored a hard-earned eighth place. Kamui Kobayashi added to Sauber's joy and took the team onto 100 points in the constructors championship, which puts them just 26 points behind fifth placed Mercedes.

Bruno Senna was in the points for the seventh time this season as he fought hard to make a one stop race work and got to the line just half a second clear of two-stopping team mate Pastor Maldonado, who earned so many penalties in Belgium that he might as well have started from Switzerland!

Hamilton, Perez and Alonso all drove fine races to stand on the podium. The banned Romain Grosjean, spectating at Monza, must have been reflecting that he'd taken them all out in one go at Spa!

Leaving Italy, will Lewis really consider vacating that seat?