Another race of – what now seems to be somewhat a worn-out phrase – the most exciting Formula One season ever has proved it to be just that; but apart from providing surprise podium and near-podium finishes, the Monza circuit shone a bit more light on who looks most likely to be the biggest title contenders of 2012.
The Italian circuit is one of the best known and liked ones, allowing for a lot of overtaking action on the long straights, with the example of two DRS zones available. It is thanks to those features that Fernando Alonso was able to provide his crowd-pleaser by finishing third having started from 10. grid position. “It was a perfect race,” said the leader of the classification, who can be quite pleased with the mash-up in the standings following the Italian race: still having a fairly comfortable 37 point lead over the new “second”, Lewis Hamilton, followed by the new “third” – Kimi Raikkonen from Lotus.
The Prancing Horse came out in the few recent races as the most delivering machine on the track, leaving the competitors crumbling under their hooves – quite literally. Neither of the Red Bulls – still leaders in the Constructors’ Classification, but now only by the margin of 29 points over McLaren – made it to the finish line in Monza: Sebastian Vettel experienced an engine alternator failure (the same issue that ended the race for him in Valencia this year; Renault have assured they will be able to identify the cause of the malfunction soon) and had to stop on lap 48 urged by fiery orders of his mechanics, whilst Mark Webber half-spun only four laps later, which caused tyre degradation that forced him off the circuit on the final stages of the race. And to make things worse, Vettel’s will start his run in Singapore with a drive-through penalty on his shoulder for not leaving Alonso enough space on a curve in Monza on lap 26.
Neither did the McLaren car pose a challenge to Ferrari’s technical reign in Italy, as Jenson Button’s engine experienced a fuel pick-up problem, robbing him of a likely podium finish. However, this only spoilt the afternoon for the Brits to some degree; Lewis Hamilton brought back faith in the team – and certainly also into himself – with a non-fault run from pole to the chequered flag. It looks that the talks of his move to Mercedes that stirred the air last week indeed did not affect his performance and reliance on his sporting home of 14 years; although, if those speculations were to be true, it would be interesting to look into Lewis’ mind to see in which direction he seems to be swayed after his historic first ever win in Italy.
So, although it was the Brit who finished first, it really is Ferrari who can consider themselves winners of the race, especially considering the somewhat surprise comeback of Felippe Massa. For most of the race it seemed he could have held on to his qualifying position – just behind Hamilton, which was an achievement in its own right. Massa, who by general agreement has been crossed off the list of potential title winners long ago, and was widely discussed in terms of making space for a new talent in Ferrari alongside Alonso, appeared on second grid position seemingly from nowhere – possibly carried by the goodwill of his team’s homeland support. He showed maturity and experience attempting to respectfully overtake Hamilton on the first lap; and failing that, he continued pushing, looking rather comfortably to snatch the silver medal. But then, midway through the race a Sauber appeared on the front-line, and the race got even more fascinating.
And who else could it have been – oh, irony of faith – if not Sergio Perez, who the Ferrari’s boss, Luca di Montezemolo, did not find experienced enough to race for the team in the very near future. As the Mexican shone in Malaysia or Canada earlier this year, he also did in Monza, courageously and skilfully claiming positions from his starting 8. and in a fierce challenge for first. With his team-mate Kobayashi coming home in 9., this podium finish added some mojo into Sauber in the Constructors’ Championship; but probably more importantly, it put the rookie driver in the spotlight, certainly putting an idea or two in a few team-principals’ heads.
No matter how much one would like to avoid the F1 gossip, it is quite impossible to ignore the speculations over contracts and transfers, especially within the coming seasons that promise a dramatic change in the sports’ management. Whether the continuous unpredicted podium finishes make it harder or easier on the drivers and teams to make these decisions, is one matter. But from a viewers’ perspective one can be rest assured, that even the dullest looking races can provide a roller-coaster of emotions – so who needs the gossip, anyway?