Following the dramatic 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, the big story entering the 13th round of the 2012 season was the banning of Romain Grosjean from the race weekend after causing the first corner crash a few weeks earlier at Spa. He was replaced by reserve driver Jerome D’Ambrosio.
However, with Alonso being taken out in that multi-car pile-up at Spa and Vettel racing strongly to second place, the title battle between the two was hotting up.
Glorious sunshine bathed Monza for the first practice session of the race weekend. With doubt surrounding his future in F1, Michael Schumacher came out all guns blazing to set the pace after 90 minutes of running.
His best time of 1m25.422 edged out Jenson Button for the top spot by three tenths of a second with the Brit’s team-mate in sixth. Numerous drivers suffered off-track excursions with the likes of Raikkonen and Vettel taking to the ample run-off area. D’Ambrosio finished his first session for Lotus in 15th, six tenths down on Raikkonen.
McLaren showed their hand in second practice with a closely fought 1-2 finish. Lewis Hamilton finished just 0.038 seconds ahead of team-mate Jenson Button with a best time of 1m25.290. It was a difficult session for Alonso, after slowing in first practice he then suffered problems with his brakes and gearbox. However he managed to set a lap time good enough for third.
Massa made it a Ferrari 3-4 with both Mercedes and Force India cars also making it into the top 10. D’Ambrosio finished in 12th with Webber and Vettel having low-key sessions in 11th and 13th respectively.
The close margins continued into the third and final practice with Hamilton finishing first by the slimmest of margins, 0.001 seconds. Alonso was second with Di Resta, Massa and Button rounding out the top five. It was a busy session with Vettel slowing down on his final lap with loss of power as Red Bull continued to prop up the speed trap table.
Despite strong overtaking opportunities around the Monza circuit, the pressure was still on to qualify well for the race. This was eased somewhat in the first qualifying session with Nico Hulkenberg going straight on at turn one, reporting that the engine stopped.
With the German driver failing to emerge from the escape road, it was a quiet session with front-runners feeling safe. Alonso topped the session with Hamilton, Button, Rosberg and Di Resta following close behind. Webber just made it through in 14th with Vettel further up the order in seventh.
It was the usual suspects in the drop-zone with Kovalainen and Petrov – who were closer to the midfield than usual – finishing in 18th and 19th. Glock and Pic were next up with Karthikeyan, De La Rosa and the troubled Hulkenberg propping up the field.
Alonso once again topped the time sheets as the qualifying session heated up. Button, Di Resta, Hamilton and Massa rounded out the top five with Vettel and Raikkonen scrapping through to the top 10 shoot-out.
The big shock in Q2 was Mark Webber who missed the cut for Q3 in 11th. Maldonado finished 12th but a double penalty meant he started the race in 22nd. Perez, Senna, Ricciardo, D’Ambrosio and Vergne rounded out those in the drop-zone.
The third and final session built to a climax with Hamilton going fastest with a time of 1m24.010. Button went second to make it a McLaren front row lock-out with Massa slotting into third. The Ferrari driver had set the pace early on after a little bit of help from Alonso, his team-mate giving him a helpful slip-stream.
Di Resta went fourth fastest for Force India but the Scot had a five-place grid penalty. Schumacher, Vettel and Rosberg were next up with Raikkonen, Kobayashi and Alonso
Hamilton had a good start off the line but it was Felipe Massa who got the best getaway, moving ahead of Button and battling side-by-side with the Brit’s team-mate on the run to turn one.
There was very little contact into the tight chicane with Alonso moving up the order and Webber dropping back. Button challenged Massa on the run to the second chicane and through the Curva Grande but he was squeezed out by the Ferrari driver.
Despite his poor straight line speed, Vettel managed to hang on to Schumacher long enough to out brake him into turn one on lap two. Alonso – who had already displaced Kobayashi – pulled off a similar move on Kimi Raikkonen before he too advanced ahead of Schumacher.
It was a stunning first few laps for the Spaniard, who was gunning for a good result on Ferrari’s home turf. Di Resta and Senna made contact at the second chicane shortly after before Vergne became airborne after suspension failure at over 200mph put him over one of the high kerbs at the first corner. It was a dramatic exit for the Frenchman, who became the first retirement of the race.
The pit stops started on lap 12 with Maldonado taking to the pit lane. Rosberg, Schumacher and Raikkonen followed soon after with two stop strategies becoming evident for the Mercedes pairing. The leaders didn’t pit until lap 20 with Massa – who had lost a position to Button on lap 19 – being the first of the front runners to fit a fresh set of Pirelli rubber.
Hamilton and Button reacted over the next few laps with the latter emerging well clear of Massa despite a delay in his pit stop. Meanwhile Vettel ran Alonso onto the grass at turn three as the roles reversed from the previous year’s overtake. The German was deemed to have pushed his rival off-track and was given a drive-through for his troubles.
By that time Alonso had already passed him – no grass needed – before he advanced another position thanks to Jenson Button retiring with a fuel pump failure. Behind, Sergio Perez – who had recently pitted for the first time – and Kimi Raikkonen were involved in a spicy battle before the Mexican eventually moved ahead on the medium compound tyres.
Perez was really on a charge with the option tyres at his disposal, overtaking Massa for third on lap 43 before swiftly closing in on Fernando Alonso. The youngster eventually found his way through before setting his sights on leader Lewis Hamilton.
Further back Mark Webber was notified that team-mate Vettel, who he was running behind, could suddenly slow with a problem. That time soon arrived on lap 48 due to a similar problem suffered in third practice. Their troubles didn’t stop there with Webber suffering a high-speed spin at the Ascari chicane, eventually retiring from the race.
Lewis Hamilton crossed the line after a controlled and dominant win to take victory. Perez finished second and would have probably caught the Brit if the race had lasted a few laps longer, however second place equalled his best result of the season.
Alonso kept Ferrari’s presence on the podium with third place, ahead of Massa and Raikkonen. Schumacher and Rosberg dropped back with a two-stop strategy with Di Resta, Kobayashi and Senna rounding out the top 10.
Jerome D’Ambrosio finished his first race for Lotus in 13th, 25 seconds down on his nearest midfield rival. Kovalainen, Petrov, Pic, Glock, De La Rosa and Karthikeyan all finished the race with all six crossing the line one lap down.