Last year’s Italian Grand Prix saw Sebastian Vettel dominate the event and return to the top step of Monza’s iconic podium.
The German easily took pole position on Saturday, finishing two tenths clear of his team-mate Mark Webber. Behind the Red Bull Racing front-row lock-out, Nico Hulkenberg surprised many by qualifying in third place for Sauber.
Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso completed the top five on the grid at Ferrari’s home race, with Nico Rosberg, Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez, Jenson Button and Jean-Eric Vergne next up. It was Ricciardo’s first race since the announcement that he would replace Webber at Red Bull in 2014.
The second segment of qualifying saw two big names eliminated from the fight for pole position. Kimi Raikkonen could only manage 11th, while Lewis Hamilton was limited to 12th after being blocked by Adrian Sutil. The Force India driver originally qualified 14th but was handed a three-place grid penalty.
Romain Grosjean was 13th, with Pastor Maldonado and Paul di Resta completing the drop-zone in Q2. Esteban Gutierrez and Valtteri Bottas were the midfield runners eliminated in the first session, joining Giedo van der Garde, Charles Pic, Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton.
A light rain shower just before the race start on Sunday made conditions tricky on the opening lap, but all 22 drivers left the grid on slick tyres. Vettel had a strong start from pole position, while Massa’s near-perfect launch saw him challenge the championship leader into the first chicane.
Despite a rare lock-up from Vettel, he managed to hold on to first place. Alonso and Hulkenberg made brief contact, while Perez – who was hit by Raikkonen – took the escape road and Hamilton, Button and di Resta made good use of the run-off area.
The entire field then headed through Curve Grande and into the second chicane. Grosjean was hit by di Resta under braking, with the Scot immediately retiring from the race. The Lotus driver managed to continue without any damage.
As Vettel eked out a small lead over Massa in the early laps, Alonso moved up to third place after displacing Webber at turn four. He then easily moved ahead of his team-mate a few laps later. A slow puncture hampered Hamilton’s charge, as did a radio problem that complicated communication between the Englishman and the team.
He eventually pitted for a fresh set of tyres at the end of lap 14, moving onto a two-stop strategy and dropping to the back of the field. Vergne retired on the following tour with a transmission issue. The race leader took to the Monza pit lane at the end of lap 24, moving onto the hard compound Pirelli tyre.
Webber pitted on the same lap and managed to move ahead of Massa when the Brazilian stopped for fresh tyres a little bit later. Hamilton had moved up to sixth place on the option tyre when he took to his pit box with 14 laps to go.
It was a relatively quiet end of the race, with overtaking proving to be tricky at the fast circuit. Hamilton moved up to ninth ahead of Button with two laps to go, but he failed to make up any more positions by the race finish.
At the front of the field, Vettel cruised to his sixth victory of the season and finished five seconds clear of Alonso. Webber claimed his first Italian Grand Prix podium, with Massa in fourth and Hulkenberg holding onto fifth after a mature drive.
Rosberg finished sixth, with Ricciardo a distant but strong seventh. Grosjean took the chequered flag just ahead of Hamilton, with Button completing the top 10. Sutil retired with brake issues one lap before the end of the race but was classified behind Raikkonen, Perez, Gutierrez, Maldonado and Bottas in 16th.
The top five remained the same in the drivers’ standings after the Italian Grand Prix, with Vettel extending his lead to 53 points over Alonso as the sport waved goodbye to Europe for the final fly-away races.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic