Lewis Hamilton won the 2012 Italian Grand Prix, a race marked mainly by clean driving, serious scraps over position, and late retirements. The biggest exception to that clean run was Sebastian Vettel’s hip check to Fernando Alonso that forced the Spaniard off and resulted in a drive through penalty for the German. Still, Alonso forced his way through the field from his tenth starting position to finish third, after losing position to a late-charging Sergio Perez. The Mexican finished a career-high second.
McLaren looked to have a solid 1-2 finish in the latter half of the race, but a fuel issue ended Jenson Button’s race early. Sebastian Vettel’s race also ended early, with alternator trouble. Things were terrible for Red Bull, as a late spin from Mark Webber flat spotted the Australian’s tyres too much for him to continue as well. After last weekend at Spa, the start was impressively clean, even as Massa and Button scuffled over second. Most drivers stopped only once, with fascinating battles that included Felipe Massa (finished fourth), Kimi Raikkonen (fifth), and Michael Schumacher (sixth).
McLaren looked strong throughout the practice sessions, and that strength paid off with a front row lockout during Saturday’s qualifying sessions. Though Alonso looked to be set for an easy pole in the first two sections of qualifying, a rear roll-bar failure kept the Spaniard from posting any sort of competitive time in Q3. Instead, Hamilton (1:24.010) posted a fast pole time, leaving room enough only for teammate Button to slip through and sweep the front row. Alonso had helped Massa as the Brazilian had done for his teammate all through qualifying, leaving Massa to comfort the tifosi at Monza with a third starting position. Di Resta qualified fourth fastest, but a gearbox change on Satuday dropped him down the order to ninth on the starting grid. Schumacher, Vettel, Rosberg, Raikkonen, Kobayashi, Di Resta, and Alonso complete the top ten starters. Neither Vettel nor Webber showed Red Bull any favors, with the Australian not making it out of Q2 to start eleventh.
The lights went out in the heat at Monza under a sunny sky, with no rain forecast for the race. Only Perez, Hulkenberg, D’Ambrosio, and Maldonado started on the harder tyre. Hamilton leapt out as the lights went out with Massa following him infront of Button on the start. Massa looked to take the lead into the first turn, but Hamilton had the line and the Brazilian had to stay second. Button then attempted to get ahead of Massa and back into second, but had to be contented with third.
At the end of the first lap, Hamilton led Massa by more than a second. Button, Schumacher, Vettel, Raikkonen, Alonso, Kobayashi, Di Resta, and Senna completed the top ten. Alonso continued to charge, forcing his way to sixth through Raikkonen. Hamilton’s lead continued to grow visually. While the first four each had a second or more between them, much of the rest of the field was very close in the early laps.
Vettel in fifth had a go on Schumacher on L4, taking fourth from his countryman. That left Schumacher vulnerable to a DRS attack from Alonso. The Spaniard did not immediately make the pass, had a look into the first turn, and continued to push the former Ferrari driver in his quest to get to the podium positions. Further back, Rosberg pushed Senna down an escape road, which gave the position to Senna as the Brazilian rejoined the track, having shortened the lap. Senna got back on barely ahead of Webber, nearly forcing the Australian to run into the back of Senna. Webber flicked around and was fine.
Alonso continued to look for a way around Schumacher, managing to get a good launch at the Parabolica and slip by Schumacher on the main straight. Schumacher attempted to come back, but the Ferrari could stay ahead of the Mercedes. Glock pitted on L8, presumably due to some damage as the German had asked the team to look at his wing on the way by earlier in the race.
On L9, Vergne appeared to have a failure coming into the first chicane. The rear flicked around and threw Vergne over the rumble strips, into the air, and around, sliding through the grass. He appeared to be ok, telling the team, “I am fine in my back,” and climbing out of the car on his own. DRS was disabled while the car was removed, but it was soon enabled again.
Hamilton led Massa by more than three seconds at the end of L10, with Massa, Button, Vettel, Alonso, Schumacher, Raikkonen, Perez, Kobayashi, and Webber the top ten. Alonso had gained almost four seconds on Schumacher, who seemed to have begun a small train of cars behind him. Schumacher’s engineer asked for three quali laps in a row to pick up the pace. Maldonado pitted on L14, with Rosberg doing so on the next lap. Schumacher did the same as his teammate on the next lap, as he had been developing some rear grip issues. Massa, in third, had radioed that he was also experiencing “rear difficulties.” Even as Schumacher got out of his way, Perez passed Raikkonen on the outside at the chicane. It was forceful, but Perez nipped in cleanly and without fuss.
Pit Stops Begin (L17):
Raikkonen pitted on the next lap, as did Kovalainen. Meanwhile, Ferrari suffered technical problems for Massa, as the team lost telemetry back to the garage from the car. Button pushed his way through on Massa to take second into the first chicane, and Massa pitted as they came back around to begin L20. It was a clean and moderately quick stop. The car appeared to be fine, though the team received none of his data except by radio. Vettel and Alonso pitted together from third and fourth on L21. The teams worked quickly, with Ferrari releasing Alonso right at Vettel. The Spaniard stayed in the garage side lane and rejoined just behind Vettel, with the both of them directly behind Massa on the track. The quick Ferrari stop gained Alonso a fraction of time he previously did not have on the track.
Webber and Di Resta pitted on the next lap as many of the teams seemed to go for a two-stop strategy. On track, Massa passed Ricciardo, only for the Australian to have a go back at him. Massa kept the position, leaving Ricciardo directly in the path of Vettel. Quickly, Vettel and Alonso passed the Toro Rosso. Just after that scrap, Button pitted. It was a slower stop, as the crew had right front issues. Back on track, Massa nipped by Senna, who soon succumbed to Vettel and Alonso as well. Hamilton pitted from the lead on L24 with a 2.7s second stop. The Briton lost position to Perez, who had yet to stop, but remained ahead of Button. Ricciardo and Senna pitted on the next lap, leaving only Perez (leading), Hulkenberg (eighth), and D’Ambrosio (fourteenth) who had not stopped.
Halfway (End L27):
Just before halfway, Alonso attempted to get ahead of Vettel into Turn 1, only to have the German refuse him the position. Alonso then went around the outside at Curva Grande, received a hip check from Vettel coming out of the turn, and flew along the grass and gravel after being forced wider and off the track. He continued on without further incident, but remained behind Vettel. At the end of L27, Perez still had not stopped and led Hamilton by just over a second. Button, Massa, Vettel, Alonso, Schumacher, Raikkonen, Rosberg, and Hulkenberg rounded out the top ten. Hukenberg pitted, dropping down the order. Webber, Di Resta, Kobayashi, Maldonado, Ricciardo, Senna, D’Ambrosio (who also then pitted), Kovalainen, Petrov, Pic, Glock, de la Rosa, and Karthikeyan completed the running order.
Sauber continued to encourage Perez to stay out, even as Hamilton caught and passed him easily into the first turn as L28 began. Alonso finally passed Vettel before the Curva Grande, keeping ahead even through the DRS zone with the Red Bull’s slow straight line speed. Perez finally pitted as the stewards announced they would investigate the scuffle between Vettel and Alonso when Alonso went into the grass, after Alonso continued to complain about the incident on the team radio. As replays continued to be shown, the stewards announced that Vettel would suffer a drive-through penalty. After gaining clear air from behind Perez, Hamilton began setting race fast laps again. He was already more than seven seconds clear of his teammate.
Things would not remain rosy for McLaren, as Button pulled to the side of the track on L34. He climbed out just before the Parabolica, having radioed the team that he had “lost drive.” They responded that there was a “fuel pick up problem.” Vettel finally pitted for his penalty, rejoining in ninth and just behind Webber. Perez, on his new tyres, continued to lap quickly, pushing Raikkonen for position. He soon moved up to fourth.
Second Pit Stops Being (L38):
Schumacher pitted for the second time as Rosberg scuffled with Webber. That German pitted on L39. Around that time, Rob Smedley informed Massa that Alonso was less than a second behind and, “should get the DRS,” as Perez closed on the Ferraris. Alonso passed cleanly into second through the DRS zone and into the first turn. Even after gaining position and adding more than a second to his gap back to his teammate with Perez charging from behind, Alonso remained more than thirteen seconds behind race leader Hamilton. Meanwhile, Red Bull informed Webber that Vettel had an engine issue that might force him out of the race as well.
10 Laps Remaining:
Hamilton had 13.3s gap to Alonso, as Perez took third from Massa onto the front straight. Raikkonen, Vettel, Webber, Di Resta, Kobayashi, and Schumacher rounded out the top ten with ten laps remaining. Alonso had gained a bit of time on Hamilton, attempting to evade Perez. The Mexican was just over a half second behind Alonso at the line, with fresher tyres, the same engine, and seven laps to go. Perez took second from Alonso cleanly through Ascari. Alonso easily dipped back in behind Perez after he went through. The Mexican was lapping more than a second faster each lap than Hamilton, though the Briton had more than eleven seconds lead and only six laps to go.
As the McLaren picked up the pace, so did Perez in the clean air. Vettel then caused some local yellows by stopping suddenly, as predicted, with the team telling him, “stop the car! Same problem as P3 [alternator]. Stop the car!” Meanwhile, Schumacher easily took sixth from Webber. With only four laps to go, Perez had closed to eight and a half seconds behind Hamilton.
Though Perez charged, it looked as though Hamilton would have to suffer serious tyre wear or an issue for the younger driver to catch him. Meanwhile, Webber caught too much curb exiting Ascari and spun, dropping down the order. Hulkenberg added to the late exits, pitting and retiring his Force India. Red Bull’s day continued to get worse, as Webber slowed after his spin. He also pitted and retired. In the midst of retirements and spins, Hamilton held a near six second gap to Perez to keep the lead and complete the final lap of the race. He won relatively handily, with Perez and Alonso completing the podium.
Final Positions, 2012 Italian Grand Prix:
Driver Team Gap Stop 1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1 2. Sergio Perez Sauber 4.3 1 3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 20.5 1 4. Felipe Massa Ferrari 29.6 1 5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 30.8 1 6. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 31.2 2 7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 33.5 2 8. Paul Di Resta Force India 41.0 1 9. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 43.8 1 10. Bruno Senna Williams 48.1 1 11. Pastor Maldonado Williams 48.6 2 12. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 50.3 1 13. Jerome D’Ambrosio Lotus 75.8 1 14. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1 Lap 2 15. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1 Lap 2 16. Charles Pic Marussia 1 Lap 2 17. Timo Glock Marussia 1 Lap 2 18. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1 Lap 1 19. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1 Lap 1 20. Mark Webber (RET) Red Bull 2 Laps 2 21. Nico Hulkenberg (RET) Force India 3 Laps 2 22. Sebastian Vettel (RET) Red Bull 6 Laps 2 Jenson Button McLaren 21 Laps 1 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 45 Laps 0