Monza GPR Race Recap: Vettel, Alonso, Webber podium in scrappy Italian GP

Sebastian Vettel led the 2013 Italian Grand Prix from start to finish, despite lagging with a shifting issue in the final laps at Monza. Fernando Alonso finished second after pushing his way through on Mark Webber in the early laps. Both Red Bulls came under fire with the shifting issue, but managed finish on the podium. Despite urging, Felipe Massa could not catch Webber and finished fourth. Nico Hulkenberg, after a poor start dropped his from his third starting position, finished fifth. Lewis Hamilton made a great charge through the field after an early stop forced by a puncture and radio issues to finish ninth. Kimi Raikkonen, who also had an early stop after damage on the start finished eleventh. The drivers were frantic on the start, knocking Paul di Resta out of the race entirely, and the latter stages were marked by intense battles over the end of the points paying positions.

Vettel took charge of the Monza race weekend on Friday afternoon and seemed unable to look back, leading two of the three practices, all three qualifying sessions, and winning pole (1:23.755) by more than two tenths over teammate Webber. Despite all this, the drive of Saturday came from Sauber’s Hulkenberg, who managed to set a qualifying time barely less than a tenth off Webber’s time to start third. Behind the Red Bulls, qualifying was topsy turvy for a number of drivers: Massa beat teammate Alonso to start fourth (the Spaniard started fifth), Perez went quicker than Button, both McLarens ran in Q3, and Hamilton and Raikkonen dropped out in Q2.

The latter’s pace seemed to be suggestive of a wetter setting for the projected rain as teammate Grosjean was also off the pace in thirteenth, but the former suffered impeding by Sutil, self-proclaimed “idiot” driving, and a possibly damaged floor after an earlier trip through the gravel at Parabolica. All of that combined to make this the first weekend in 67 races that Hamilton has not started from the top ten. Instead, the Brit split the Lotus drivers. Sutil qualified fourteenth but started seventeenth after a three-place grid penalty for the previously mentioned impeding during Q2.

Still more drama erupted after qualifying. Alonso, who had been working in a tandem slipstream with Massa in many of the sessions, again spoke in Italian to Ferrari on the radio. On his cool down lap, Alonso sarcastically referred to the team as geniuses (or seriously stupid, depending on the veracity of translated radio message), as Massa had gotten too far ahead to improve Alonso’s time. Though the message was heated, Alonso nearly immediately after jumping out of the car began tweeting conciliatory messages and later publicly indicated that at least he could see the rear wings of the Red Bulls at the start, an improvement on recent qualifying pace.

The sky was overcast for race day, with rain looking ready to fall at any moment. It had rained a bit as the cars began gridding. Though the track was not yet wet with more than twenty minutes until lights out, teams scampered about, attempting to make the best tyre choice. McLaren had even more work to do than the other teams, with a fuel system issue on Button’s car that saw all hands on deck, including Perez’s mechanics. He still got out to test the grip with the other drivers about twenty minutes before lights out. The track dried out for lights out, leaving drivers to start on their qualifying tyre choices. Both Hamilton and Raikkonen chose the harder compound, as did Gutierrez.

Race Start:
On the start, Vettel stayed ahead of Webber, who attempted to stay next to his teammate. Massa dove across the track, managing to pass Webber and jump into second, as he and Alonso switched across the straight. The drivers had quite a scuffle on the start, with plenty of tyre smoke and bits flying, though most seemed able to continue on racing. Perez took to the escape road after a shove in the rear from Raikkonen. Hamilton also took the easy way, cutting across the chicane to stay out of trouble. He did not gain advantage.

Alonso moved up to fourth, as the biggest loser on the start was Hulkenberg, who dropped to fifth. At the end of L1, Vettel led Massa, Webber, Alonso, Hulkenberg, Rosberg, Ricciardo, Perez, Vergne, and Hamilton. Raikkonen had taken a dive on Hamilton, but ended up diving into the pits with front wing damage. Di Resta had already dropped out of the race, stopping at the second chicane with serious front wing damage caused as he ran into the back of Grosjean.

Vettel made a gap quickly, with 1.4s back to Massa at the end of the second lap. Alonso pushed Webber hard, going around the outside at the Roggia chicane and lightly clipping Webber’s front wing. He moved up to third and set off after teammate Massa. Just five laps in, Vettel had nearly three seconds gap on Massa, who had Alonso just over a second behind and closing.

Meanwhile, Mercedes could not hear Hamilton on the radio. He had Button just behind and pushing as the two former teammates fought over tenth. Further ahead, Alonso had an easy time getting around Massa at T1, then had nearly four and a half seconds to make up on Vettel. Moving back to the British battle, Button nipped by on Hamilton, making use of his softer compound tyres.

On the radio, Red Bull told Vettel that they were monitoring the right front all the time, adding “it’s not good.” That was the tyre he locked up into T1 on the start. Nearly the end of the first ten laps, the incident between di Resta and Grosjean on the start would be investigated by the stewards after the race.

End L10 of 53:
Vettel’s lead sat at just over five seconds on Alonso at the end of L10. Massa, Webber, Hulkenberg, Rosberg, Ricciardo, Perez, Vergne, and Button rounded out the top ten. Hamitlon, Grosjean, Sutil, Gutierrez, Maldonado, Bottas, Pic, van der Garde, Raikkonen, Bianchi, and Chilton completed the running order. Only Raikkonen had stopped, for a new front wing and fresh tyres after his messy start. Vettel continued to eke out his lead, gaining a half second between L10 and L11.

On the radio, Mercedes told Hamilton to pit, as he had a slow puncture on the right front. Possible because of the radio issues, he did not stop on the next time by the pits. Nor did he stop on L13. Mercedes continued to radio, requesting a confirmation that he heard the message. Instead, the mechanics stood in pit lane waiting for a date that wouldn’t arrive. Hamilton finally pitted on L14, with an extra message from Jock Clear on a board, “R5 modes.” It appeared to be a code, seemingly the setting for a pit lane pullaway.

Vernge was the second driver out, stopping as his engine failed just before Button got there to pass. That moved Button to ninth and Grosjean into the points on L16. At that point, Vettel had six and a half seconds on Alonso, a gap that seemed to have stabilized. Webber, though, was close behind Massa and well within the DRS zone. Only Perez behind Ricciardo was closer to the man ahead.

First Pit Stops Begin (L18 of 53):
Pic was the first driver to pit on normal schedule, popping in and out for fresh tyres on L18. van der Garde followed his teammate in on the next lap. On the radio, Hulkenberg’s engineer told him to “push like hell.” Grosjean pitted on L21, the first of the major teams to stop. It was long, 5.6s, with a bobble from Lotus. He dropped from tenth to rejoin sixteenth. McLaren pitted Perez first, telling Button to push on his in lap, only to make a quick change and pit Button first.  He went in ninth and rejoined fourteenth, just behind Hamilton.

Vettel and Alonso continued to lap happily away at the front, though Alonso had clawed back a few tenths and was back in the five second range behind Vettel. Ricciardo and Perez both pitted on L23, from seventh and eighth. They rejoined in the same order, but with Button splitting them. Vettel pitted from the lead on L24, with teammate Webber far enough behind his teammate that the Red Bull crew serviced both with no delay. Massa and Hulkenberg pitted on L25, as did Sutil and Maldonado. That left Alonso and Rosberg 1-2, neither having stopped. On the stops, Webber managed to get just ahead of Massa as the latter rejoined. Bottas pitted on L26, with Alonso losing a second to Vettel on the latter’s out lap. Rosberg pitted as L27 began.

Halfway (End L27 of 53):
Alonso finally pitted at halfway, relinquishing the race lead. On the radio, Vettel got yet another message from the season that he needed to slow somewhat. Ferrari made an excellent stop fro Alonso, putting him back on the track ahead of Webber. At the end of L28, Vettel led Alonso by ten seconds, then Webber, Massa, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Rosberg, Hamilton, Ricciardo, and Button the top ten. Perez, Grosjean, Gutierrez, Sutil, Maldonado, Bottas, Pic, van der Garde, Bianchi, and Chilton completed the running order. Meanwhile, Hamilton had shoved his way around Rosberg, who had been given a message to save his tyres for a fight late in the race.

Further ahead, it appeared that Webber might be going for a one-stop strategy as his engineer told him to not push too hard after Alonso. Raikkonen pitted on L31, dropping away from Hulkenberg, who had come under attack from Hamilton. Though Hamilton tried nearly any way to pass the Sauber, he could not do so. On the front straight, Hamilton had another look. Hulkenberg defended, but went wide, allowing Hamilton to finally sneak through at Curva Grande to take fifth.

20 Laps of 53 Remaining:
Vettel had an eleven second gap on Alonso with twenty laps to go. Webber, massa, Hamilton, Hulkenberg, Rosberg, Ricciardo, Button, and Perez completed the top ten. Ricciardo, Button, and Perez were the closest men on track, covered by barely more than a second. Soon, though, Rosberg had come close to Hulkenberg, fighting over sixth. Rosberg miscalculated and took to the escape road at T1.

At Mercedes, the crew looked ready for a stop, presumably by Hamilton as Rosberg was on a one-stopper, but they soon packed up and return to the garage. Broadcast radio transmissions seemed to indicate that Hamilton had not heard the message to pit. His pit board also indicated a demanded pit stop, and he had cut the chicane. Back on track, Grosjean made his move on Perez, having caught up to the train in the latter half of the pints positions.

Hamilton pitted on L39, rejoining behind Raikkonen in fourteenth. Further ahead, Webber was right behind Alonso and looking ready to fight over second. Just as he looked ready to make a move, Red Bull told Webber that there was an issue and he needed “to short shift in the lower gears, exit of turn 2.” Another message told Webber to short shift from 2nd to 3rd gears. Back in pit lane, van der Garde and his crew had a misstep, with the team not ready and items in the way of the car entering the pit box. There was a scuffle over twelfth, as Sutil, Raikkonen, Gutierrez, and Hamilton attempted to move up the order.

10 Laps Remaining of 53:
Webber’s change of driving did not seem to affect his times, as he remained around a half second behind Webber. Soon, though, Vettel received a message to short shift between 5th and 5th gears. Back on track, Hamilton had a go on Gutierrez, passed him, and set off after Raikkonen. Raikkonen went through on Sutil in the Parabolica. Meanwhile, Grosjean went though on Button. Then, Hamilton looked to follow Raikkonen through on Sutil and did so.

At the end of L45, Vettel had just under eleven seconds on Alonso. He had less than a second gap on Webber, who continued to receive messages about short shifting. Massa sat another two seconds back, with Hulkenberg in fifth. The German remained under attack from Rosberg, who had his own safe gap back to seventh place Ricciardo.

Back to the battle over the final points positions, Raikkonen came under attack form Hamilton. The Finn had been told not to use KRS out of Parabolica. They fought into the chicane, with Hamilton looking set to pass, but Raikkonen jumped back ahead to maintain the position. At the front, with five laps to go, Vettel’s lead had dropped to less than ten seconds. Vettel still seemed safe enough, but his teammate was ready to come under attack from Massa. Rob Smedley was hard on the radio, encouraging Massa to go get Webber.

Hamilton and Raikkonen continued to push, sweeping through on Raikkonen around the outside of the Curva Grande. Ahead, Perez had had a look on Button, just before Hamilton set up the pass on Raikkonen. Hamilton next went to go around Perez, even into the traffic into T1. It was close, but Hamilton then Perez made his way through safely. Hamilton continued to pick off positions, driving to the inside and taking ninth from Button.

Meanwhile, Vettel had been told to protect the front with the braking. His lead had dropped to just over eight seconds over Alonso. Back in the pack, Raikkonen looked set to pass Button, but could not. On the last lap, Red Bull told Vettel to just bring it home. Massa had also backed off Webber. Further back, Hamilton made a move on Grosjean, only went too deep into the chicane and had to give the position back. Sutil pulled his Force India into the garage on that last lap to retire. Vettel crossed the line with the win, Alonso second, Webber third, and Hamilton could not make it back from the missed chicane to pass Grosjean. Both Webber and Raikkonen stopped on the cool-down lap.

Final Positions, 2013 Italian Grand Prix:

1. Sebastian VettelRed Bull 1
2. Fernando AlonsoFerrari5.41
3. Mark WebberRed Bull6.31
4. Felipe MassaFerrari9.31
5. Nico HulkenbergSauber10.31
6. Nico RosbergMercedes10.91
7. Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso32.31
8. Romain GrosjeanLotus33.11
9. Lewis HamiltonMercedes33.52
10. Jenson ButtonMcLaren38.31
11. Kimi RaikkonenLotus38.61
12. Sergio PerezMcLaren39.71
13. Esteban GutierrezSauber40.81
14. Pastor MaldonadoWilliams49.01
15. Valtteri BottasWilliams56.81
16. Adrian Sutil (RET)Force India1 Lap2
17. Charles PicCaterham1 Lap2
18. Giedo van der GardeCaterham1 Lap2
19. Jules BianchiMarussia1 Lap1
20. Max ChiltonMarussia1 Lap1
 Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso39 Laps 
 Paul di RestaForce India  
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