F1 2013 Italian Grand Prix Race Review
Sebastian Vettel was completely dominant in his 32nd career win at the circuit where he won his first ever race.
TV: Sky F1 (UK), NBC (USA)
n the end the whole weekend turned into a procession for Sebastian Vettel, who at no point even appeared to be threatened for victory. In means that the Drivers’ Championship is all but his, having opened up a seemingly unassailable 53 point lead.
For the sake of uncertainty, at this point last year Fernando Alonso had just opened up a 39 point lead over Sebastian Vettel, who had retired from the Italian GP due to an alternator failure. What’s even more startling was that he was fourth in the standings. Of course, we know it was the next four races where the German went bang-bang-bang and bang.
This year is so much different from last year. Not the least that it’s the superior car that’s in the lead, but that the Ferrari just can’t match the Red Bull.
Over the last three races or so, since the disappointment of Germany, the F 138 has improved dramatically. The problem for Alonso is that the Red Bull has improved equally as much too.
This weekend was as dominant as we have seen in season 2013. Having been fastest in four of the five sessions, Vettel was always going to cruise to victory unless something extraordinary happened.
We almost got this on two occasions, much to the frustration of Christian Horner and Adrian Newey. First there was the genuine threat of rain with a heavy downpour an hour or so before the race. It would have made the race all the cagier, given that despite Vettel’s sound wet-weather skills, Fernando Alonso is the king of the rain.
Ultimately for the benefit of Red Bull the rain stayed away, and instead the cooler temperatures helped assuage any worries of tyre degradation that might have otherwise occurred on a hot Italian summer’s day.
The start was always going to be crucial, as it so often is in Monza. With Felipe Massa lining up directly behind the two RB9s, it was the duty of Vettel and Webber combined to ensure a driver such as Massa, who has nothing to lose, didn’t get in front of them and ruin their race through some aggressive moves.
Fortunately both got great starts and were of the line in a flash. Unfortunately in the exit of the chicane Massa had managed to get ahead of Webber, and the thought of the whole paddock was how aggressive he would go at Vettel, equally for his teammate as much as himself.
However typical Vettel was long gone, opening up a lead that only grew and never shrank. It was such a dominant race that the only worry for Red Bull during the 53 laps was towards the end when some gearbox issues has reared its ugly head. Vettel was instructed to short-shift between 5th and 6th gear, but even that wasn’t enough to bring the mighty German down who ended up a more than comfortable 5.4 seconds ahead of Alonso.
The Spaniard couldn’t have done a hell of a lot more. It’s evident that while the Ferrari is a good car, it’s just not up to the performance levels of the Red Bull. The sinking feeling for Alonso is palpable, but there’s absolutely nothing he can do about it now.
It was raised during commentary, due to the processional nature of the race, what must be going through Alonso’s mind every time he wakes up. It’s almost universally accepted that he’s the best all-round driver on the grid, yet at the end of this season he’ll have two championships next to his name and Vettel will have four.
With the rumours having been flung around of Alonso’s management having made an approach to Red Bull and the public in-fighting that has surfaces in Maranello, one has to question just how much Alonso can bear of Ferrari’s ‘close but no cigar’ performances since he joined the team.
His teammate, at least until the end of this year, Felipe Massa also had a relatively good race. With Ferrari having mucked up their slip-stream qualifying strategy, Massa started one grid-slot ahead of Alonso. It’s fair to say he made the most of it.
Without being overly aggressive against his teammate, Massa reminded Alono what he could do as he got past Webber into second. However from their the Brazilian was unable to make much further progress, and ultimately the inevitability of team orders got the Brazilian demoted to third, where he then lost a further stop to a charging Webber.
Without the interruption by Ferrari, Massa would have been guaranteed a podium position, only his second of the season. The talk of his position once again swirled around the paddock, with many thinking that Ferrari must cut their losses and move on. Massa’s never going to win a championship, but he’s not even consistent enough to adequately support Alonso in the way that Webber can do for Vettel.
That’s why the performance of highly rated German youngster Nico Hulkenberg came at such a pertinent time for Ferrari. It seemed as if Hulkenberg’s decision to move sideways to Sauber from Force India had horribly backfired, not least of which was that he had lost the ability to perform these on of miracle races that got the rest of the F1 world to sit up and take notice.
But his qualifying and race performances in Monza were nothing short of spectacular for a car that has been a big disappointment over the course of this season. Qualifying in the top three is no easy feat, and maintaining a similar performance level for the duration of the 53 laps is even harder.
Out of all the young talent that’s currently on the grid, Hulkenberg is without doubt the most highly rated. He’s had three different teams in his three years of Formula 1, so his adaptability is well proven. It’s now a matter of his being able to convince one of the big teams, namely Ferrari or Lotus, that he has what it takes to step up to the increased level required by a bigger team.
If I were advising Ferrari I would certainly sign him up for 2014 considering that he offers no less to the team than what Massa offers. Instead he brings tremendous upside to a team that is in grave need of a lift to get their 2014 campaign going in the right direction from the very start.
Another reason that the Italian GP was so darn good for Sebastian Vettel was that of his three immediate championship rivals, two faltered in the most dramatic of ways. There good have been no better sight for the Red Bull pit-wall then seeing Raikkonen and Hamilton scrap intensely with each other for minor points towards the end of a couple of horror races.
Firstly the Finn had underperformed in qualifying once again, failing to get the most out of a Lotus that is already severely handicapped when it comes to one lap pace. From the very start, it was evident that this wasn’t going to be Raikkonen’s day when he ran into the back of a fast braking Sergio Perez, damaging his front wing to the extent that a pit stop was required.
Hamilton on the other hand just was nowhere in terms of pace. Having lost radio contact in the most unfortunate of circumstances, he had to make an early pit stop due to a slow puncture on his right front tyre. It wasn’t all the Brit’s fault, as much was evident from the equally uninspiring race from teammate Nico Rosberg. The German never appeared to be in trouble from anyone behind, but equally never appeared to be challenging anyone ahead in what was a truly solitary race.
The indifferent performances, in the case of Mercedes and Lotus, and the good performance, in the case of Ferrari, might all prove the be irrelevant when it comes down the last race of the year in Brazil. All the evidence points to Vettel winning this in a canter, and Raikkonen and Hamilton have all but conceded defeat already.
Alonso pushes on in the belief, like the soldier he is, but he’s a smart man and should realise that 53 points in seven races makes for an incredibly unlikely miracle, a fluke is what it would have to be called if it happened.
That’s not to say that these next few races will be dull, anything but is the reality. The teams are still fighting, especially in the midfield as standings are all so important when it comes to the distribution of prize money.
The next event at Singapore is without doubt the most amazing spectacle of the Formula 1 calendar. An all-night race, the atmosphere is always electric, even if the racing is sometimes not as exciting. If Red Bull win there, it’s all over, but should they encounter some mechanical worries, who knows what’s possible.