- Italian Grand Prix
Vettel wins to tighten title gripLaurence Edmondson and Chris Medland September 8, 2013
- Italian Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel took a big step towards his fourth consecutive world championship with a comfortable victory at the Italian Grand Prix.
Having held on to his lead from pole position, Vettel was never in danger as he eased away at the front. At one stage Fernando Alonso threatened to close the gap ahead of the pit stops but Vettel's opening laps on the hard tyre at the start of the second stint ensured he retained a comfortable lead and he eased home by 5.4 seconds after slowing in the final laps. There were a few frayed nerves on the pit wall as Vettel was ordered to look after his front tyres and gearbox, but the RB9 barely skipped a beat as it took the reigning champion to his sixth victory of 2013.
Alonso had to hold off Mark Webber late in the race despite the Red Bull also having to short shift in lower gears and struggling with front wing damage. Felipe Massa came home fourth as Sauber's Nico Hulkenberg closed to within a second on the final lap after another very impressive performance. Nico Rosberg finished sixth following a low-key race while Daniel Ricciardo underlined his potential for next year with a seventh-place finish ahead of Romain Grosjean in eighth.
It was a tough race for Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen, giving yet another boost to Vettel's championship hopes. Hamilton started on the hard tyre with the intention of running a long first stint but a slow puncture early on forced him onto a two-stop strategy and he did well to recover two points in ninth place. For Raikkonen, running into the back of Sergio Perez at the start of the race meant he also had to make an unscheduled pit stop, but he was unable to score as Jenson Button held him off for 10th place.
For once, Webber appeared to get the better start of the two Red Bulls from the line and put pressure on Vettel into the first corner. Vettel locked its front right tyre at the 100 metre board but quickly regained grip to salvage the apex of the first corner, coming across the bows of Webber car as he did it. Massa made use of the intra-team rivalry to sneak around the outside of Turn 1 and claim second at the apex of Turn 2, while Alonso, who had slewed to the inside at the start, filtered in behind Webber after seeing off Hulkenberg.
The top four held position for the first two laps but as soon as the DRS was activated Alonso attacked Webber ahead of him. He took a look at the inside of the Red Bull at turn one, but decided to hold his attack for the second chicane where he was squeezed to the edge of the track before attacking around the outside. Alonso planted his car on the second apex to take the position and clipped the Red Bull's front wing on the exit to complete an aggressive but well-executed overtaking move.
Alonso was clearly quicker than Massa and it was just a matter of time before the choreographed move at Turn 1 saw the Ferraris exchange position without a serious fight. But even Alonso couldn't make a dent in Vettel's lead and the Red Bull, despite nursing a flat spot from the first corner, continued to extend its lead.
A one-stop was undoubtedly the strategy of choice, although Raikkonen and Hamilton had their hands forced. The Lotus driver made contact with Sergio Perez at the start of the race as the McLaren cut across his bows in the braking zone. Raikkonen was caught by surprise and locked his brakes before hitting the back of Perez, demolishing his front wing. Hamilton followed the accident through turn one, and his puncture later on could well have come from the debris.
For the rest of the race Raikkonen and Hamilton yo-yoed up and down the field, out of sync with their rivals and handicapped by an inevitable second stop before the end of the race. Both put on a charge towards the end, but Raikkonen's ended in 11th while Hamilton was able to muscle past the Lotus to eventually finish ninth.
For Vettel, his solitary pit stop was as well executed as the rest of his weekend, and needed to be to to get him out and bring Webber in behind on the same lap. Webber's stop was just 0.1s slower as the Red Bull mechanics earned Sunday's pay cheque in the space of about 12 seconds with back-to-back pit stops.
Alonso stayed out on track four laps longer than the Red Bulls, but with Vettel and Webber on fresher tyres he lost over four seconds and saw his lead over the second Red Bull slashed. From that point onwards, Alonso's focus switched from Vettel's distant gearbox to the looming nosecone of Webber in his mirrors.
However, both Red Bulls were hamstrung with gearbox worries towards the end of the race, and just as Webber looked likely to make a move on Alonso a call came from the pit wall to short shift from second to third. Vettel seemed to have an issue in higher gears and although he was losing time to Alonso, the rate at which the gap was closing was never going to be enough to allow Alonso a sniff of victory.
Vettel crossed the line to cheers from the pit wall but was met by boos on the podium in front of the partisan Tifosi crowd. However, one glance at the championship standings will offer plenty of consolation as he now takes a 53-point lead to the final seven flyaway races of the year.
Laurence Edmondson is deputy editor of ESPNF1