Monza, Italy: Sebastian Vettel extended his lead in the drivers’ world championship to more than 50 points when he drove to a polished victory for Red Bull in Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix.
The 26-year-old German, series leader and defending triple world champion, survived a torrid start and gearbox problems as he dominated an intriguing 53-lap race, the last of the European part of the Formula One season.
Vettel came home 5.4 seconds clear of Fernando Alonso, as the Ferrari driver thrilled the tifosi with a battling chase in pursuit ahead of third-placed Australian Mark Webber in the second Red Bull and Brazilian Felipe Massa, fourth in the second Ferrari.
On a warm, if overcast, afternoon, Vettel proved both his sublime talent and his fighting spirit — as both Red Bull drivers were told to nurse their cars home — to reel off his sixth win of the season and the 32nd of his career. It was his third win at Monza and helped Red Bull end a run of poor results at the circuit.
His performance, however, was matched by that of Briton Lewis Hamilton, who started 12th, lost the use of his team radio and suffered a slow puncture, as he fought back twice to finish ninth. “A nightmare,” he said.
Red Bull team chief Christian Horner praised the winner over race radio. “Fantastic, Seb, you’ve won the Italian Grand Prix again,” he said. “Brilliant drive.”
Vettel replied with his characteristic scream and then said: “Very good boys, very good race. Sorry for the lock-up into the first corner, made the first stint a bit tricky.”
Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg, who had qualified with a stunning third in his Ferrari-powered Sauber, came home an excellent fifth to endorse his claims as a possible successor to Massa next season.
Compatriot Nico Rosberg finished sixth in the leading Mercedes ahead of Red Bull-bound Australian Daniel Ricciardo of Toro Rosso and Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Lotus.
Hamilton did his utmost to pass Grosjean on the final lap, but in the end had to settle for ninth ahead of fellow Briton and former teammate Jenson Button of McLaren, who were this weekend celebrating their 50th anniversary as an F1 team.
In the title race, with seven ‘flyaway’ races outside Europe remaining, Vettel leads with 222 points ahead of Alonso on 169 and Hamilton on 141.
A brief shower shortly before the start caused some pre-race alarm, but not enough to cause a switch from slick tyres on a significantly cooler day at the Autodromo Nazionale.
At the start, Vettel struggled to establish himself as leader from the 40th pole of his career, surviving a clattering challenge through the first chicane to emerge ahead of Massa’s Ferrari, the Brazilian having surged past Webber.
In a furious opening, Briton Paul Di Resta was forced to retire his Force India after locking up the front of his car and colliding with Romain Grosjean’s Lotus.
Hamilton, from 12th, rose to 10th before his problems began with the loss of radio contact. Running on the harder compound tyres, he then picked up a slow right front puncture and was forced — with the aid of old-school pit board signals — to pit, rejoining 19th after 14 laps.
By then, Vettel was more than six seconds clear of the field, Alonso having executed a brilliant pass on Webber and then glided past Massa to take second.
Vettel was warned of front right tyre vibrations by his team, a problem created when he locked up at the first chicane at the start, and this began to slow his progress as Alonso chased hard.
His lead was cut to 4.8 before he pitted after 23 laps, emerging third behind Alonso and Rosberg as the Spaniard responded to his team’s call to push hard.
Alonso gave the tifosi four laps to dream before he also pitted and rejoined second behind a reinvigorated Vettel and ahead of Webber, with no-one able to upset that order before the chequered flag.