Hamilton wins Italian GP; Alonso extends F1 lead
MONZA, Italy (AP) — McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton thrust himself back into the title race with a maiden Italian Grand Prix victory yesterday, while a "dream" race for Formula One leader Fernando Alonso saw the Ferrari driver finish third to extend his overall lead.
Speculation about Hamilton's future and a possible switch to Mercedes dominated the weekend, but the 2008 champion put the focus firmly back on his driving with his first victory at Monza and the 20th of his career.
"It's a fantastic win in front of the best crowd. I'm happy for the team. It's been the best day," said Hamilton, who started on pole and led almost from start to finish. "It was pretty trouble-free, I don't think I had any problems throughout the race and the guys did a great job through the pit stop. And I got a good start for once, so very, very happy with that."
Hamilton made it three wins in a row for McLaren and moved past defending champion Sebastian Vettel to take second place in the drivers' standings, 37 points behind Alonso. It could have been a perfect day for McLaren, but Jenson Button — who started second and looked on course to finish right behind Hamilton — was forced to retire on the 35th lap.
Alonso started from 10th on the grid after he had technical difficulties during Saturday's qualifying. However, the Spaniard took advantage of a wretched day for Vettel and the Red Bull team to storm his way through the field, much to the delight of the fans at Ferrari's home track.
"It was a perfect Sunday for us," Alonso said. "After the problem yesterday it was not easy to think about victory. So if you are not going to win the podium is the next target.
"All the simulations and predictions said we would never finish on the podium. So it was much better than expected and Jenson was out of the race and so were the two Red Bulls, so the perfect Sunday ... the race went like a movie for us, like a dream."
Vettel had to retire because of a mechanical problem when wisps of white smoke started to emerge from his car with six laps to go. He was joined on the sideline by Red Bull teammate Mark Webber, who retired at the end of the penultimate lap.
Sergio Perez, who revealed he had been feeling sick all weekend, was second yesterday, 4.3 seconds behind Hamilton after starting 12th. The Mexican finished strongly, moving through the field in the closing stages and cutting into Hamilton's lead, after leaving it until lap 29 to pit and change to softer tyres.
Alonso made up three places on the first lap from 10th, and was up to sixth by the second lap.
A tremendous tussle with Vettel halfway through the race forced Alonso onto the grass adjacent to the track to avoid a collision, with the German later being issued a drive-through penalty.
Ferrari driver Felipe Massa finished fourth after starting third. The Brazilian got off to a strong start, overtaking Button and almost moving past Hamilton on the outside just before the first chicane.
Hamilton managed to hold his old rival at bay, only losing the lead briefly to Perez, who only pit-stopped once.
Button overtook Massa to regain second position shortly before their pit stops and it seemed as if a McLaren 1-2 was on the cards after the team had achieved a record 62nd front-row sweep in qualifying.
One week after giving himself an outside shot at the title with victory at the Belgium GP, however, Button endured a fuel pressure problem and had to quit the race.
That allowed Massa to move into second place but, with Alonso catching him, he allowed his teammate to overtake.
A new threat soon appeared as Perez put in a number of lightning-fast laps. He overtook the Ferrari duo to claim his third podium of the season — and his career.
Alonso finished 20.6 seconds behind Hamilton. Massa was a further nine seconds behind, just ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and five-time Monza winner Michael Schumacher.