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The Monza Mystique

The McLaren fight. Image courtesy Vodafone McLaren Mercedes; World Copyright: Andrew Ferraro/LAT Photographic

Just when you think you have seen it all, along comes a classic track and throws everything – including the championship – for a twisted, confused loop. I shouldn’t be surprised. It is after all, Monza – the granddaddy of tracks. We pay obeisance at its doors – this temple of speed – as we squirm in our seats, watching with our mouths open, the sheer mastery of the racers. The track comes alive, the cars so speedy, challenging every curve, fighting to hold their spot – often unsuccessfully, and sometimes successfully.

So it came to pass that darling Lew Lew was crowned king amid a sea of red, at this season’s last European race. The Tifosi was disappointed, but we weren’t. Lewis Hamilton had run a brilliant, steady, intelligent race. It was McLaren’s 180th win and his first. His only real contender came to the fore towards the very end in the form and shape of Sergio Perez – who slid past Felipe Massa and then Fernando Alonso, to lead in the 2nd spot. It was enough to leave us gasping; rather delightedly I might add, for breath.

Basking in Monza glory: Sergio Perez. Image courtesy Sauber Motorsport AG

Sauber has been one of those teams that have given this season that edge which has left all of us pleasantly surprised. Perez scored his third podium of the season, starting from 12th on the grid and climbing his way steadily to the top. His progress was enough to get the McLarens worried – with the team warning Lew Lew to watch out, not get complacent, and move faster. Hamilton later told, “I was cruising at the end, but once I heard that Sergio Perez had got past Fernando Alonso, I had to push a little to keep the cushion over second place.” It was a much-deserved win for Sauber, a perfect blend of strategy, talent, and car set-up. Perez later said in a press release, “It was one of those (races) where you have the pace and are the one to attack…I didn’t have an easy first stint with the hard tyres, but it was certainly the right strategy…The second stint was then really maximum attack and I must say all of the drivers I overtook have been fair. They didn’t leave me more room than they had to, but it was always enough. This is the way it should be.”

The surprise came in the form of this season’s black sheep – Massa, a man who has been haunted, rather consistently, by Lady Bad Luck. The Qualifying saw him at the 3rd position with McLaren taking up the first two slots. (I know, I was stunned too) He then, went on to maintain a consistent pace, even as Alonso worked his way up from 10th, battling Sebastian Vettel on the way. It was towards the end of the race though, that Massa made way for Alonso, giving up his 2nd spot. Until of course, Sergio Perez happened.

Alonso though had a tough fight on his way up. But it was Vettel who proved to be the biggest challenger. It was during a face-off at Curva Grande that Alonso went off track, almost off-roading his way through gravel and later, going on to overtake the German. The stewards though, did not take kindly to that Vettelesque move, awarding the Red Bull driver a drive-through penalty. It was the start of bad luck.

Before we knew it, Vettel’s car started giving him trouble, even as the team radioed warning him that his car could stop suddenly. It was the alternator and yes, it did stop rather suddenly. That was the end to his Monza race. Mark Webber soon followed suit, retiring with tyre trouble. But the saddest DNF of this race was Jenson Button that ended the team (and our) hope of a double McLaren podium. Suddenly, even as Button maintained a phenomenal pace, his engine shut down and his car coasted to stop at the side of the track. Button later said that it seemed like there was a fuel system problem.

Bruno Senna amidst a sea of Ferrari red! Image courtesy Williams F1; Photo: Charles Coates/LAT Photographic

Meanwhile, season bad boy Pastor Maldonado kept his nose out of trouble working his way up from the back of the grid to end at 11th position. Bruno Senna brought home some valuable points, ending the race at 10th, while maintaining a one-stop strategy.

It was definitely one of those perfect races, with just enough mystery to leave us guessing. Next up is the glittery Singapore night race. This season is still open, up for grabs. Red Bull is still in the lead for Constructors with 272 points. But McLaren is steadily closing that gap with 243 points. Ferrari has now managed to elbow Lotus out of the way and is at the 3rd spot with 226 points. The Driver’s Championship still has Alonso in the lead with 179 points. Hamilton takes the 2nd spot with 142 points – a way away, but not too far off. The cup is still in his grasp. But he better watch out. The Ice Man is just a point behind. And we all know, he doesn’t sit silent for long. There are 7 more races to go, and I think the only thing we can safely say, is that the championship is still a big mystery. Now, that’s the way we like it, isn’t it?

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