There was an air of redemption at the Italian Grand Prix, as the three main victims of last weekend's opening corner shunt at Spa-Francorchamps filled the podium places at the final European round of 2012 at Monza. For each, however, there was a different tale to tell.
For Lewis Hamilton, there was no sign of the distraction contract talks could have wrought as he led from start to finish to claim his first Italian GP victory. For Sergio Perez, a timely reminder that he could
be the natural successor to Felipe Massa
after he turned twelfth on the grid into second at the flag courtesy of a late tyre stop and blistering second half pace. For Fernando Alonso, a podium finish after a tough start to the weekend means that he now enjoys an extended championship lead after both Red Bulls retired and team-mate Felipe Massa
again did his bit for the greater good.
Hamilton, having secured pole position with what he described as a 'half-decent' lap on Saturday, remained out of reach of everyone come Sunday, making a solid enough start to fend off an ambitious lunge from Massa into the Rettifilio and then having the pace to not only pull away from the Ferrari
in the early stages, but to create a cushion for when, first, McLaren
team-mate Jenson Button, and then Alonso and Perez took turns in second spot.
The Briton also enjoyed a near flawless pit-stop - unlike Button - which returned him to the track with a bigger gap over his team-mate than he had had a lap previously. From there, although Perez began slashing away at the margin in the closing stages, there was nothing, aside from a mechanical failure, that was going to deny the 2008 world champion a third win of the year, and second in three races, following his previous successes in Canada and Hungary.
In truth, with Hamilton in control out front, the real interest lay in what was going on behind, with the order seeming to change continually through a combination of retirements and passing, both standard and DRS-enabled. After a clean opening lap, with just a single shed front wing end-plate at the back of the pack, Alonso wasted no time in attempting to make up for the tenth place he was restricted to by rollbar failure in qualifying. Having already gained a spot off the line, the Spaniard usurped fellow world champions Kimi Raikkonen
and Michael Schumacher in the space of seven laps before embarking on a feisty scrap with the man he is likely to supplant as #1 next season, Sebastian Vettel.
It took some time for the Ferrari
to be in a position to challenge but, having closed quickly on Vettel over the previous couple of laps, Alonso launched an ambitious attempt to claim fourth spot at the Curva Grande. In a mirror of their battle from last season, the Spaniard found himself on the grass, despite Vettel appeared to hold the racing line around the corner. Alonso, unsurprisingly, was incensed, and his team backed up his view that he Vettel had attempted to 'ruin our race'. The stewards, too, sided with the home team, calling Vettel for a drive-thru' penalty for 'forcing another car off the road'.
It may have been a legacy of the carnage seen at Spa a week ago, but put the first dent in Vettel's hopes of closing further on Alonso's points lead, having taken 18 points out of the Spaniard in Belgium. The German, naturally, had the opposite view, although video evidence showed a bigger gap between the cars in the 2011 incident, where Vettel actually gained a place after his rival straightened his line under pressure. The penalty, however, dropped Vettel into the lower reaches of the top ten and he had only just begun to regain lost ground when he was warned that there was a potential problem with his RB8.
The German soldiered on for another four laps, but had just crossed the line to complete 46 laps when a more urgent message came over the radio, insisting he stop the car immediately. The problem, according to the missive from pit-wall, was the same -alternator failure - as that which had sidelined the Red Bull
in the final moments of Saturday morning practice, but the tone of the call suggested that the Renault
V8 - a rare commodity at this point in the season - behind the driver's head was in imminent danger of lunching itself.
By the time his closest rival was sidelined, Alonso was already up into second spot, having passed Vettel three laps after having to take to the grass in avoidance of a collision, and then benefiting from the sight of Button slowing on the run to Parabolica on lap 33. The McLaren
driver did not appear to have enough to deny team-mate Hamilton victory, but second place would have been of benefit to his own championship challenge. Suspected fuel pump failure was blamed for the Briton's first DNF of 2012, and will surely raise the spectre of him having to play second fiddle to Hamilton over the remaining seven races of the season.