Michael Schumacher suffered the highs and lows of motorsport life in one afternoon at Monza as, having racked up his 90th race win in front of the adoring tifosi
at Monza, he announced that the time had come to bow out of Formula One.
Even after the stewards had intervened to increase the gap between Schumacher and title rival Fernando Alonso at the start, penalising the Spaniard for allegedly blocking Ferrari's Felipe Massa during qualifying, the afternoon still revolved around the pair, despite the fact that they never ran together on track during the 53 laps.
At the front, Schumacher duelled for victory with McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen - the man widely expected to fill the German's seat at Ferrari next season - while, further back, Alonso had to battle his way through traffic and appeared poised to limit his losses with a podium place - only for his engine to expire in front of his rival's fans.
While Raikkonen got the better start to lead into the first chicane, Schumacher almost lost out to the fast-starting Nick Heidfeld, the BMW Sauber driver ahead into the corner, but backing off enough to allow Schumacher back through. While Heidfeld subsequently fell back through the order on the opening laps, however, new team-mate Robert Kubica was going the opposite way. Taking advantage of the German's loss of momentum, he ended the lap in third place, having started sixth, and would run at the head of the chasing pack almost throughout.
Raikkonen continued to lead Schumacher to the first round of pit-stops, the gap between them fluctuating around a second or two, but the die was cast when McLaren called its man in first. Schumacher had a lap more to make good his advantage and, when both cars were back on track, it was the Ferrari which was ahead. From thee, Schumacher wasn't headed, although Raikkonen kept him honest through the second round of stops, before easing back at the end to ensure he took second place.
Behind them, Alonso was up to seventh at the start, taking advantage of team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella's politeness at the opening corner, but soon found himself stuck behind Jenson Button's Honda. The Briton was happy to have qualified on the third row but both he and team-mate Rubens Barrichello complained of a lack of straight-line speed, having had to revert to their Turkey-spec engines when the 2008 unit failed to live up to expectation on Friday.
Alonso remained mired behind the Honda until the first round of pit-stops, but a quick turnaround from the Renault crew ensured that he was ahead by the mid-point. The order was confused by the split in strategies between the one- and two-stoppers, with Fisichella and Barrichello heading the former in making up ground. Heidfeld was among those making a couple of stops, and regained a couple of places - at the expense of Alonso and Button during his first. Unfortunately, he had done it by exceeding the speed limit and had to make an extra unscheduled call that dropped him out of the reckoning.
By the time the strategies converged, with less than a third of the race remaining, Schumacher and Raikkonen continued to run well ahead of their pursuers, now headed by Alonso after the Renault crew got him out ahead of Kubica. The pair pitted at exactly the same time, and with the R26 on the tail of the BMW Sauber, but exited side-by-side as the Swiss/German team released its charge into the path of the accelerating Alonso. With a wide pit exit, the Spaniard was able to nose ahead and, in a mood not to be messed with, secured third spot by the chicane.
The pit-stop had also got Alonso ahead of Massa, the second Ferrari unable to run at the same pace as its sister after dropping behind Kubica at the start. Unfortunately for the Spaniard, however, his determination to make up as much ground as possible eventually paid its price. Heading past the pits for the 44th time, the first wisps of smoke quickly became an eruption, with oil and debris quickly being thrown from the rear of the pale blue machine. The only consolation for Alonso and Renault will be that the failure removed the questions of 'what if?' had the points difference to Schumacher been affected merely by the penalty the Spaniard claimed had made him decide that F1 was 'no longer a sport'.