After Sebastian Vettel had dominated the lead-in to the 2013 Italian Grand Prix, it was hard to see anyone troubling his serene progress to a sixth win of 2013. And despite some rain before the race, a relatively poor start and subsequent concerns on the Red Bull pit wall about gear box issues, Vettel did indeed make it look easy as he beat Fernando Alonso to the chequered flag on Ferrari home ground in what looked to be a very average day's work for the world champion.
It had been a very difference scene that greeted the F1 teams and drivers as they assembled on the grid. The blue skies and scorching temperatures of Saturday's qualifying session were distant fond memories by the time that the cars lined up on Sunday - with Jenson Button's McLaren among them in his allotted ninth place after addressing a scare over the car's fuel system in pit lane.
Of bigger concern to all the drivers was the weather, with rain showers passing over the Autodromo Nazionale Monza in the hour before the lights were scheduled to go out and start the race. By the time that moment came the weather was still fairly overcast, but the rain had dried up and the sun starting to break through the cloud cover meaning that the teams were opting to fit slick tyres on their cars. With the top ten all locked in to using the medium option tyres for their first stint, Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton were the highest-placed cars to make the start on the harder prime compounds indicating that they were looking at longer opening runs. That would also extend their pit window in the event that the rain returned during the race itself, which the official forecasts put at a 60 per cent probability.
When the lights went out, the battle between Red Bull team mates Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber down to the first chicane saw Vettel manage to stay ahead despite locking up, but it cost Webber second place to Felipe Massa. Behind them the usual crush through the chicane saw Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus run into the back of Sergio Perez' McLaren that forced the Finn to pit for a replacement and dropped him to the back of the field. But that was a let-off compared to Force India's Paul di Resta, who locked up into the second chicane and wrecked his left-front suspension running into the back of the second Lotus of Romain Grosjean.
Vettel had quickly pulled out several seconds over Massa at the front, while lap 3 saw a terrific pass by Fernando Alonso on Mark Webber around the outside of the second chicane for third place. Nico Hulkenberg had fallen back in the Sauber but still running a solid fifth place ahead of Nico Rosberg and Daniel Ricciardo while Sergio Perez had survived his early impact from Raikkonen to maintain eighth ahead of Verge and Lewis Hamilton who was suffering from radio communications issues with the Mercedes pit wall and it took several attempts by the team to bring Hamilton onto pit road on lap 14 for an earlier than scheduled pit stop forced on them as a result of a slow puncture on the right-front.
Alonso had executed an unopposed gentleman's excuse me on Massa for second place on lap 8, leaving the Brazilian to fend off Webber's resurgent advanced, but by now Alonso was over five seconds behind Vettel despite the young German suffering from right-front tyre wear issues of his own that had the Red Bull pit crew anxiously examining their telemetry and considering an emergency change from the one-stop strategy if the circumstances forced their hand. Ultimately the anxieties subsided without having to resort to Plan B, and Vettel was able to stay off pit road until the end of lap 24 by which time both McLarens had already made their stops, as had Daniel Ricciardo who was now the sole remaining Toro Rosso after Jean-Eric Vergne's engine had let him down on lap 15.
The remaining leaders came in quickly after that, with Alonso the last of them to come in at the end of lap 28, although further back Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez was making his first set of hard tyres lasted a further lap deeper into the race. Once the pit stops had cycled through, Vettel was back out in front with a ten second lead over Alonso while Webber had jumped Massa for third. Kimi Raikkonen was up to fifth place but that was due to his enforced premature stop at the end of lap 1 for a wing change and a second stop at the end of lap 30 dropped him out of the top ten that additionally comprised Hulkenberg, Hamilton, Rosberg, Ricciardo, Button and Perez.
Next time around Hamilton was able to pass Hamilton through the scarily fast Curva Grande for fifth place, making it look easy with the help of a full application of KERS. Nico Rosberg fancied his chances of passing the Sauber as well, but ended up out-braking himself into turn 1 on lap 36. In any case, Hamilton needed to pit again because of his enforced early stop for the puncture, which once again meant resorting to pit board signs because of the continuing radio issues on the Mercedes before he finally came in on lap 39 which dropped him all the way back down to 14th place again despite all those fastest laps he'd been posting.
Vettel's lead over Alonso was extending ever further, as the Ferrari driver was forced to focus on ensuring that he wasn't passed by Mark Webber who was all over his rear wing - at least, he was until Webber was told first to husband his tyres and then advised of a gearbox issue that required him to short shift between second and third if he wanted to make it to the finish in one piece. For once it wasn't just Webber's Red Bull that was afflicted, with Vettel also being warned of issues on his own car between fifth and sixth gears despite the teams having worked on both gearboxes under parc ferme conditions before the race. Despite the warnings neither men seemed to lose much time as a result of the emergency measures, and ultimately it seemed a matter of prudence and caution as both Red Bulls still went on to last the 53-lap distance.
Technical problems aside, the top seven were fairly static with the overtaking action mainly coming from Grosjean pouncing on Button for eighth place, and a thrilling battle between Raikkonen and Hamilton that was only briefly interrupted by the need for both of them to mug Adrian Sutil for 11th place on lap 45. With Raikkonen being warned of a KERS shortfall he finally nailed the Lotus on the exit of the first chicane and run through Curva Grande at the start of lap 49, and on consecutive laps he then breezed past both McLarens of Perez and then Button down the front straight into turn 1 to pick up ninth position. A final-lap lunge on Grosjean for eighth proved too ambitious however, and after running across the the second chicane he had to settle for following the Lotus home.
Despite the gearbox concerns, Vettel crossed the lines over five seconds clear of Alonso, with the Spaniard having succeeded in holding off Mark Webber to the line. Massa held on to fourth place with Hulkenberg achieving a mighty fifth place in the Sauber ahead of Rosberg and Ricciardo, with the final points position going to Grosjean, Hamilton and Button - who just managed to salvage McLaren from the ignominy of going pointless in their 50th anniversary outing at Monza, denying Kimi Raikkonen any reward for all his hard work after that first lap clash with Perez who finished just behind in 12th.
Overall it had to be said that there were no surprises at Monza where it counted: the lack of rain in the race itself meant that it had been a text book display by Red Bull, but alas textbooks aren't known for their thrilling plot lines and tension-filled cliffhangers - and neither was the 2013 Italian Grand Prix when it came down to it.See full race results