MONZA // Lewis Hamilton strolled to victory at the Italian Grand Prix in the woodland setting of Monza Park, but it was Fernando Alonso who described the 13th race of the season as a “perfect Sunday” after finishing third and seeing several of his championship challengers retire.
Hamilton has been the focus of the spotlight all week following suggestions he is preparing to defect from McLaren-Mercedes at the end of the year in search of success – and substantially more money – at Mercedes’ works team.
Yet if the 27 year old has been influenced by the relentless speculation, the only affect it seems to have had is to make him even more determined to prove his worth.
Hamilton, fastest in qualifying, led from lights out to chequered flag as he secured his first win at Monza, his second triumph from three races and his third victory of the season.
“This is a very, very special victory,” Hamilton, who appeared subdued on the podium after being booed by the Italian fans, said.
“It’s a very historic circuit and when I was driving, I was thinking that all of the greats have won here, so to finally get a win here is just the icing on the cake. And I hope that this is the start of something good in the future, coming here.”
Where that future lies remains to be seen, but there was tension evident between team and driver when Hamilton shared a strained, uncomfortable embrace with Martin Whitmarsh, the team principal, during a celebratory photograph in front of the marque’s motorhome.
Alonso, the championship leader, suffers no such awkwardness with Ferrari, with whom he has said recently he wants to finish his career.
The Spaniard started his team’s home race in 10th after a problematic qualifying session, but finished on the podium for the seventh time this season. The 31 year old often speaks of his target each weekend being simply to finish ahead of whoever sits second in the standings.
Yesterday, he achieved his goal by some distance as Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing’s world champion, was forced to retire.
Alonso was also gifted the bonus of seeing fellow challengers Jenson Button and Mark Webber also have their races end prematurely.
“Absolutely perfect Sunday for us,” Alonso said. “Jenson was out of the race and the two Red Bulls too, so perfect.
“Obviously, the win was out of reach after the problem [in qualifying]. Starting 10th, it is not easy to think about victory, so if you cannot win, then a podium is the next target.
“In all the simulations and all the predictions we had, it was never a podium finish, so basically it’s much better than expected.”
Hamilton now sits second in the standings, 37 points behind the two-time world champion with seven races remaining. Understandably, Alonso has no doubts about who his biggest rival is.
“At the moment, McLaren have won the past three grands prix and they are in top form,” he said.
“I was asked near the start of the season who was the driver I respect most and that was Lewis and we’re still here; 11 or 12 races afterwards and we are first and second in the championship.”
Alonso was running in second for a period of the race after deliberately being given space to pass by his teammate, Felipe Massa, who had been Hamilton’s nearest challenger in the opening stages of the race before his pace fell away.
However, Sergio Perez, the young Mexican who drives for Sauber but is a graduate of the Ferrari driver academy, clearly did not get the same memo: he overtook Alonso with less than 10 laps remaining to claim second and sandwich himself between two former world champions on the podium.
Perez implemented a flawless strategy from 12th place on the grid. He started on the harder Pirelli compound then moving to the soft compound for his second stint, in direct contrast to his rivals.
Itcould have seen him catch even Hamilton had he had the luxury of a few more laps after he had moved up to second and the 22 year old’s imperious performance will not have gone unnoticed by the onlooking Luca di Montezemolo.
The Ferrari president had previously said Perez was not experienced enough to take Massa’s seat at the Italian manufacturers next season.
Perez deflected any questions about a possible switch to Mugello for next season, but said not overtaking Alonso had never crossed his mind.
“I’m fighting for my team and will always fight for the team that I’m in,” he said. “I will always give the maximum I can. And I will fight any driver, no matter if it’s Fernando or Lewis, I will fight for my team to get the result – and I think every driver will do the same.”