The Italian Grand Prix, historically, has proven not to be the happiest hunting ground for Red Bull Racing.
For a team that has dominated Formula One for the past four years, winning 33 of the past 69 races since the start of 2010, Monza has been a tough venue for the Austrian team.
One victory had come their way, in 2011, when Sebastian Vettel dominated in a Red Bull that was so good that year it won 12 out of the 19 races.
That success was the only time in four attempts that Vettel had finished on the podium in a Red Bull before Sunday, while teammate Mark Webber had never finished in the top three in the colours of the Milton Keynes-based marque.
Such had been their lack of consistent form at Monza that Adrian Newey, the team’s technical director, had reportedly said he wanted to treat the weekend as one of damage limitation, the goal being simply to try to protect as much of Vettel’s drivers’ championship lead as possible – and likewise with Red Bull’s advantage in the constructors’ competition.
Fast forward to the podium post-race at Monza on Sunday and Red Bull were reflecting on another afternoon of dominance that had seen Vettel cruise to his sixth triumph of the season, with Webber third – the only thing that spoilt a perfect day was Fernando Alonso’s dogged drive for second in his Ferrari.
An amused Vettel said of Newey: “He was as surprised as us.
“He thought it would be like damage limitation this weekend, so I said if damage limitation is like that, I want a lot more damage this season.”
There was lots of exciting, wheel-to-wheel racing at Monza on Sunday but sadly none of it was at the front where Vettel – once he had held off Felipe Massa’s attempt to out-brake him into the first corner – dominated for all except three laps of pit stops.
Though Vettel was having to manage a gearbox issue in the second half of the race, his speed advantage over the rest of the field ensured that he was able to cruise home for his second successive victory and the 32nd win of his career.
Speaking on the podium post-race, in a ceremony in which he was roundly jeered by the unimpressed Italian crowd, who had been keen to see a Ferrari win, the German said: “The race was terrific for both of us [he and Webber], we had problems with the gearboxes at the end, but I was OK because I had a good cushion and it was a fantastic win.”
His lead in the title race is 53 points over Alonso – he could sit out the next two races in Singapore and Japan, with the Ferrari man winning both, and he would still be leading the championship, such is his advantage.
Alonso, who was pleased with his run to second, acknowledged that his chances of preventing Vettel from claiming a fourth successive championship were slim and the German would need a large dose of bad luck for that to become a reality.
“I think for the championship, we need to be realistic,” he said. “It’s still a very big gap and we don’t have enough races and probably not have the speed right now to win some consecutive races.
“We need to be lucky and we need to have some DNFs [did-not-finish] from Seb or something to win the championship. With the races left and the points disadvantage it is hard.”
Hope for Alonso comes in the roles reversed situation from 12 months ago. He had led Vettel by 39 points in the championship after the Italian Grand Prix but ended up missing out on the title by three points as Vettel won four of the last seven races of the season.
Going against Alonso mirroring his rival’s 2012 comeback is the fact he does not have as quick a car as Vettel, but you do not become a double world champion without a fighting spirit.
“There is still a long way to go. We will try until the last race to be as good as we can and score as many points as possible and in Brazil we will see how many points we have compared to his,” he said.
Under the circumstances, losing only seven points to Vettel at a track where Red Bull were so quick was almost like a victory to Alonso, which he acknowledged.
“This weekend we got the maximum from the car, so I’m very happy and today being on the podium is a fantastic feeling again,” he said.
“It is something amazing, something unique. We did the maximum and had a nearly perfect weekend.
“We didn’t close the gap in the championship, which is the goal every weekend, but we have to congratulate them, they were best this weekend and we have to do a better job next weekend.”
The podium at Monza was a happy place, all in all, despite the boos, with Webber – whose pursuit of Alonso in the latter stages had been curtailed by his gearbox problems – happy to finally get a top-three finish at Monza before he leaves the sport at the end of the season.
“It’s a great place and to get on the podium was good,” said the Australian.
“This is not a circuit I have had the best luck at.”
Of his teammate, Vettel, he said: “Obviously Seb had a seamless weekend, but hopefully I can take something off him before the end of the season.”
Alonso shares the same thought, but hoping for it and actually achieving it is going to be a whole different story
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