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Italian race analysis - McLaren back on top 10 Sep 2007

The podium (L to R): second placed Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren; race winner Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren and third placed Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 9 September 2007 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F2007.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 9 September 2007 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monza, Italy, Saturday, 8 September 2007 Jenson Button (GBR) Honda RA107 and Nico Rosberg (GER) Williams FW29.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 9 September 2007 Anthony Davidson (GBR) Super Aguri F1 SA07 battles with Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Renault R27.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 9 September 2007

Not to put too fine a point on it, McLaren’s performance at Monza left Ferrari stunned. The Italian circuit is very similar to Montreal, with low downforce requirements, and the silver cars had been quick in Canada, but even so Ferrari had expectations of being able to run with them here.

McLaren dominated qualifying - partly, it transpired, because both Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton opted for two-stop strategies and therefore ran lighter. It is reasonable to assume, from his start and early speed, however, that Felipe Massa was on a similar strategy, whereas Kimi Raikkonen in the other Ferrari was on a one-stop run.

With an average pit stop time of 25 seconds, one-stop strategies are the norm in the Milanese park, so Alonso’s 27-second advantage over Raikkonen by the end of the 53-lap race endorsed the Finn’s simple view: “We were not quick enough today.”

The outstanding result - McLaren’s first-ever 1-2 at Monza - left them leading the world championship for constructors with 166 points, 23 ahead of Ferrari with four races left. It also left Hamilton with Alonso breathing down his neck in the driver stakes, the reigning champion now just three points adrift.

Behind the top two teams, Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica took fourth and fifth places for BMW Sauber, and a further nine points, bringing their total to a healthy 86 and maintaining their chance of exceeding their target of 100.

Heidfeld drove his customary impeccable race, on a two-stop plan, and was happy with fourth place. Team mate Kubica made things a little harder for himself by parking skew-whiff in his pit stop, and thus having his car move on its jack so that he lost a horrible amount of time as mechanics struggled to rectify the situation. He reported that his F1.07 was very quick when it was light at the start, but that it needs more work with a high fuel load.

There was good news for Williams as single-stopping Nico Rosberg scored another three points with a tough run to sixth place which was highlighted by a great early place-swapping dice with Jenson Button’s Honda and marred only by the fact that on newer tyres and a lower fuel load, Kubica managed to pass him on the 45th lap. The German was very pleased with the performance of his Toyota engine, and described Williams’ hard work over the weekend as “a really big step forward.” Williams remain fifth, on 25 points.

Heikki Kovalainen was able to get his Renault between Rosberg and Button to snatch seventh place, reporting that he was on the limit all race and rueing the R27’s lack of pace. Seventh, he believed, was the best Renault could have expected on the day. Both his and Rosberg’s team mates had miserable races, and never featured. Renault are still fourth overall, but with 38 points the can all but forget any aspiration to catch BMW Sauber.

It seems cruel that Monza only brought Button and Honda their second point in a dismal season, but he was happy to accept it after a feisty race that should have served to remind some that, in the right equipment, he would be a front-runner. He said he could have gone quicker but for plentiful understeer, and a flat-spotted right front tyre which meant he lost grip through every right-hander. That left him unable to fend off Rosberg and his long first stint of 33 laps compromised him further.

But it was one of Honda’s better races, even if Rubens Barrichello could do nothing about Mark Webber’s Red Bull, which the Australian said lacked general pace and had inconsistent balance throughout. The pair of them finished ninth and 10th. Webber’s team mate David Coulthard crashed heavily in the Curva Grande on the second lap after his front wing failed as a result of an earlier clash with Fisichella. As the wing folded beneath the car, the Scot lost his steering and speared straight off into the tyre wall. Fortunately he was unharmed.

It was also a frustrating race for Toyota, with Jarno Trulli losing four places on the opening lap alone. Neither he nor Ralf Schumacher featured, on their way to 11th and 15th places, with Giancarlo Fisichella, Alex Wurz and Anthony Davidson separating them. Davidson had a good run to 14th, staying ahead of Fisichella for a while, considering that attack from Sebastian Vettel’s Toro Rosso on the opening lap had damaged his Super Aguri’s rear dampers. Team mate Takuma Sato was hampered by a brake problem and struggled home 16th, ahead of the Toro Rossos of Tonio Liuzzi and Vettel. Once again the Italian beat the German rookie despite a tired engine, Vettel losing a bit of time early on when he needed repairs after hitting Davidson while trying to avoid Coulthard in the first corner, but getting most of it back thanks to the safety car deployment.

In the Spyker race Sakon Yamamoto actually passed Adrian Sutil on lap eight before being repassed. The German was unhappy with his revised car’s balance, and neither benefited from their two-stop strategies.

David Tremayne