Fernando Alonso led home team mate Lewis Hamilton on a day when the rookie never threatened his team mate but sprang a magnificent pass on Kimi Raikkonen.
Raikkonen joined them on the podium after Felipe Massa retired early in a poor race for the home team.
Massa got between the McLarens at the start – but only briefly. Despite being squeezed ahead of Hamilton he passed the Briton well before the first corner, whereupon Hamilton turned another of his fine first-corner passes to take Massa around the outside.
Hamilton cut across the chicane in doing so but escaped punishment – the pair had made contact and Hamilton had taken to the rumble strips while over-steering his way out of disaster.
That left both McLarens ahead of both Ferraris – Raikkonen having got ahead of Nick Heidfeld at the start, both Ferraris benefiting from starting on the softer rubber.
But Massa wouldn’t make it as far as his first scheduled pit stop – the Ferrari driver ducking in early on lap ten, then returning on the next tour having cut the Roggia chicane to retire for good.
He joined David Coulthard in retirement – the Red Bull driver shot off at Curva Grande, burying his car in the tyre wall following a car failure apparently caused by contact at the first chicane. He was unhurt but the safety car was called on while the wreckage was cleared away.
At the restart the order at the front stayed the same but Giancarlo Fisichella was delayed by Jarno Trulli at the first chicane which allowed Anthony Davidson alongside the Renault. Fisichella cut the Variante della Roggia in keeping Davidson behind and was forced to yield 14th place.
Following Massa’s retirement Alonso led Hamilton and Raikkonen with the BMWs of Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica falling back, then Heikki Kovalainen in sixth.
Behind the Finn was a gripping battle for seventh led by the Honda of Jenson Button, who was revelling in driving at a circuit which minimised the flaws of the dreadful RA107. Nico Rosberg made several attempts at the first chicane before finally nailing the move at Roggia on lap 20.
Hamilton had made his first pit stop one lap earlier having been just over a second behind Alonso. The Spaniard extended his lead after his stop on lap 21.
But Raikkonen stayed out until lap 25 to make his first – and only – stop. He switched to the harder rubber and took on all the fuel he needed.
Following their stops Alonso led Hamilton by 2.3s, with Raikkonen a further 12.8s back. By lap 40 Hamilton had fallen six seconds behind Alonso. But more importantly, Raikkonen was a whisker over half a minute behind the leader.
Hamilton narrowly failed to stay ahead of Raikkonen after his final pit stop on lap 41. He’d demonstrated his skill in defensive driving earlier in the season, but some questions remained over whether the overtaking flair he’d shown in GP2 last year could be replicated in Formula 1.
He answered those questions with an emphatic ‘yes’ on lap 43. From a long distance back he braked deep and late into the first chicane, giving Raikkonen a squeeze and forcing the Finn to lock his front tyre. The pair danced through the corner side-by-side and Hamilton prevailed.
The following laps suggested that Hamilton had a reasonable speed advantage in hand – but there was perhaps also an element of Raikkonen preserving his engine for the high-stress venue of Spa-Francorchamps, next on the calendar.
Nick Heidfeld once again took up his place as best of the rest with an untroubled run to fourth. Robert Kubica’s fifth place was slightly more eventful, losing time with a slow pit stop on lap 23 before passing Nico Rosberg. The German took more points for Williams with sixth ahead of Kovalainen.
Button gave Honda their second point of the year with Mark Webber ninth ahead of Rubens Barrichello, the pair running nose to tail for most of the race.
Hamilton may have stolen the show but Alonso once again cut into the Briton’s championship lead having been quicker all weekend. He avenged the injustice he suffered in last year’s Italian race and scored a dominant win.
A third place for Raikkonen and another enforced retirement was not what Ferrari expected at their home track. Massa now trailed Hamilton by 23 points in the championship, Raikkonen 18, and if any of their drivers has a hope of winning the title this year it is surely now the latter.
Will Ferrari now throw all their weight behind the Finn?
Image © McLaren