It will take a major upset to keep Sebastian Vettel from retaining his title after his eighth win of 2011.
|Sebastian Vettel||Mark Webber|
|Qualifying time comparison (Q3)||1’22.275 (-0.697)||1’22.972|
Red Bull drivers’ lap times throughout the race (in seconds):
|Pit stop 1||Soft 22.124s|
|Pit stop 2||Medium 21.378s|
A Red Bull on pole position is hardly a rare sight in 2011, but even so Christian Horner called Vettel’s tenth pole of the season “unbelievable and completely unexpected”.
Despite a lurid moment at Ascari after his first run in Q3, Vettel returned to the track to lower his mark putting him almost half a second clear of the field.
“On the second run I think I had one or two cars ahead down the road, which always helps you in Monza,” he said.
“But we would not have thought of going on pole by that big margin today on a track which, to be fair, the last two years did not suit us.”
Despite questions over whether his set-up, which gave him the lowest straight-line speed in qualifying, would leave him vulnerable in the race, Vettel insisted otherwise. He insisted they’d taken a gamble in qualifying, and were not concerned about their race pace.
And so it proved. Vettel may have lost the lead to a fast-starting Alonso, but he retaliated swiftly, hounding the Ferrari out of every slow corner.
On lap five he drew alongside the Ferrari at Curva Grande and, with breathtaking bravery, kept his foot down at nigh on 320kph as Alonso edged him onto the grass alongside the ever-narrowing run-off.
“I decided to stay left,” said Vettel. “I think he didn’t see me in the beginning, I was with two wheels on the grass. Fortunately turn three opened up down to turn four and I stayed flat-out and saw the opportunity to pass.”
Having stolen the inside line for the della Roggia, Vettel seized the lead of the race and disappeared off into the distance.
By the end of the first stint, he was already over ten seconds clear. It was up to 15 before he backed off in the last four laps.
Having scored two wins since the summer break Vettel now has a large enough lead to clinch the title at the next race.
With his closest championship rival admitting defeat, Vettel said: “The ultimate goal this season when we started was to defend our title.
“I think we are in a good position, but the rest we will see.”
Unlike his team mate, Webber did not switch to a new engine this weekend. This appeared to have an effect on the amount of running he did on Saturday, reducing his laps in qualifying to preserve the unit.
He qualified fifth with an intermittent KERS problem, and admitted afterwards he could have done better: “The tyres were certainly strong enough for the first lap, so two runs was the way forward I think, but ultimately I didn’t get enough out of the car on the tyres on one run only.”
Starts have been Webber’s weakness this year. He lost two places away from the line in Monza, making it a net 20 places he has lost on lap one of races this year.
But he responded quickly by passing Jenson Button on the first lap of the restart.
He went after Felipe Massa on the next lap and had his nose in front of the Ferrari as they braked for Rettifilio.
But Massa edged the Red Bull onto the kerbs and Webber bounced into the side of the Ferrari, knocking his front wing off.
The wing went underneath his front wheels as he reached Parabolica and he crashed. That was Red Bull’s first retirement of the year.
“I tried to get back to the pits, trying to lose the minimum time possible,” said Webber.
“The car wasn’t too bad for the first part of the lap, but at some stage the wing got caught underneath, so I couldn’t turn the car or brake. I went straight out of Parabolica and that was the end of my race.”
2011 Italian Grand Prix
Image © Red Bull/Getty images