They booed Sebastian Vettel as he stood atop the podium at the Italian Grand Prix here yesterday, but after taking his fourth win from the past six races the world champion could not have cared less.
Having dominated at Spa-Francorchamps a fortnight ago, and now at Monza, both tracks where Red Bull have previously been weak, he can surely see a fourth consecutive title looming even if he chooses not to acknowledge that publicly.
“You can hear the difference when you don’t win here in a red suit,” he smirked, referring to the passionate Italian fans’ adoration of Ferrari.
Recalling his first victory, here with Toro Rosso five years ago, he added: “I’m fortunate that in 2008 I had the experience of winning here in an Italian team with a Ferrari engine, which blew me away completely. I have never forgotten looking down from the podium at the crowd.
“When I won here in 2011 for Red Bull their reaction was a surprise, but when I came in on my in-lap today I said to the team that the more booing we get, the better we did. I don’t blame the people, Ferrari is in their genes.”
While Vettel (below) celebrated and Fernando Alonso was stoic after a doughty second place for Ferrari kept him in championship contention, Lewis Hamilton rued a tough weekend but vowed not to give up until his own title chances had been mathematically exhausted.
Acknowledging the scale of the mountain he has to climb, he said: “It’s like Everest. Running up it without oxygen – in swimming trunks… It’s going to be really tough. But there are seven races to go, we have a competitive car, so I’m going to give it whatever I’ve got.”
While an early puncture stymied Hamilton’s chance of doing better than ninth after a feisty recovery which, together with Alonso’s early forcefulness, saved the race from tedium, Vettel locked the right front tyre outbraking Ferrari’s Felipe Massa into the first corner after the start and had to cope with vibrations until his sole pit stop on the 23rd lap. Then he had to nurse his gearbox. But otherwise it was a walk in the Royal Monza Park as he comfortably outpaced the opposition.
“I don’t know why we were so good here and at Spa,” Vettel said, explaining that Red Bull’s technical director Adrian Newey had come to the low downforce tracks expecting to have to engage damage-limitation mode. “He [Newey] was as surprised as I was. Afterwards, I said, ‘If that’s damage limitation, I want to have a lot of damage for the rest of the year.’”
He is not the only one. Second in a race he had to win if he was to have any real chance of wresting the title back, Alonso said that his hope now lies in Vettel, who holds a 53-point lead, hitting trouble over the remaining races.
Alonso’s team-mate, Massa, sprinted briefly up to second ahead of Red Bull’s Mark Webber, leaving Alonso fourth after fighting past Nico Hülkenberg’s third fastest qualifying Sauber. As Vettel did as he liked out front, Alonso got past Webber with a bold move in the second chicane on the third lap, then caught and passed his team-mate on the eighth.
His move on Webber was a race highlight, and even he admitted it was close. “Mark and I were very tight in the first chicane on the second lap, then he was slow out of that on the next one so I used all of my Kers to get alongside going into the second chicane.
“We were very close to touching and I was prepared to give him the place back if I overshot, but he’s an experienced guy so it was OK. But I might not have tried that move with some other drivers.”
Webber actually sustained some damage to his front wing, and said: “I braked pretty deep there, and when you do that it’s easy to go straight on there and not make the entry. So as Fernando braked super late I was also mindful I might not make it.
“When he was level with me the match was over and obviously that’s when you have to concede and take the fight to another part of the race. The wing wasn’t too bad after that, though it wouldn’t have helped, but my biggest problem was having to nurse the gearbox.”
There was nothing that Alonso could do about Vettel, and later in the race he had his work cut out keeping ahead of Webber. He finished only 5.4 seconds adrift of victory, but in reality the gap would have been double that had Vettel not backed off. Webber was still within a second of him at the flag.
Hamilton refused to contemplate what might have been, but admitted that he was furious when he got out of his car. “I was just angry with myself after messing up qualifying,” he said. “I handled it well yesterday and got over it way faster than any time in my life. I turned it into a positive.
“Then I pushed harder than ever in the race until I had nothing left in my heart, so I was angry because it sucks when you do all that work and it’s worth only two points. But that’s the way it goes. My engineers said I have to win all seven remaining races. I’m up for that. I always want to win, and I’m not going to give up.”