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Raging bull

Sebastian Vettel wins the Italian Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel took an emotional win, now for another title. (Infiniti)

No other Grand Prix pulls on the heart quite so hard as Monza bathed in the hazy autumnal sunshine. The sound of racing engines bouncing off the trees, their leaves showing the merest hints of turning, the Tifosi with their flags – there can be no finer place for a race. Sebastian Vettel certainly thinks so as he triumphantly returned to the scene of his first win and delivered a brilliant drive to score his eighth victory of 2011.

Monza was predicted to be a Mclaren track, as was Spa too, but it was Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel who once again bettered the Mercedes and Ferrari-propelled machines. For me it has been these last two races that have elevated Seb to the level of a truly great Grand Prix driver. In both races he made daring 190mph passes without using DRS that were to prove crucial to the outcome of the races – this time he gamely passed the leading Ferrari of Fernando Alonso. After his now customary stunning start Fernando in his Ferrari got the Tifosi cheering and willing his car on using their waving hands. Sadly it wasn’t to last, although Fernando still made it onto the Monza podium in third with the ever-clever Jenson Button between he and the race winner.

Behind them were Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher to make it an unprecedented five world champions in a row for just about the entire race. The old Schumacher came to the races on Sunday, not just in terms of speed but he also brought his suspect racecraft to the table. On multiple occasions he made more than one move on Hamilton to defend his position. Lewis commendably showed patience despite a likely second place being ruined by 27 laps of battling the senior Mercedes driver. There have been people punished for a lot less this year, but Michael received some deliberately stern messages from Ross Brawn on the radio just when the stewards minds were turning to their rulebooks and Lewis was promptly allowed through. Although the Mclaren’s quickly pumped in fast laps after escaping Schumacher’s grasp it is unlikely they would have stopped Vettel who was on peerless form.

Meanwhile Mark Webber made a clumsy move on Felipe Massa and took himself out of the race, although this has barely dented Red Bull’s constructor’s championship hopes. Behind the top dogs Liuzzi in the HRT found himself in the midfield for once, albeit not in the way he hoped. Unfortunately he arrived there backwards and took out notable runners such as Nico Rosberg along the way as the field funnelled into turn one in a typical Monza incident. Other notable moments were Bruno Senna’s first points, another fighting drive from the back for Jaime Alguersuari and a solid points-score for Paul Di Resta.

The championship could be settled next time out in Singapore, although the fight for second is still firmly on. We’ve just had the two tracks where Mclaren should have shone and Vettel still took the honours. The others will do well to even take a win or two during the final fly-away events.

Paddock included Mclaren signing Williams’ Sam Michael as Sporting Director and Jarno Trulli keeping his Team Lotus drive. Except the outfit is unlikely to be known as Team Lotus for too much longer as a deal appears to have been struck between Group Lotus and Tony Fernandez that will see the Renault team re-branded as Lotus and Team Lotus switch to their Caterham brand. A slice of Malaysia’s national airline appears to be the sweetener that Fernandez was looking for, although I’m sure a supply of Lotus Elise patents would go a long way to helping him bolster Caterham’s model range, especially if he finds himself missing out on money in 2012 if changing the name of the Lotus chassis proves problematic with the tail-end charlies…

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An afternoon of perfect laps

Mark Webber takes pole

Webber wasn't alone in smiling after qualifying at the 'Ring. (pic Infiniti)

So Lewis Hamilton delivered a “wicked” lap that was “as good as it gets” to split the Red Bulls in qualifying for tomorrows German Grand Prix. Mark Webber sits on the pole with a lap that he said he could barely of driven any better, stoking his hopes to finally lead some laps and win in 2011. Finally banished from the front row is his teammate Sebastian Vettel who lines up third ahead of the two Ferraris, Nico Rosberg was a competitive sixth with Button, Sutil, Petrov and Schumacher completing the top 10.

According to the top two drivers they both drove the perfect lap – fast, committed, yet seemingly undramatic. But the perfect lap means different things to different people. Nico Rosberg out-pacing his illustrious partner is nothing new, but 1.2 seconds ahead of Schumacher at their home race will seem like perfection where he is sitting. You don’t even need to finish ahead of your teammate to feel you have done the perfect job, if not the perfect lap. Karun Chandhok finished just eight tenths behind Heikki Kovalainen for Team Lotus, the Indian driver lines up 21st having only been announced as replacing the troubled Jarno Trulli a few days ago. Given the circumstances faced by Karun it is fair to say that this was the closest to the ideal lap that he could have delivered and he is now in the frame to achieve his dream of driving in the first Indian Grand Prix and beyond.

Even at the tail of the field the HRTs were fighting hard with the other new(ish) teams and Daniel Ricciardo in only his second Formula One qualifying session was within thousandths of Tonio Liuzzi, a guy who has been in F1 since 2005. Again, for the rookie this must have felt like the perfect lap, even last place can feel special when you are in F1.

Red Bull-backed Australians bookended the time sheets in a qualifying hour that promises much for tomorrow, especially with Vettel finally out of the top two. Sebastian obviously will not be chuffed with this at his home race, even if the Grand Prix circus is itching to knock him off his pedestal everywhere he goes. Surprisingly the Mclaren looks competitive on the harder compounds as well as the softs, at least in Lewis’ hands during qualifying, though Mark Webber produced a special drive on F1’s last visit to the Nurburgring to overcome a penalty and score his debut win so he has still installed himself as the favourite even if all eyes were on Hamilton. The weather could be the curveball that wipes the smile off a few faces on race day, though you suspect that Hamilton could find himself with an even bigger grin if the rain comes. He’ll need to do an awful lot more “wicked” laps to keep this competitive top five in check either way.

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