It was Hamilton ’s reckless driving on the first lap of the Italian Grand Prix that caused the McLaren driver to throw away his championship after having to make an early retirement. Whilst his teammate Jenson Button finished runner-up in a race arguably he could have won, down to a combination of McLaren’s decision to bring him in too early and a pit stop that was too slow by comparison with Ferrari’s.
Fernando Alonso’s victory yesterday, in which he hustled and harried Button to such an extent that the latter admitted the experience had been similar to that of mental torture. Despite seeing his pole advantage vanish when Button made a brilliant start, Alonso enjoyed the faster car and stuck close to the reigning world champion for 36 of the 53 laps, never falling more than a second-and-a-half behind. Button had opted for a higher down force setting enabling better cornering speed but less pace on the straights and when he was called in for a switch to hard tyres, Alonso pounced, putting in one more blistering lap before stopping himself. Their pit-stop times make interesting reading: 4.2 seconds for Button, 3.4 for Alonso.
The Ferrari emerged neck and neck with the McLaren but crucially held the inside corner into Turn One. Thereafter Alonso never looked back.
“I don’t think we quite had the pace today compared to Ferrari,” Button admitted. “But it was all going pretty well. And then we decided to pit one lap earlier than Fernando. It was possibly a mistake.”
It was nothing compared to that made by his team-mate. Hamilton had got off to a good start from fifth and was jostling with Massa when he got too eager at Turn Four and touched wheels with the Ferrari, damaging his steering and exiting the track at the Variante della Roggia.
Storming into the McLaren motor home, it was a while before he could compose himself to speak to reporters. “The championship is not over,” he said, “but it is mistakes like I made today that lose world championships.”
Hamilton ’s pain is Alonso’s gain. It may be Webber who leads the title race after finishing in sixth place, but the Spaniard has the momentum following his second win in four races.
As the European season draws to a close and we head for exotic pastures and the final five races of the season, just 24 points separate Mark Webber in first and his Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel in fifth. The next installment will be held in Singapore a week on Sunday.