• Jenson Button let down by McLaren team after leading
• Lewis Hamilton retires after crash on first lap
Those who cheer for Ferrari are among the most passionate supporters in all sport, but they have taken such a long time to embrace Fernando Alonso that it was as if they were awaiting the results of a particularly complex DNA test.
Driver error, as much as the fundamental slowness of the car, is the reason why the Scuderia have struggled to match the McLarens and the Red Bulls this season. But today, making his “home” debut as a Ferrari driver, the Spaniard was cheered like a new monarch after completing his third victory of the season and (which is more disturbing for his noisy neighbours at the top of the championship standings) his second win in four races.
This old Lombardy town is better known for its industrial and administrative importance to Italy but today it was engulfed in scarlet fever as Alonso took the chequered flag. His team?mate, Felipe Massa, was third.
The two drivers were separated by Jenson Button but this was hardly an afternoon to celebrate for McLaren. Lewis Hamilton, the championship leader going into the race, was the author of his own demise in the opening lap, when he collided with Massa.
Button can reflect on a good weekend. But it should have been better and the reigning world champion was twice let down by his team. First, the decision to bring him into the pits ahead of Alonso was questionable at best and decisively flawed at worst. Second, the tyre change took the McLaren team 4.2 seconds. That may not sound tardy but it was almost a second slower than Alonso (3.4sec) while Massa was in and out in 3.3sec.
That difference enabled Alonso, who came in a lap after Button, to maintain his lead over the British driver when he rejoined the race.
The result of the fastest race on the calendar, with Red Bull failing to achieve a podium position for the first time since Canada three months ago, has further squeezed an already drum-tight championship situation.
The five drivers who are competing for the title were separated by 41 points before today; now that is down to 24, which is one point less than a solitary win. The lead has now changed seven times in a season which swirls like a convection current. Mark Webber was only sixth today, after a fraught few days, but Hamilton’s accident means that the Australian Red Bull driver now leads the championship. Webber is five points ahead of Hamilton, with a revitalised Alonso third, just 21 points off the lead. He is closely followed by Button and Sebastian Vettel in the other Red Bull.
So just four days after they were hauled before the beak in Paris for the controversial team orders incident in Hockenheim in July, Ferrari were able to celebrate a victory that could represent a turning point in their season.
This was their first home victory since Michael Schumacher won in 2006. When Schumacher, now with Mercedes, motor-cycled to the track four hours before the race he was mobbed by hundreds of Ferrari supporters, who appeared to be hankering after the old days of dominance.
The Red Bulls were not expected to thrive on this low downforce track. In the event, fourth and sixth was probably a better return than they expected. As they resumed the leadership of the drivers’ championship while extending their lead in the constructors’ table, they can be satisfied with their day in the Italian sun.
McLaren’s position is a little more difficult to assess. They had identified Monza and Spa, the venue for the previous race in Belgium, as tracks that were sympathetic to their cars’ cacophonous cause.
Hamilton won at Spa and Button was second here as he revived a flagging campaign. But in each race McLaren suffered a DNF. And now they could face a difficult run-in against the Red Bulls, which have been the fastest cars this year, and the Ferraris, which at last are beginning to look what they are, the biggest name in motor sport.
The grid placings had suggested an interesting start to the race and it did not disappoint. The second?placed Button got a flier and swept past the startled Alonso. But Hamilton will not want to remember his start. Going through the Della Roggia chicane for the first time, he turned into Massa’s racing line. His right front wheel made contact with the Ferrari and he broke his track rod, which wrecked his steering and put him out of the race.
Button feared that by compromising his downforce at the expense of straight-line speed he was vulnerable to an Alonso counter attack. But he held his lead until he came into the pits at the end of lap 35. This immediately released Alonso to put in a fastest lap and when Button also lost time on the tyre change he lost his advantage.
He was able to hold off Massa with ease. Vettel did not enter the pits until just before the end, and held on to fourth place. His team-mate, Webber, had to claw his way past a troublesome Nico Hulkenberg to secure sixth, one place behind a spirited Nico Rosberg, who finished four places ahead of a disconsolate Schumacher.
The 53 laps were over in just 76 minutes. But it was not trombones that led the big parade in Monza; it was the delighted, delirious and screaming tifosi.