Monza is always regarded as a great test of engine performance and reliability, and thus Renault is proud to have enjoyed many successes in the Italian GP over the years, starting with Alain Prost’s victory back in 1981.
However after Johnny Herbert’s win for Benetton in 1995 circumstances ensured that the company experienced a frustrating drought, missing out at Monza both during the Fernando Alonso era and when Red Bull first emerged as a pacesetter. The wait finally ended when Sebastian Vettel won for RBR last year.
Monza was not supposed to be the ideal track for Red Bull in 2011, but after winning at Spa, a similar high speed venue, the team arrived with a perfect package. The dark blue RB7 was quick around the lap, and ultimately that proved to be the winning ticket.
DRS added a new element to the unique Monza aero package, and all the teams had to juggle overall downforce levels and seventh gear ratios, while making sure that they worked for both lap time in qualifying, and in race conditions.
Vettel was beaten by Lewis Hamilton on the prime tyre in Q1, but he topped Q2 and was fastest in Q3 even before he put in a quicker lap on his last run. Hamilton and his McLaren team mate Jenson Button both aborted their last laps when they realised that they would not improve. Nevertheless the two McLaren drivers secured second and third places, with Lewis ahead.
Having secured pole Vettel had to break away at the start and ensure that he did not come under threat from cars with superior straightline performance.
The plan nearly came unstuck when he was beaten into the first chicane by Alonso’s Ferrari, to the delight of the local fans. However almost immediately there was a safety car as backmarker Tonio Liuzzi lost control and spun across the grass into the middle of the pack.
At the restart Alonso was able to stay ahead for only one more lap before Vettel found a way by, the German squeezing through the tiniest of gaps between the Ferrari and the grass.
Once in the lead Seb began to pull away, helped by the fact that his main rivals – the two McLaren drivers – had both made bad starts.
“The start wasn’t that ideal,” said Vettel. “I don’t know where Fernando came from and it took me a while to understand it was three cars going side-by-side down to turn one. After that, a great pass. Not that much room, but very enjoyable. Very hard but fair, so it was great to be back in the lead, and from then onwards the car was fantastic. I was able to pull a big gap and benefit from that for the whole rest of the race.”
The RBR driver continued to extend his lead over Alonso, and then shortly after the second stops the Spaniard began to struggle on the medium tyre. Recovering well from his bad start, Button was able to demote him to third. However, the leader was well out of reach.
Vettel subsequently controlled the gap over the McLaren, letting it come down from some 16.0s to 9.5s at the flag as he secured his eighth win of the season. After two difficult races at Monza with RBR in 2009 and 2010 he acknowledged that it was special to win again at the track where he had taken his debut victory with Toro Rosso three years earlier. The win also all but secured his second World Championship.
“On Friday I already had a very good feeling,” he said. “Everyone is carrying quite a little wing around here to optimise the speed on the straight, and I think this year the balance was fantastic. So I really had a very good race car.”