It was a day of anticlimax, really. All of our expectations were confirmed with a dominant win from Sebastian Vettel, and inspired drive from Fernando Alonso in second place. Sebastian Vettel now has a 53-point lead over Alonso in the title race, an amount equivalent to more than two race wins. This means that regardless of what happens in Singapore and Korea, the sites of the next two races, Vettel will still be the championship leader when the F1 circus heads to Japan.
These are ominous signs for the rest of the field. This whole season, in fact, has been a steady and unrelenting stream of ominous signs. If we all remember last season, the Singapore Grand Prix marked the beginning of what would be a four-race winning streak from Vettel. Those races secured his 2012 title and a similar scenario this year could well and truly secure this season’s as well.
For Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton, their title challenges are completely over. Both were eliminated early in qualifying and both had to make early and unexpected pit stops. Those deviations from the strategy effectively ended any hopes they had of charging to the podium, which, from the pace they showed throughout the race, could have been possible. All they can hope to do is try and win the rest of the races this season. Lotus’s long wheelbase chassis should be making another appearance in either Singapore or Japan, and could be their last hope of clawing themselves back to third in the championship.
One of the stars of the race, however, mostly for the lack of expectation going in, was Nico Hulkenberg. His third place spot on the grid was a nice surprise, but no one expected him to fight for more than eighth place. The pace of the car this whole season has suggested nothing more than that is possible. However, the young German confounded all of our expectations and finished fifth. Arguably the most impressive aspect of his race was holding off Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes for the last stint of the race while also hunting down Felipe Massa. Had the race been two laps longer, we could have easily seen Hulkenberg snag two more points with fourth place.
This was an extremely compelling race. While not the most outright exciting of the season, the Italian Grand Prix offered us a lot more in terms of strategy than one normally gets from a one-stop race. With several drivers starting on the hard tires and others having to make unexpected, early stops, there was a broad spectrum of strategies on offer. For example, Kimi Raikkonen spent the first 20 laps of the race mired down in 17th-22nd place, due to his early stop. However, he was able to use his fresh tires to perfection for those 20 laps by circulating the track almost a second faster than the leaders. This put him in serious contention for good points. Ultimately, his race was compromised by Hamilton who also had to make strategy adjustments.
All in all, this was a day of painful certainty for everyone other than Sebastian Vettel. There were a few surprises thrown into the mix of the race but the end result was all too familiar.