McLarens seize front row to frustrate Ferraris
It's fitting that so many people will be praying going into today's Italian Grand Prix, for Monza is the sport's cathedral of speed. McLaren's drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, who wrapped up the front row, both need a win to stay in contention for the World Championship.
Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren's boss, will be fervently hoping his men make it through the first corner and score maximum points at a time when Ferrari are troubled and Red Bull humbled. Felipe Massa will be doing everything he can from third place on the grid to uphold Ferrari honour and safeguard his seat.
Ramping up the pressure, none of them has ever won here. And back on the fifth row, hampered by suspension problems in the final qualifying session, the points leader, Fernando Alonso, and Ferrari – not to mention 100,000 tifosi – will be praying for a strong finish in a fight that is likely to go all the way down to the wire in America and Brazil in November.
Ferrari's troubles began at the start of Q3. Alonso had been fastest in Q1 and Q2, with the McLarens on his tail. But as he and Massa prepared to help one another with slipstreaming to improve their lap times, the Spaniard's rear anti-rollbar broke. "Fernando helped me first in Q2 so in Q3 I was supposed to help him on the second lap," Massa said. "But then something went wrong with his car."
Meanwhile, Hamilton and Button had quietly been gathering pace, and Hamilton quickly banged in a lap of 1min 24.010sec on his first of two runs. But he didn't think it was that good. "I did some much better laps in practice," he said, "but generally I didn't think that lap was anywhere good enough; I was up a couple of tenths on that on my second lap but then I was in a train of cars so it didn't end up any better. But I'm really happy for the team and for the guys back at the factory who have been doing such a fantastic job, which helped with the great result last week with Jenson. Our cars are up there where they deserve to be."
In the end Button came closest to deposing him, with 1:24.133 on his second run, as Massa's 1:24.247 also pushed the impressive Paul Di Resta from second to fourth. Unfortunately, the Scot gets a five-grid-place penalty for a gearbox change on his Force India, and thus drops to ninth.
"I echo Lewis," Button said. "It's fantastic for the team to have us on the front row. The last three races have shown our strength, and that's the best place to be.
"I was relatively happy with the car on Friday, though we tried a couple of things which didn't really work. Today was much better, though the car was moving around lot more because of the heat, so it reminded me of my karting days, where you had to keep up the momentum in the slow stuff."
Button also offered some advice to Hamilton concerning his rumoured switch from McLaren to Mercedes for 2013. "The most important thing for us in Formula One is to win races," he said. "When you cross the finish line first, that is what makes you smile and what gets you emotional after a race. We might not win the championship every year, but every year you have the chance of winning grands prix.
"I love racing alongside a team-mate who is competitive and really fast, and that is definitely Lewis. Moving to another team wouldn't hurt me as much as much as I think it would hurt him."
Today they will run side by side to the first corner, with no team orders. "We'll race it," Hamilton said immediately. Button said: "No matter who's next to you, it's always interesting in the first corner, especially here with the long haul down to it. You can't plan Turn One." If they collide in the drag race down to the notoriously tight chicane, it's possible Button might have some very different advice for his team-mate.
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