James Allen's Italian GP verdict
I thought that this was a gripping race, which had two main turning points – the start and then the pit stops.
Jenson Button won the start, but lost the pit-stop battle.
However, both his team boss and Ferrari’s believe that whatever decision McLaren had taken Alonso would have got ahead, because the Ferrari was simply faster than the McLaren today, and because the pit stop was faster – by almost a second.
Button did an incredible job to get ahead at the start and then to soak up 36 laps of pressure from Alonso without making a single mistake.
He felt that the decision to bring him in first was wrong; he’d rather have taken his chances with a later stop.
Martin Whitmarsh believes that if they had waited much longer there was a chance that Massa would have got ahead of him too.
Alonso did some incredible laps this weekend, the standout one was in qualifying to get the pole and he did some others when Button stopped.
He was in the right place and ready to capitalise when the McLaren peeled off into the pit lane.
He went a tenth faster on his 36th lap than he had done the lap before, then his in lap was six tenths faster than Button’s.
The Ferrari mechanics executed the stop eight tenths faster than the McLaren guys and on top of that Button struggled to get the tyres going on his out lap. The combination was enough to give the initiative to Alonso.
Lewis Hamilton hasn’t made too many mistakes this season, but he made a whopper this afternoon, trying an ambitious pass down the inside of Massa into the second chicane.
It’s one of those things you get with an aggressive driver like Hamilton: they will do many incredible things, but then from time to time they will overstep the mark.
Hamilton had already made up one place off the line and would have finished fourth today without that lunge.
That would have given him 12 points. So he would be nine points clear of Webber and 28 clear of Alonso tonight, instead of five behind Webber and 16 ahead of Alonso.
On such things can championships be decided. But it’s been that kind of year, with Alonso and most of the other title contenders making mistakes.
Only Button has got through without making any costly mistakes. Where he has dropped points it’s been mainly because he wasn’t fast enough.
Red Bull came away with a fourth and a sixth, but not in the order they started the race.
Yet again the problems getting off the line caught them out, with Webber dropping from fourth to ninth at the start, fighting back to sixth place, while Vettel dropped to seventh and then fought his way back up to fourth.
I expect Red Bull to be on top again in Singapore, despite the more stringent flex tests the FIA has started carrying out. Also this McLaren car isn’t very good on the bumps, so I think they’ll be under pressure from Ferrari and maybe even Renault.
The championship will continue to ebb and flow right up to the final laps in Abu Dhabi. I still think it’s Webber’s to lose, but Alonso and Button getting back in the game today was vital for keeping the chase alive.
Just 24 points separate the top five contenders.
Massa is out of it now on 124 points, 63 behind the leader, so even if it wasn’t clear enough after Hockenheim that Ferrari has all its eggs in Alonso’s basket, it is now.