Alonso completes a perfect weekend

Fernando Alonso savours his victory on the podium at Monza.-AP

Fernando Alonso’s first victory at Monza narrowed the lead of his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, at the top of the World Championship to three points with four races left to run. By Alan Henry.

This was a psychologically crucial victory for Fernando Alonso and McLaren after a turbulent few weeks at the centre of bruising attention following a new twist to the controversy over whether the McLaren team obtained an illegal advantage from the use of leaked data from their famous Italian rivals.

Alonso’s first win at Monza may have been particularly satisfying for the Spaniard, but the Italian fans did not approve of the McLaren 1-2 over their beloved Ferraris on their home soil and greeted his appearance on the podium with boos and catcalls. No matter. The victory narrowed the lead of his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, at the top of the World Championship to three points with four races left to run.

Ah yes, absolutely, a perfect weekend for me,” said Alonso. “Sometimes everything seems to go in the right direction and you feel good and you need to keep up the momentum. All weekend has been good for me. Sometimes I have started well here in Monza but I always had some problems in the race, and I always missed the victory, so to win here in Monza for the first time is a very, very special win.”

Trying to draw the sting with soothing sentiments the Spaniard added: “I would like to think it would please the fans. They are (obviously) Ferrari fans but overwhelmingly they are Formula One fans as well, which is very important.”

Hamilton nearly grabbed the lead of the 53-lap race from the start, running wheel to wheel with Felipe Massa’s Ferrari as the pack snaked down to the first right-hander. Hamilton braked right on the limit, wisps of smoke from his right front tyre testifying to how close to the limit of adhesion he really was. He pulled level with the Brazilian’s Ferrari but just as it seemed as though he might surge past both Massa and Alonso to take the lead, Massa slid wide and tapped Hamilton on to the run-off area, allowing Alonso to open a few more lengths over his pursuers.

On the second lap, David Coulthard’s Red Bull Renault briefly touched Giancarlo Fisichella’s Renault, the Scot’s car hurtling off the circuit on the 170mph Curva Grande right-hander after its front wing, damaged in the impact, folded underneath the front of the car and broke the steering. Coulthard skated across the gravel run-off area before slamming head-long into the retaining wall.

With debris all over the circuit and the need to clear the damaged car from its resting place on the outside of the corner, the safety car was deployed to slow the field on lap three, frustrating the McLaren team-mates who knew that the Ferraris were running with slightly more fuel on their opening stint and would therefore be able to run further on their opening stint of the race.

Alonso had been hoping to get away from the rest of the pack in the opening phase of the race but those slow three early laps behind the safety car threatened to upend the world champion’s plans. While Massa dropped from third place to change a punctured tyre, then retired with handling problems at the end of lap 10, Alonso gradually stretched his lead to 1.1sec by the time Hamilton dived into the pits from second place to refuel at the end of lap 18.

Alonso stayed out for another couple of laps before making his first stop on lap 20, allowing Kimi Raikkonen through into the lead which he held through to his own first stop at the end of lap 25. The two McLarens squeezed back into first and second places as the Finn resumed back in third place, still feeling slightly groggy with a stiff neck after a 190mph crash under braking for the tricky Variante Ascari S-bend on the back leg of the circuit during free practice on the morning of September 8.

At the second round of refuelling stops Hamilton knew that he was strategically vulnerable from the Ferrari’s challenge and Raikkonen duly surged past into second place when the British driver stopped for the second time on lap 40.

I came out of the pits right behind Kimi,” said Hamilton, “and I knew that I had two laps maximum to get the best of my new soft compound tyres before they went off slightly. The tyres felt great and the car felt great as well. I wanted to stick it down the inside of the Ferrari, I wanted to do it for the team, as I wanted to let them know how much they’d worked for it. So I ran two laps really as fast as I could go, launched myself down the inside going into the first corner and managed to pull it off.”

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007