Monza and the Italian Grand Prix brought the European portion of the 2011 Formula One season to a close and brought Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) within striking distance of becoming the youngest back-to-back F1 champion ever. Singapore is the first of three consecutive races in the Far East, the only one on a street circuit, and the longest race of the year. It is also the only night race on the Formula One calendar.
Going into the weekend there were a number of possible outcomes which would have seen Vettel clinch during the race on Sunday. He did his part in qualifying by putting his car on the pole, with teammate Mark Webber in P2. McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton filled the the second row, with Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa (Ferrari) locking down Row 3.
A slow jump by Webber saw Vettel, Button, and Alonso slot into the first three positions at the start. Webber hung close, however, and took P3 from Alonso on Lap 11. Two laps later, Hamilton collided with Massa. Neither car retired, but both were damaged, and a subsequent drive-thru penalty on Hamilton put him well back in the pack.
By Lap 18 rookie Paul di Resta (Force India) had risen to P3 on a combination of tire strategy and sound, strong driving. Just one lap later, however, Alonso passed him to retake 3rd place. A Top 3 of Vettel, Button, and either Alonso or Webber remained in place for the rest of the race, with Webber overtaking Alonso for the last time on Lap 34.
Along the way, Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) took himself out of the race by closing in a little to tightly on Sergio Perez (Sauber) while setting up a pass. When the young Venezuelan checked up a little earlier than expected going into the corner, Schumi's front tire caught Perez' rear, lifting the nose of Schumacher's machine into the air and putting him into the wall. He got out of the car immediatly, however, and when interviewed later sincerely recognized it as a "racing incident."
The two hardest chargers of the race (notwithstanding Vettel) were Hamilton--who overcame his colision, the penalty, and four other passes through pit lane to finish 5th--and di Resta, whose 6th place finish after starting P10 marked a career high.
With Vettel only 1 point away from winning his second consecutive championship and Button being the only other driver not mathematically eliminated, one could be forgiven for thinking the crown was wrapped up. When Vettel and back-marker Jarno Trulli (Lotus) came within inches of colliding on pit lane on Vettel's final stop, however, it served as a stark reminder that it truly isn't over 'til it's over.
Plus, you can bet your bottom dollar that neither Vettel nor any of his competitors are going to give an inch in the final four events, no matter what happens in Japan.
Driver standings - Top 10
309 - Sebastian Vettel (Germany) - RBR-Renault
185 - Jenson Button (Great Britain) - McLaren-Mercedes
184 - Fernando Alonso (Spain) - Ferrari
182 - Mark Webber (Australia) - RBR-Renault
168 - Lewis Hamilton (Great Britain) - McLaren-Mercedes
84 - Felipe Massa (Brazil) - Ferrari
62 - Nico Rosberg (Germany) - Mercedes
52 - Michael Schumacher (Germany) - Mercedes
34 - Nick Heidfeld (Germany) - Renault
34 - Vitaly Petrov (Russia) - Renault
Constructor standings - Teams scoring points
491 - RBR-Renault - Vettel, Webber
353 - McLaren-Mercedes - Hamilton, Button
268 - Ferrari - Alonso, Massa
114 - Mercedes - Rosberg, Schumacher
70 - Renault - Heidfeld, Petrov
48 - Force India-Mercedes - Adrian Sutil, Paul di Resta
36 - Sauber-Ferrari - Kamui Kobayashi, Sergio Perez
29 - STR-Ferrari - Sebastian Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari
5 - Williams-Cosworth - Rubens Barrichello, Pastor Maldonado
Next event: Japanese Grand Prix - Suzuka - October 7-9