Vettel Wins Italian Grand Prix, but Alonso Earns Cheers

September 8, 2013

MONZA, Italy — As the Italian Grand Prix brought an end to the Formula One season in Europe on Sunday at this celebrated track, Sebastian Vettel of Germany had posted another start-to-finish victory, outpacing Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and taking a formidable step toward his fourth consecutive driver’s championship.

But much of the attention before and after the race was on Alonso, Vettel’s main rival for the championship. Although he trailed Vettel’s Red Bull car throughout the 53-lap race to finish second, nearly six seconds back, Alonso was given a hero’s welcome at the finish by a mass of Italian fans chanting “Al-on-so!” as Vettel was met with prolonged booing.

Vettel, 26, can afford to take the theatrical flourishes that are common at Monza in stride, having now won 6 of the season’s 12 races, and none more decisively than here. Accordingly, he took the crowd’s reproaches in good humor.

“The more they boo me, the better I do,” he said, smiling.

He noted that he had built a much larger lead before being advised by his team to bring his car home cautiously after signs of gearbox trouble.

“I didn’t have to push that much,” he said

“We beat the red guys, so we’re very proud of that,” he added, referring to Alonso and his teammate, Felipe Massa of Brazil.

Mark Webber, Vettel’s Red Bull teammate from Australia, finished third. Ferrari has 18 victories at Monza since the Formula One World Championship began here in 1950, and the team came here hoping it could turn around a disappointing season by winning on a high-speed track.

With superior speed on low downforce tracks like Monza, Ferrari had been expected to have an advantage here over the Red Bulls.

Vettel’s British-based team has relied on its superior aerodynamics, which have performed best on slower, more sinuous tracks, allowing the Red Bull drivers to post faster lap times even with lower straight-line speed than Ferrari and some other teams. But one of the surprises at Monza was that Vettel, with a straight-line speed of 208.2 miles per hour, was only a fraction slower than Alonso, who recorded 209.4 m.p.h.

Vettel, whose average speed for the race was 145.5 m.p.h., completed the 190.6 miles in 1 hour 18 minutes 33.35 seconds. His victory gave him a 53-point lead in the championship with 222 points to Alonso’s 169. Britain’s Lewis Hamilton of the Mercedes-Benz team is in third with 141 points. There are seven races left in the 19-race calendar, including the United States Grand Prix a on Nov. 17 in Austin, Tex., and each victory counts for 25 points.

Alonso told reporters after the race that he would need a lot of luck to overtake Vettel and win his third world title.

“First, Red Bull has to lose and Ferrari has to win,” he said. “There is a very big gap in the championship, and we will need to be lucky in all of the races that remain. And we’ll also need to have some did-not-finishes from the Red Bull team.”

But Alonso has some work to do closer to home if he is to mend fences with the Ferrari team. Known for his ultracompetitive and often fractious nature, Alonso upset the Ferrari camp and the company’s chairman, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, when he said after a bad finish in the Hungarian Grand Prix in August that he would welcome for his 32nd birthday “somebody else’s car,” seemingly referring to Vettel’s Red Bull.

He was sharply rebuked for that comment by di Montezemolo, who said in effect that he cared more for Ferrari, its reputation and its work force in the small town of Maranello, than he did for the team’s Grand Prix drivers, who, he said, “come and go.” The response by di Montezemolo was widely interpreted as a warning to Alonso that his contract, said to be worth tens of millions of dollars a year and set to run for another three years, could be abrogated unless he became less abrasive.

At Monza, matters appeared to take a turn for the worse during qualifying Saturday, when bungled tactics by the Ferrari pit crew appeared to spoil an attempt to have Alonso follow in Massa’s slipstream and gain time in his bid for the pole position by gaining what is known in racing as a “tow.”

A broadcast of Alonso’s car-to-pit radio message after he finished fifth in qualifying, two rows behind Vettel, appeared to have him saying to his crew chief, “You’re really idiots, Mamma Mia, guys.” Ferrari officials tried to mitigate the damage by saying that the word he used was “geniuses” not “idiots,” and suggested that the Italian words in each case were similar and prone to be misunderstood by non-Italian speakers.

But a race official, who had heard another radio message by Alonso, said that there were two messages, one using the word “idiots” and the other “geniuses.”

Alonso sought to mitigate the damage by telling reporters Sunday that they had attempted to stir a controversy out of nothing, and that his relationship with the team was fine.

After accepting his second-place trophy on a podium atop the pits after the race, he appeared keen to demonstrate that he had the strong support of Italian Ferrari fans. Remaining on the podium after Vettel left, Alonso waved repeatedly to the crowd, encouraging the chants of his name.

Copyright. 2013. The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved

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