"When all is said and done," wrote the English poet Margaret Sackville, "monotony may after all be the best condition for creation." That may be, but it sure doesn't bode well for motorsport, where the domination of a single team can (and often does) lead to boring racing.
Enthusiasts tuning in for Saturday qualifying have been met with just such monotony, as Red Bull Racing has taken the pole in all but two races so far. The exceptions came when Lewis Hamilton took pole (and rode it all the way to the checkered flag) in Montreal, and this weekend, where the final starting grid could hardly have given the local fans more hope if Silvio Berlusconi, Leonardo da Vinci or Luciano Pavarotti had taken it himself. Follow the jump to find out how it went down.
After three hotly contested rounds of qualifying at Monza, Red Bull's Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel were consigned to fourth and sixth places on the grid, respectively. Sandwiched between them in fifth was former world champion Lewis Hamilton, his defending champion teammate Jenson Button wedged between the two Ferraris of Felipe Massa in third and Fernando Alonso on pole.
With the stage set in a sea of red, it was Button who got the drop on his rivals at the start, edging out Alonso into the first corner. Massa looked even faster off the line, but was forced to back off with no room to pass.
Starting from fourth, championship leader Mark Webber stammered off the line and dropped to ninth, but the start proved far more disastrous for one of his chief rivals: After passing Webber, and in a bid to join his wingman in out-maneuvering the Ferraris, Hamilton came into contact with the back of Massa's Ferrari, sending the McLaren into the gravel. Hamilton's race was over almost before it started, while his teammate led the pair of Ferraris, the three leaders opening up an insurmountable gap ahead of the trailing field.
Once the race settled into its pace, Button held the lead, with Alonso right on his tail and Massa only a heartbeat behind them. Mercedes GP's Nico Rosberg trailed in fourth, ahead of Renault's Robert Kubica (5th), Williams' Nico Hulkenberg (6th), Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel (7th) and Mark Webber, having barely squeezed by longtime local hero Michael Schumacher (8th and 9th respectively) and Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi in tenth.
As the frontrunners rattled off one fast lap after another, Force India's Tonio Liuzzi surprised his countrymen with some blistering lap times of his own, passing Sauber's Pedro de la Rosa for 12th place as he worked to advance up the field.
Around a third of the way through the race, Vettel gave way to Webber while reporting unspecified engine trouble.
Little had changed, however, by the midway point, with Alonso and Massa still trailing Button in the lead, and Nico Rosberg still in fourth – now fifteen seconds off Massa's tail – followed by the rest of the field (Kubica, Hulkenberg, Webber, Vettel, Schumacher and Buemi to tenth). Once the ambulance brought in to assist an HRT mechanic hit by Sakon Yamamoto cleared the pit lane, the first round of stops began, opening up the field for shake-ups on the calendar's fastest circuit.
Rosberg and Webber were among the first to pit, abandoning fourth and seventh places respectively and rejoining in seventh and ninth. The most crucial pit stops, however, came in the following couple of laps as the front-runners headed in for their obligatory tire changes.
Button pitted on lap 37, handing the lead (in the interim) to Alonso. The defending champ (Button) rejoined in third behind both Alonso and Massa, but after the double champion (Alonso) headed in on the following lap, he rejoined just – and we mean just – ahead of Button, initiating a wheel-to-wheel battle straight into the first corner. Massa, meanwhile, pitted on the next lap, and rejoined in status-quo third place, sandwiching Button's McLaren once again between the two Ferraris.
And so the race proceeded largely without incident for the remaining laps. Jarno Trulli retired his Lotus-Cosworth in a puff of smoke on lap 49. Webber advanced past Hulkenberg on lap 50 for sixth place. And Vettel, evidently recovered from whatever was troubling his Renault V8, waited until the penultimate lap to fulfill the obligatory tire-swap rule, rejoining in the same fourth place he was in prior to the stop.
Button never managed to get past Alonso and reclaim the lead, taking a jubilant and well-earned second place finish ahead of Felipe Massa on the podium. Palpable was the excitement among the tifosi to see the podium draped in scarlet, monotony the farthest thing from their minds. And you can bet that Santander – the financial group that not only title-sponsored the race but also (like Marlboro before them) both the Ferrari and McLaren teams – got its money's worth.
With the remaining points going to Vettel, Rosberg, Webber, Hulkenberg, Kubica, Schumacher and Barrichello (who edged out Buemi for tenth place), Webber retains the lead in the drivers' standings with 187 points. Hamilton remains securely in second (182) despite his mishaps this weekend. Alonso now trails in third place with 166, Button just behind in fourth with 165 and Vettel in fifth with 163, leaving things still fairly open with five races to go as the circus sets sail for Singapore for the nighttime race two weeks from today.