So, who would win this year? Would Michael Schumacher notch up his sixth win at Monza? Would Rubens Barrichello overcome all the odds to win his fourth? Would Alonso or Vettel rack up their third? Or would we see a new winner altogether? Follow the jump to find out.
The results from Saturday's qualifying sessions came out more or less as you'd expect them, with Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes GP and Renault filling the top ten slots on the grid. Sebastian Vettel started today's race from pole – a position to which he's grown accustomed – but his wingman Mark Webber was stuck down in fifth. In between them Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button lined up second and third, Fernando Alonso fourth and Felipe Massa sixth as Vitaly Petrov, Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg and Bruno Senna (in only his second race this season) took up position behind.
The bigger surprise came once the race got underway, however, as Alonso slipped up and around Vettel and Hamilton as the Red Bull and McLaren drivers concentrated on keeping one another at bay. Equally surprising was the manner in which Michael Schumacher jumped from eighth to fourth right at the start.
A spectacular crash ensued, however, in the first corner, taking out a chunk of backmarkers and a couple of mid-fielders as well. Tonio Liuzzi lost control of his HRT-Cosworth and skidded sideways into the packed field. Once the mess was sorted out, Rosberg, Petrov and d'Ambrosio were out of the race (as well as Liuzzi himself). Barrichello, Ricciardo and Kobayashi made it back to the pit lane to swap out their damaged components and made it back onto the track.
Once the safety car was withdrawn again on the third lap, Alonso was in the lead, Vettel in second and Hamilton third, followed by Schumacher, Massa, Button, Webber, Force India's Paul di Resta, Williams' Pastor Maldonado and Sauber's Sergio Perez in tenth.
Schumacher subsequently passed Hamilton on lap 4 in a battle that would come to characterize much of the race, but shortly after Webber ran into the back of Massa's Ferrari. RBR's # 2 was out for the count, while Massa recovered from the spin and began fighting his way back up the field. Soon after Vettel took the lead from Alonso who, with the dual-zone DRS low-drag wing yet to be activated, would never manage to catch back up to the faster Red Bull.
Lap 11 saw Adrian Sutil park his Force India on the side of the track to become yet another casualty on a long list of early retirements that would, by day's end, also collect both Sauber drivers (Perez and Kobayashi), along with those taken out at the start to encompass no fewer than eight DNFs.
After dogging the elder champion for lap after lap, Hamilton finally squeezed by Schumacher on lap 13, only for Schu to retake his place right after. The battle enabled Button to close in to striking distance, and after Schumacher closed the door on Hamilton on lap 16, Jenson sailed by both of them. All three Mercedes-powered cars subsequently went in for fresh tires, rejoining in that same order, only for Hamilton to finally make his way past on lap 27.
Button subsequently overtook Alonso on lap 36, but the rest was smooth sailing to the finish: Vettel took his eighth win of the season and the eighteenth of his career. Far behind him finished Button in a well-deserved second place, Alonso rounding out the podium in front of the elated tifosi in third.
The remaining points went to Hamilton, Schumacher, Massa, Alguersuari, di Resta, Senna (for the first points of his F1 career) and Buemi. The results further entrench Vettel's lead in the standings with 284, Alonso now in second with 172, Button and Webber in third and fourth with 167 apiece and Hamilton trailing with 158. Webber's disappointing outcome hardly puts a dent in Red Bull's lead in the constructors' championship at 451 points to McLaren's 325 and Ferrari's 254.
The circus heads east next for the Singapore Grand Prix at the end of the month, followed by Japan, Korea, India, Abu Dhabi and finally Brazil at the end of November.