Italian GP: Flawless Sebastian Vettel leaves red faces behind
The raw numbers say it all.
Sebastian Vettel's dominant victory for Red Bull in the Italian Grand Prix was his sixth win of the year; no-one else has more than two.
It extended his championship advantage to 53 points over his closest rival, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, with just 175 still available in the remaining seven races.
Vettel has finished 11 of the 12 races so far this year and has only been off the podium twice - when he was fourth.
He has qualified outside the top three only once - when he was ninth on an off weekend for Red Bull in China, the third race of the season.
It is domination - pure and simple. One of the three or four best drivers in the world is driving brilliantly in the best all-round car operated by the best team. And night follows day.
Effectively - if not mathematically - Alonso is the only man in with a chance of stopping him. But he is more than two clear wins behind and in a slower car.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner and Vettel himself did the usual after the race - insisted they were taking it only one race at a time, that there was a long way to go and anything could happen.
But they're kidding no-one. Barring some kind of miracle, Vettel will win his fourth consecutive world championship this year.
To some of those watching, Vettel's domination is boring. But excellence has to be admired, and excellence is what this is.
There are those who will argue that, in terms of natural justice, Vettel did not deserve to win the title in 2010 or in 2012, that Alonso was the better driver both years.
But you cannot say that this season. While all his rivals - including Alonso - have stumbled in one way or another, Vettel has been virtually flawless all year. He has been the stand-out performer behind the wheel without any question.
Of course, it's easier to perform in that way if you know you have the car you need underneath you and the team backing you up in the right way. Everyone else knows they are fighting an uphill battle, which psychologically makes it much harder. But you still have to do it - and do it Vettel has, in style.
Monza was another case in point. Pole position looked his for the taking from quite early on in Friday practice and he duly took it, with some comfort.
His only mistake all weekend was to lock up his brakes under pressure from team-mate Mark Webber and Ferrari's Felipe Massa into the first corner, badly flat-spotting a tyre.
That prevented him doing his usual impression of a scalded cat in the first couple of laps. Instead, nursing his car, he settled for inching clear instead.
By the time Alonso had moved up into second place on lap six - following a fantastic move around the outside of Webber into the second chicane on lap three, after which he was allowed past under orders by Massa - Vettel was 4.4 seconds ahead. And agonisingly for Alonso, Vettel continued to inch away.
Ferrari tried an unconventional strategy in an attempt to keep up - but it was a slower one. As Alonso put it: "There is nothing now to lose for us. We are second in the championship and we have to take some risk. We did it and that's OK."
Publicly this weekend, when out of the car, Alonso put a brave face on the situation, talking positively about the steps forward in competitiveness Ferrari had made after a difficult July. In the car, that was not always the case.
Alonso, it has been clear for some time, has been running out of patience with Ferrari's lack of competitiveness - this being the fourth consecutive year he has been fighting against a superior car.
Vettel's run of success is clearly getting to him - as well it might. Monza was the German's 32nd career victory, drawing level with Alonso, but doing it in almost half the amount of races.
Soon Vettel will have double his rival's number of titles as well - and whatever you think of their relative standing, Vettel is not twice as good a driver as Alonso.
These sorts of things matter to Alonso - as indeed they do to Lewis Hamilton - and signs of tension have been creeping in to the relationship between Alonso and his team.
It had already got him into trouble once this season - he was publicly admonished by Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo after appearing to be less than totally supportive of the team.
It's still not completely clear what it was over the weekend of the Hungarian Grand Prix in July that so annoyed Di Montezemolo - whether it was Alonso saying after the race that he wanted "someone else's car" for his birthday; whether it was his manager's chat with Red Bull on the Friday; or merely a desire to demonstrate who ran the team.
Whatever, on the Monday following the race, Ferrari took the extraordinary step of putting out a statement saying Di Montezemolo had phoned Alonso - on the Spaniard's birthday - to "tweak his ear" and remind him that they were all in it together.
On Saturday, Di Montezemolo was on the Ferrari pit wall when the pressure building up inside Alonso exploded into the open.
Heading out for his final qualifying run, aiming to benefit from a strategic play whereby team-mate Felipe Massa would give him a 'tow' down some of the straights to gain him 0.1secs or so, Alonso was told to let Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg through because the German was on a quick lap.
He either replied over the radio: "So I have to let him pass. Really you are idiots. Mamma mia, guys." Or using irony: "Really you are geniuses..."
Alonso and Ferrari said it was "geniuses" - the two words are similar in Italian, 'scemi' (idiots) and 'geni' (geniuses). But really it doesn't matter. The meaning - and the impression left - are the same. After fighting manfully for four years, Alonso is losing his tolerance for his team's under-performance - and, from time to time, his cool.
It may have been an understandable reaction in the heat of the moment. But it is neither an edifying sight, nor what leading grand prix drivers are meant to do.
It led to an awkward afternoon for Alonso and Di Montezemolo, as the driver insisted he was delighted with the team's rise in competitiveness in getting both cars into the top five, and his boss faced the media, who had plenty of questions about his wayward - and most important - employee.
Di Montezemolo attempted to pour oil on troubled waters, saying that while it was important for the head of a family to impose discipline from time to time, "the most important thing is to remain a family".
What everyone in F1 is wondering, though, is for how long that can remain the case.
Alonso - who at 32 knows he probably only has five or six years left in F1 - insisted in Monza that he was happy at Ferrari. He would see out his contract - which runs to the end of 2016 - and perhaps even extend it if he felt at that point that he was still competitive and motivated.
If that's to be the case, though, those family relationships may need to be reset this winter. Once the dust has settled on this championship, the pain of another defeat by a rival in a better car is a little less raw, the frustration a bit less difficult to bear.
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Comment number 607.londonwelsh
10th September 2013 - 23:22
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