Having claimed victory at Spa, the next race venue was a track every bit as famous – Monza, in Italy.
Monza has the highest average speed of any modern F1 circuit – from the Rettifilo Tribune (the main straight) to the fast turn 2 (Curva Biassono) to the Curva del Serraglio (turn 6), everything about Monza is about speed.
This doesn’t mean the track lacks the occasional slow or tight corner – it most certainly does, and this will try and catch you out if you’re not paying attention. Turn 1 (Variante Goodyear) is a snappy right-left chicane at the end of the main straight, and you hit the chicane at over 200 mph, braking hard (and reasonably early) down to about 50 mph in a matter of seconds. Brake too early and you are guaranteed to lose time; too late and you’re taking a trip to the grass.
Turn 3 is a similar experience, requiring the firm application of brakes, but turn 4 can be taken fast, or with only a gentle squeeze of the brakes, and turn 5… 5 needs a little firmness but not much.
Turns 7 and 8 are faster than they look, and it was here that I dare say I made up most of my time on my rivals. In P1 and P2 I was nearly a second clear of the pack, and I owe it to being quicker through here.
Turn 9 is fairly tight on brakes and leads into the fast curve that is turn 10, the final corner. This is a fast curve that sees you drift to the edge of the track – you need to be careful not to touch the grass, or you will spin.
I mentioned that P1 and P2 went well, and so did Q1 and Q2. I was very confident of pole, and in Q3 I set out early, holding pole to begin with. In my complacency, I did not try to better my time.
The result? Button snatched pole by a narrow margin and I had to settle for second.
For the race, I opted for the tried-and-tested three stop strategy, but as with Spa, I went for two stops on soft tyres and only put on my hard boots for the final stint. In P2 I did a simulation run to see how the soft tyres would hold up over time and decided I could get 13 laps out of each set. This would take me up to lap 39 and leave me doing 14 laps at the end on hard tyres.
At the very start of the race I was right on Button’s tail as we approached turn 3, and I tried to set myself up to go around the outside but he bumped into me and sent me wide! However he lost time too and the end result was I got back onto the track ahead of him. I led the race until my first pit stop, where I dropped to fourth and had a brief but exciting drag race with Massa’s Ferrari down toward and around turn 9, where I made the move stick. I then caught the squabbling Red Bulls of Webber and Vettel and weaved between them in the run up to turn 7 to regain the lead.
I would until my second stop, where the AI cocked up slightly. I was scheduled to pit on lap 26, but for some reason my teammate Kubica pitted and I, who had already entered the pit lane, was forced to go around again and pit the following lap. I nearly ran out of fuel and did lose a lot of time – dropping back down to third when I might otherwise have come out in the lead. Still, I would have the lead back by the end of the stops and would complete my final stop with no trouble.
In the end, I won by 23 seconds from Webber, and Button could only manage 5th, sending me, for the first time, into the lead of the championship, by five points, with four races to go!
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