Alonso thrills the Tifosi with a podium finish in Monza

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“It took me 20 minutes to get from my car to the F1 paddock turnstiles,” says Fernando Alonso. “It’s what happens at Monza when you’re a Ferrari driver; the support we get is fantastic.”

To give Fernando’s quote some perspective, he was dropped just 10 metres from the paddock turnstiles each morning of the Italian Grand Prix. But it still took him 20 minutes to carve his way through the sea of passionate Ferrari fans. The Spaniard isn’t worshipped in Italy; he’s deified.

And it’s the same with Scuderia Ferrari, the oldest and most historic racing team in the world. It carries the hopes of an entire nation when it goes racing, and never more than at Monza. Pressure from the media builds during race week and team members can’t shy away from the press coverage because the race is taking place on its doorstep.

The team turned up at Monza with a special low downforce aerodynamic package on its F138s, the result of many hours’ work in the windtunnel. It provided good results almost immediately because Alonso was second fastest in two of the three practice sessions on Friday and Saturday morning. Team-mate Felipe Massa looked quick when he was on-track, but a gearbox limited his running on Friday afternoon.

The Red Bulls proved too strong for everyone else in qualifying. They locked out the front row of the grid, with Felipe and Fernando taking fourth and fifth places – behind a surprising fast Nico Hulkenberg in the Sauber-Ferrari. With both Ferrari-powered Toro Rossos also in the top 10, a total of five Ferrari-powered cars were involved in Q3.

“It’s proof that we have a very powerful engine,” said Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali.

Sunday’s 53-lap race turned out to be the fastest of the year. Sebastian Vettel won it at an average speed of 234kph (145mph), with Alonso coming in just five seconds adrift – much to the delight of the Tifosi. And it was Alonso who provided the most exciting action of the race when, on lap two, he blasted past Mark Webber at the second chicane.

“Mark had a slower exit out of the first chicane,” said Fernando. “I used all of my KERS and the slipstream, hoping that it would be enough for me to pass him before we got to the corner. But it wasn’t: we arrived side-by-side and I thought I would end up going straight on. But I found some grip and we were very close to touching each other, but I made it through.”

That pass on Webber cleared the way for Alonso to close the gap to race leader Vettel and finish on the Monza podium – wearing Ferrari’s Puma overalls, no less – for the fourth successive year. With Massa coming home fourth, the Scuderia came away with a good haul of points and moved up into second place in the constructors’ championship. That kept the Italian media happy for another year.