Monza, Italy: Ferrari's Fernando Alonso finished only third in the Italian Grand Prix but the Formula One leader declared it a "perfect Sunday" drive in the park, after extending his overall lead against the odds.
Red Bull's reigning champion Sebastian Vettel, the Spaniard's closest rival before the start, retired along with his Australian team-mate Mark Webber. So too did McLaren's Jenson Button, winner at Spa where Alonso crashed out at the first corner after a pile-up triggered by Frenchman Romain Grosjean - who was banned for the Monza weekend.
By a happy coincidence, the three drivers shunted out by Grosjean in Spa all ended up on the Monza podium on Sunday, with McLaren's Lewis Hamilton winning, but remaining 37 points adrift of Alonso in second place overall.
Second place in the race went to Sauber's Mexican Sergio Perez, who is 114 points off the lead.
On Saturday, Alonso had qualified only 10th due to a mechanical problem when a pole was within his grasp, and his lead was in real danger of being chipped away further in the final race of the European season. Instead he heads for the next race in Singapore knowing he will be leading the standings until Japan next month at least.
"Absolutely perfect Sunday for us," Alonso told reporters. "Obviously the win was out of reach after the problem yesterday. In all the simulations and all the predictions we had, it was never a podium finish, so basically it's much better than expected. Jenson was out of the race and the two Red Bulls... so a perfect Sunday maybe. The race went like a movie for us, like a dream."
The Spaniard was helped by Brazilian team-mate Felipe Massa, who finished fourth after sacrificing any hope he had of a first podium since 2010 by letting Alonso pass.
Alonso also suffered a scare when Vettel forced him onto the grass and gravel at around 330kph, as the Ferrari tried to overtake. The German was handed a drive-through penalty.
Ferrari were also struggling with technical problems on the pit wall throughout the race, which only became apparent afterwards.
"We had various reliability problems on the cars in the past days and today we had one with the garage equipment, which meant we were practically in the dark," said the team's technical director Pat Fry.
"We had neither telemetry nor television pictures on the pit wall, nor the link to the remote garage at Maranello, at what was one of the crucial phases of the race, in other words as we were coming up to the pit stops."
In a move that the late team founder Enzo Ferrari would have thought perfectly normal, they picked up the telephone to headquarters.
"We had a bit of a communication problem and it was rather like taking a step back in time to the days when we didn't have all this equipment available," said Fry. "At one point we had to make do with the telephone to speak to Maranello and decide if it was the right time for the pit stop."
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