MONZA, September 13 – Fernando Alonso kept alive his world championship challenge with a near-flawless drive for an emotional and exciting victory in Sunday's Italian Grand Prix, his maiden race on home soil for Ferrari.
The 29-year-old Spaniard had said he need a victory to maintain his bid for a third world title in his first season with the Italian ‘scarlet scuderia’.
And he delivered a stirring performance to the tifosi in the grandstands of the old Autodromo Nazionale in a race that was nothing short of disastrous for championship leader Lewis Hamilton who retired on the opening lap.
Alonso lost a place after starting from his 19th pole position, but fought back and aided by a dazzling Ferrari pit-stop was able to hold on to win ahead of second-placed defending champion Jenson Button of McLaren and Felipe Massa, in the second Ferrari.
It was his third win this season and the 24th victory of his career and, unlike his triumph in Germany in July, when Massa was asked to give way, was this time produced without the aid of any team orders at Ferrari.
Alonso now has 166 points and, in third place, is back within reach of the championship leaders.
Australian Mark Webber has taken over on top for Red Bull after finishing sixth. He is now on 187 points, five clear of luckless and pointless Hamilton.
"A fantastic weekend – pit stops stupendi," Alonso was told on his triumphant slow-down lap.
"Fantastic, a fantastic weekend," responded the Spaniard.
"One of the great wins of my career, so emotional and so special for me and for this team. For me it is there with my Spanish Grand Prix of 2006.
"Now we must enjoy it and share with the team at Maranello before we go back to work – we need to find consistency now in the last five races."
Button said: "We had a very quick car today but they had a slight edge and I think we lost out in making our pit stop a lap early. It was so tough.
"I had Fernando in my mirrors for so long and they – Ferrari – clearly had a better straight line speed, but I defended well. It is a disappointment for me not to win, but it is a good result for me in the title race."
Amazingly, German Sebastian Vettel finished fourth after surviving early engine problems and diving in for an extraordinary 3.3 seconds pit-stop right at the end.
Fellow-German Nico Rosberg finished fifth in the second Mercedes, ahead of Webber, German Nico Hulkenberg of Williams and Pole Robert Kubica of Renault who was eighth.
Seven-times champion Michael Schumacher, 41, gave his fans something to cheer after finishing ninth, having started 12th, in the second Mercedes and his former Ferrari team-mate Brazilian Rubens Barrichello was 10th for Williams.
There was drama at the start as Button made a perfect start from second on the grid and bravely held the inside line to take the lead from a slightly-sluggish Alonso going into the decisive first chicane, the Variante Del Rettifilo.
Alonso twice pushed to the right to threaten the Englishman, but he refused to budge and emerged ahead of the two Ferraris with Rosberg fourth after jumping from seventh.
But for Button’s McLaren team-mate Hamilton it was a dreadful opening lap as, after jumping from fifth to fourth, he tried to squeeze past Massa at the second chicane and banged wheels with the Ferrari.
This left him with a loose front right wheel and forced him to run off and retire at the first Lesmo where he ran into the gravel, once again a victim of his own impetuosity.
The 2008 champion said: "I had a good start and gained a position. In a realistic world, perhaps I should’ve stayed there a while. I put my car up the inside and tried to get third – it was obviously a little bit too much.
"I’m very disappointed in myself and sorry for the team. I’ve got to try to collect my thoughts and move onto the next race. The championship is not over, but it’s mistakes like I made today that lose world championships…"
Alonso kept up the pressure and cut the lead to less than a second by lap 20.
Button pitted from the lead after 36 laps, giving Alonso a lap at the front before he, too, came in, reemerging to steal ahead of Button and set sail for a momentous victory.