Brazilian victorious, Italian on top of the world
Lucas di Grassi held on under immense pressure from Pastor Maldonado to claim victory in race one in Monza, taking the top spot after a drive through penalty was handed to race leader Giorgio Pantano, who nevertheless claimed the championship title from tenth place after Bruno Senna failed to score enough points to keep the title alive for Sunday's final race.
It was a bittersweet moment for the Italian, who looked to have the win easily in his grasp only to slide across the white line as he emerged from the pitlane and pick up the inevitable penalty, but a joyous one for di Grassi who took the win he was looking for to keep his challenge for second place in the championship alive. Nevertheless it was hard to see the difference between the pair in the pitlane, as the Brazilian sprayed the champagne and Pantano was carried down the pitlane by his team.
Pantano had an early break when the race was started behind the safety car after a heavy rainfall soaked the track prior to the race, and then easily controlled di Grassi into the first chicane at the restart and was gone. Behind the Brazilian was Sébastien Buemi, with Pastor Maldonado sliding up and across the kerbs to slot in front of Filippi, who tried to reclaim his position and was edged off track for his troubles, allowing Roldan Rodriguez, Romain Grosjean, Karun Chandhok and a storming Senna through into the point paying positions.
Senna soon nipped past his teammate and was looking for more, but Pantano knew his role and was playing the part perfectly, building a comfortable lead over di Grassi who quickly had an over eager Maldonado to contend with for what was to be a race-long battle: at this stage the field spread widened and it was clear that everyone was waiting to see who would be brave enough to change to slicks.
That role was never going to be taken by Pantano, who had more reason than most to be conservative: the Italian was the last man to pit, on lap 25, and easily held his lead but was sliding on the still damp exit as he crossed the white line. The inevitable penalty came a few laps later but, with Senna stuck behind Grosjean in fifth place, his team would have told him that the championship was all but over.
Di Grassi and Maldonado finished the race just 0.7 seconds apart as they crossed the line after an almighty battle which was inevitably, but sadly, overshadowed by event further back. Buemi drove a mature but lonely race to claim the final podium position well ahead of Grosjean, who soaked up late race pressure from Senna to hold on for fourth, with Rodriguez putting in a fine drive for sixth ahead of Jérôme D'Ambrosio and Davide Valsecchi.
The title challenge over, Pantano even dropped a position to Andy Soucek on the last lap, but he had done enough and he was already celebrating his title victory in the car despite failing to add to his 73 point score.
But today's race still has a sting in its tail: Senna hold on to second with 64 points, but is just one point ahead of di Grassi who has Grosjean behind him on 58 and Maldonado just one point further behind, all of whom will fight for the vice-champion title in the final race of the year.