This years much anticipated Italian grand prix was perhaps one of the most subdued of the year. This was especially the case at the front end of the grid when Hamilton drove off into the sunset finishing 25 seconds ahead of second place man, Sebastian Vettel. Despite the outstanding performance of the Ferrari’s in qualifying, Kimi Raikkonen fell victim to a technical glitch which caused his car to temporarily stall from 3rd position and rendered him 3rd from last by the first corner. Vettel was never able to challenge the ferocious and relentless pace of Hamilton’s Mercedes with it’s upgraded and faster V6 turbo hybrid engine. 25 seconds is still light years in F1 but Ferrari should take comfort in that they didn’t finish 40 seconds behind a Mercedes as they did in Belgium.
From the off, both Lotus cars seemed doomed. Romain Grosjean was hit from the rear by a Toro Rosso which subsequently broke his rear suspension at the first chicane which caused him to retire. Pastor Maldonado was forced over the kerbs at the same chicane and it broke his floor clean in half, thus rendering his race over. A sad end for the financially strained Lotus team who enjoyed a strong performance two weeks ago in Belgium with a deserved podium position.
If the fight at the sharp end of the grid was a non-starter then the overtaking battles that occurred in the midfield to the back of the grid were fantastic to watch. Jenson Button enjoyed perhaps his most competitive opening laps of any race this year despite the well acknowledged lack of horsepower the Honda engine suffered over the race weekend. Button fought like a last standing soldier who had run out of bullets…the bullets being his underpowered Honda engine coupled with a sloppy MGU-K (the MGU-K being responsible for deployment of power for which Mclaren’s would only work for only parts of key energy harvesting points of the circuit such as the straights). Nevertheless he had some good battles with the Red Bulls, Toro Rosso’s and Sauber cars.
Williams had a good race finishing 3rd (Felipe Massa) and 4th (Valteri Bottas) but once again they began the race strongly but towards the end fell away from the leaders. Once again, Massa got the better of his highly rated team mate and is really enjoying a resurgence in his career which suffered a blip after his freak head injury he suffered back in 2009. It was fantastic to see Massa achieve a podium at Monza after being a Ferrari driver for so long and the fans received him with rapturous applause on the podium.
Further excitement came at the end of the race when Mercedes ordered Hamilton to slow down…then to speed up significantly due to an identified “problem”. This “problem” turned out to be of huge significance…not because it affected Hamilton’s race pace but the overall result was put into jeopardy due to a “technical infringement” with his tyre pressures (more on this story below). Despite this Hamilton delivered a faultless performance, as he had done in every session over the course of the weekend and ended the race as the deserved victory
Significantly for Hamilton, team mate and closest title rival Nico Rosberg failed to finish what had been a torrid weekend for him. After his new upgraded engine suffered an issue with a water hose leak that contaminated aspects of the engine rendering it useless, he was forced to head into qualifying with an old spec engine that had already contested 6 races. Unsurprisingly, the thing blew up 5 laps from the end of the race after he’d done well to recover losing positions of the start line and getting within touching distance of second place Vettel. Hamilton cruised to victory whilst Rosberg’s car burned.
Overall, not a bad race but not a classic either. 2015’s race wouldn’t have done much to “fight the corner” for the oldest circuit on the calender to remain there, particularly after Bernie Ecclestone confirmed that after 2016, Monza may be dropped due to rising costs and lack of funds. This cannot happen. Although this track doesn’t always throw up a classic it is still amazing to watch the cars drive at their absolute maximum pace. This place drips with history but F1 is all about the future. Hopefully Monza will remain because sometimes the event is greater than the racing. Seeing the “Tifosi” out in full support year in year out for their beloved Ferrari team is inspiring and unique in the world of sport. The race is a reward for them as much as anything else and F1 needs that.
Hamilton v Rosberg. Title race over?
With 7 races still to go it seems a little too early to suggest that the title race is over. With the points system as it is and with the end of the season in clear sight, allocated engines begin to get tired and as we saw with Rosberg’s, begin to break. With this in mind, although Hamilton is now 53 points clear in the title race, if he begins to suffer technical failures and non-finishes and Rosberg then begins to score victories then the title race is well and truly back on.
Hamilton is currently in the form of his life and his consummate performances seem to get better and better with every passing day. He has won 7 grands prix this season and with 11 pole positions out of 12 races so far this year (This was his seventh consecutive pole; a feat only ever achieved by Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna), the accolades continue to pour in. His qualifying performances have been nigh on perfect and absolute proof of his sheer determination and dedication to beat his team mate and nearest title rival. Last year, Hamilton’s weakness was his inability to steal pole from Rosberg. This meant that on race day he had to be “on it” and do the job on track. This year the tables have turned. Significantly, Hamilton is still dominant in the races and with his qualifying now seemingly perfected, Rosberg has a lot of problems on his hands.
Hamilton is already hard to beat and after winning all but one of the last several races last season, it is looking extremely ominous for Rosberg. Nico Rosberg has looked increasingly more frustrated and complacent as this season unfurls. For the most part he has been blown away by Hamilton’s pace. He has lost his qualifying advantage from last season which really helped him to excel over Hamilton in some of the races last season. He has also endured the majority of bad luck. Even though the Mercedes has proved to be ultra reliable this year it has more often than not been Rosberg who has suffered at the hands of technical gremlins. Needless to say, not all of Rosbergs poor performances have been down to technicalities. He has made some significant mistakes over the course of the season. Recently, his poor judgement when attempting to pass Ricciardo in Hungary arguably cost him a race win whilst Hamilton floundered. In Belgium, his poor start made his second place finishing position the only realistic option after he was forced to claw back lost ground through a handful of difficult cars.
After his dismal luck in terms of engine reliability at Monza caused him to start in 4th this weekend, Rosberg was annoyed after being told that Hamilton had been quoted as saying “i hope Rosberg finishes as high up the order as possible because it’s important for the constructors championship” he rebuked this by saying “I hope Lewis doesn’t finish high up the order”. He wasn’t joking. Rosberg looks like a man who is defeated. He has signed a contract extension for Mercedes but he must surely be questioning whether he can ever topple Hamilton who seems to get better and better. Rosberg may be driving for the most competitive team but can he stay positive and take the fight to Hamilton? Time will tell.
In the aftermath of Monza Hamilton has a 53 point lead over Rosberg in the championship and he leads 3rd place contender, Vettel by 84 points. If Rosberg wins the next 2 races and Hamilton fails to finish out of the top ten then Hamilton would still lead the title race by 2 points. If his form continues then it’s looking increasingly likely that he will equal his hero’s (Ayrton Senna’s) record of 3 world titles….but nothing can be predicted with any certainty in F1.
Tyre issues again and an escape for Mercedes
Pirelli have been under fire since they re-entered F1 for the design of their tyres but in Belgium, the strength of their tyres were called into question again. After Rosberg and Vettel suffered blowouts at 200 mph, drivers (particularly Vettel) questioned the safety of their product. Rosberg’s tyre failure was attributed to a laceration but it was never made clear if this was actually the case. Vettel’s was attributed to the fact that Ferrari were attempting a one stop strategy but were risking using the tyre beyond it’s recommended life span.
As a result of the backlash from the tyre failures, Pirelli recommended that tyre pressures should be increased for the Italian grand prix rather than put a life span limit on each compound of tyre. 5 laps from the end of the Italian grand prix, Hamilton was told that their could be an “issue” with the car. Confused because he couldn’t feel anything, Hamilton, with a 22 second lead at the front started to drop back. Another message from the pit wall quickly hurried him up and told him to attack full tilt and at the race end he was just over 25 seconds in the lead. What followed was bizarre.
Immediately after the race it unfolded that one of Hamilton’s tyres was below the recommended PSI level of 19.5 by a margin of 0.3 PSI whilst Rosberg’s were significantly lower at 1.1 PSI. The pit lane erupted into a frenzy. Mercedes believed that Pirelli and the FIA had monitored them pumping up their tyres and that everything had been done within the regulations. In the accompanying GP2 qualifying session two cars had been thrown out for this reason.
Conspiracy theorists wondered whether this had been questioned in order to secure Ferrari the win but this was rubbish. Another theory was that perhaps Mercedes had cheated after feeling the pressure from Ferrari after their strong pace in qualifying but why would a team like Mercedes who are leading the constructors by 100 points (before the race) cheat? Sebastian Vettel was rather magnanimous during his post race interview and suggested that the race result should stand and that Lewis had driven a strong race.
Several hours after the race the stewards cleared Mercedes of any wrong doing and stated that the reason why the tyre pressures dropped in the Mercedes tyres was due to the tyre blankets (that warm them) being unplugged quite early before the start of the race and therefore the drop in temperature caused the pressures to drop under the recommended limit. It was concluded that this factor yielded no safety implications or any race/pace advantage.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has requested that to avoid any future issues, the FIA should issue stricter guidelines on when tyres should be inflated before a race. Thankfully, the voice of reason was heard on this occasion and a great victory was not taken away from the most deserving driver of the day.
The next stop for the F1 circus is the night race at Singapore. Mclaren predict a better result whilst Ferrari and Williams hope that they can catch the coat tails of Mercedes. Lets hope it’s a good one.