This weekend’s Italian Grand Prix was a relatively quiet affair, but there was a shift in momentum for one driver, who had looked to be psychologically out of the championship fight, until Sunday…
Having won the last four races in a row prior to the Belgian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton looked to have the edge on team-mate Nico Rosberg mentally. Even after having to take engine change penalties and start from the back of the grid in Spa, the Brit was still able to make it onto the podium, a feat that must have left the German downhearted.
Hamilton starts a Rosberg revolution…
On race day however, having looked supreme across the weekend, and putting in a stonking lap to take pole position in qualifying, Hamilton got one of his worst starts to a grand prix this season, and he’s certainly had a few of them!
Both Mercedes AMG PETRONAS drivers looked to have got a poor start off the line initially, but whilst Rosberg regained his momentum to lead the race at the first corner, Hamilton went backwards, dropping down the order to sixth place, behind his team-mate, the two Scuderia Ferrari’s, Williams Martini Racing driver Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo, the W07 not accelerating as expected.
That left the Brit with plenty to do, especially as he and Rosberg had opted to run the harder, soft tyre compound and would need to manage his tyres in order to stay out as long as possible. Not easy when you have to overtake five people if you want to take the lead in the race!
The current World champion was able to get passed Ricciardo relatively quickly, but it took him a further nine laps to do away with Bottas, by which point Rosberg had been able to carve out a lead of over eleven seconds to his team-mate.
Strategy call, not on the ball…
With his tyres pretty much shod after running so closely behind the Finn for an age, it was welcome luck that Ferrari decided to pit their two drivers and switch them once more onto the super-soft tyre they had started the race on, meaning they would definitely have to stop again.
With clear track ahead of him, Hamilton was able to reduce Rosberg’s lead slightly before the German pitted for medium tyres and his only stop of the race, The Brit came in a lap later and did the same, and although he emerged from the pits just behind Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, he was safe in the knowledge that he would not have to pit again.
As Rosberg cruised into the distance, the Ferrari’s made their second stops and Hamilton was left to try to make headway on the ten second gap to his team-mate, It was all just a little bit too late however, and in trying to chase down the German he made a number of errors that cost him time.
Rosberg took the chequered flag, with the Brit eventually coming home fifteen seconds down on his team-mate, and six seconds ahead of third placed Vettel, who was the same again ahead of Raikkonen. Hamilton’s frustrating start handing victory to Rosberg on a plate.
Ricciardo rams it up the inside…
In what was considered the move of the race, Ricciardo came from a long way back to lunge up the inside of Bottas at the Rettifilio chicane and snatch fifth place, during the closing stages of the race.
It had been a strong start from the Australian, and strategy worked perfectly to allow the 27-year-old to catch the Finn in the final laps of the grand prix.
It was a great salvage effort from the Milton Keynes based squad who had expected to have a power deficit at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza and not perform particularly well.
Williams on the up…
Bottas took sixth place for Williams Martini Racing in the end, and although the Finn was disappointed to finish behind the Red Bull, he did come home ahead of both Sahara Force India drivers, which along with team-mate Felipe Massa’s two points for finishing ninth and ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, allowed the Williams F1 team to jump ahead of the Silverstone based squad in the Constructor’s Championship – a positive achievement in a not so positive year so far for the Oxfordshire based team.
With driver Massa having announced his retirement from the sport on Friday, there is now plenty of speculation as to who will make up the Williams driver line-up next year, but as yet they are giving nothing away. The likes of Sergio Perez, Alex Lynn and Lance Stroll appear however, to all be in the frame.
With his future in F1 still up in the air as we head to the business end of the season, Jolyon Palmer was hoping to be able to show his talent at this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix and impress Renault bosses, however that was to be taken out of his hands from the get go.
Having qualified towards the back of the grid in twentieth place, Palmer had made a decent getaway and was taking the outside line, when Sauber F1 Team driver Felipe Nasr chopped across the Brit, driving him off track, and knocking off his front wing in the process. Palmer headed to the pits for some repair work, but unfortunately had to retire on lap 9, his chances of making a good impression gone.
Nasr incidentally received a ten second time penalty, an inconsequential punishment as the Brazilian’s race was in effect already over having sustained damage himself in the incident. The Sauber man came back out on track after a long time in the garage, most likely to avoid a penalty being given at the next race in Singapore.
The rest of the field…
Driver of the moment Max Verstappen was seventh after managing, if it were possible, to have a worse start then Hamilton off the line. The Dutchman’s anti-stall kicked in which saw him drop down the order at a rapid rate, and spend most of his race trying to make those places back up. It was a solid and controlled effort from the 18-year-old who gave no cause to have his race craft questioned here in Monza, after his aggressive blocking was called into question at Spa.
Those Red Bull points mean that the Milton Keynes based squad keep their second place in the Constructor’s Championship, eleven points clear of Ferrari.
Force India driver Perez came home in eighth place, having been passed by Verstappen at the Ascari chicane, in what brought about a strange detour off track for the Mexican. Rather than risk taking on the Dutchman (or perhaps the Monza kerbs), Perez took to the escape road when he saw the 18-year-old was going in for the over-take. There was no real reason however, for him to take such drastic action.
The Mexican’s team-mate Hulkenberg rounded out the top ten, in what was a somewhat disappointing race for Force India, who may have thought they would be stronger at this track, with a Mercedes engine.
McLaren bring the entertainment…
In what was, let’s face it, a pretty dull Italian Grand Prix, the McLaren-Honda drivers brought us some action and a few laughs along the way.
Having announced a new innovative three driver strategy for 2017 at the start of the weekend, which will see Fernando Alonso line up against talented protégé Stoffel Vandoorne next year, whilst Jenson Button takes a step back from racing to become McLaren-Honda Ambassador, the current pairings light-hearted ways brought a smile to the face as the race was played out.
Firstly in qualifying the Brit made a joke about how Alonso had just edged him in the pecking order, stating “I got pipped by Fernando, cheeky monkey”, to get the banter underway.
During the race, Button made a number of brilliant passes, the first of which came on lap 8, the Brit having been relegated to the back of the field after being run off track by Sauber F1 Team driver Nasr at the start. Having got himself back into the swing of things, Button found himself in a battle for sixteenth place with Marcus Ericsson, Esteban Gutierrez and Kevin Magnussen as they headed towards the first corner.
Despite his recent announcement, it is clear the Brit is still every bit the racer at heart, as he first of all made short work of the Swede, before beautifully passing the Haas F1 and Renault Sport F1 cars in one strong move, to claim the position. It was also a great example of how a number of cars can occupy the same bit of tarmac without an incident being necessary!
His next move was probably a sweet one for the Brit, passing team-mate Alonso, again at the first chicane, to take twelfth place in the closing stages of the race. It was not for points, but pride was at stake!
That move prompted Alonso, whose tyres were now almost completely shot, to pit for a fresh set of the super-soft rubber, allowing him to complete the surprising feat of fastest lap of the race. A 1:25.340, and something that has not been achieved by McLaren since the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix.
The Spaniard was also once again on top form over the airwaves, being heard to laugh hysterically as his race engineer informed him it could still be possible to catch Romain Grosjean, who was currently ahead of him at that point of the grand prix.
Alonso could not contain his amusement, and this was probably, perhaps barring Ricciardo’s move on Bottas, the most entertaining moment of the entire race!