Formula 1 visited the iconic Monza circuit for the Italian Grand Prix last weekend to do battle around the fastest track on the calendar.
After a frustrating and difficult wet-weather qualifying session, a gripping race took place under glorious sunshine, with the Italian public in full voice to roar on their favourite scarlet cars. In the end, Mercedes were utterly dominant and claimed a deserved 1-2 finish, but on the whole, there were several intriguing things to learn from F1’s visit to the Temple of Speed…
Masterful Hamilton sweeps away his rivals
Last weekend presented Lewis Hamilton with the opportunity to achieve yet another professional milestone by taking outright ownership of the record for most Formula 1 pole positions. The dreadful weather that the drivers were required to qualify in threatened to derail the Mercedes man’s bid for this achievement, but the Briton was not so easily daunted. Hamilton is F1’s modern-day Rainmaster, and he duly produced a flawless wet-weather lap to leave his rivals miles off the pace. It was the sort of lap that the great Michael Schumacher (the previous holder of the pole record), who was the wet-weather-ace of his day, would have been proud of, and it was a fitting lap to break the record with. Come race day, Hamilton was impervious out front, and the victory was never truly in doubt. The Briton has taken the lead in the battle for the title for the first time this year, and momentum seems to be with him at present.
Bittersweet for Bottas
On the face of it, Valtteri Bottas can be thrilled with the way he swiftly progressed up the field from his second-row grid spot to finish P2 on Sunday. The Finn was able to keep Hamilton company at the front of the race and while he never seriously challenged his teammate for victory, he certainly wasn’t left behind, either. However, Bottas’ performance during Qualifying was a little concerning. It was the new man at Mercedes’ first proper wet qualifying session, and his pace relative to Hamilton was underwhelming. The Finn has ticked several boxes and dispelled several doubts during his first season at Mercedes, but his first serious taste of an important wet session at the wheel of a Silver Arrow was less than successful. Wet-weather pace is an area in which Hamilton is virtually unmatched on the current grid, and on this particular occasion, the gap between the two Mercedes drivers showed. It’s too early to write Bottas off as a wet-weather contender, but it’s an area in which he still has something to prove.
Ferrari are left licking their wounds
On paper, Monza was always a circuit that was supposed to favour Mercedes. The German outfit’s W08 challenger has excelled on fast circuits so far this season, with victories at Silverstone and Spa. However, the gap between themselves and Ferrari at Spa wasn’t as big as most observers expected, leading to suspicions that the Italian Grand Prix could be a close-run affair. In reality, Mercedes were well in command for the vast majority of proceedings, with the Silver Arrows duo crossing the line over 30 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel’s third-placed Ferrari. The German did well to come home in P3 from his P6 starting spot, but he was never in the running for pole or the victory, and as a result, he’s surrendered the title lead. The next race, in Singapore, is one that Vettel and his Ferrari SF70H are likely to enjoy, but there’s a feeling creeping in that only victory will do for the German and the Scuderia next time out. Of course, there are many laps still to drive in the 2017 season, but after a couple of less-than-ideal weekends, the Italian outfit will be eager to bounce back in style in Singapore.
F1’s youngsters do the business
While there was an understandable focus on the front of the action, credit must go to two of the sport’s newest additions, Lance Stroll and Esteban Ocon, for their performances last weekend. The pair qualified in P4 and P5 in the wet, which became P2 and P3 due to the grid penalties handed to the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. After their admirable efforts on Saturday, the pair kept their noses clean and got through the opening exchanges of the race unscathed. The faster cars behind the duo gradually caused them to slip down the order, which was always likely to happen. Ultimately, however, Ocon and Stroll came home in P6 and P7, each scoring a fistful of points for Force India and Williams, respectively. These are just the types of results that those two teams need, and it was encouraging to see two young drivers handle the pressure of competing at the pinnacle of motorsports with such maturity, making no mistakes and bringing home the points.
Verstappen needs to think and think again
Max Verstappen is undoubtedly a top driver in the making, and the Dutchman’s fearless overtaking efforts are usually spectacular. In fairness, the Red Bull man is usually successful in his attempts, but sometimes it may pay for him to think twice. He has undoubtedly been plagued by an unacceptable level of mechanical unreliability this season, but his misfortune during Sunday’s race was partially of his own making. After a lightning start that saw him progress from P13 to P8 on the opening lap, the Dutchman tried to pass Felipe Massa for P7, racing hard with him through turns one and two. When the Brazilian resisted him, the Red Bull man decided to force the issue, ending up with a puncture. Neither of the two drivers were overly at fault, but it was an incident that cost Verstappen dearly. Later on, he tussled with Romain Grosjean and chose to lunge up the inside at turn one, almost coming to harm once again. In future situations like these, it might be wise for the 19-year old to judge his execution more carefully, rather than charging headlong into every little gap. There is the old adage about going for a gap if you’re a racing driver, but the ability to time an overtaking attempt to perfection and execute it cleanly is a talent of top F1 drivers.
Ricciardo roars back
Grid penalties meant that Daniel Ricciardo was forced to line up in P16 for Sunday’s race after originally qualifying in P3. To make matters worse, the Australian was out-qualified by teammate Verstappen yet again, resulting in him trailing the Dutchman 9-4 in the intra-team one-lap head-to-head. Come Sunday, however, the Honey Badger stole the show, scything his way through the order to come home in a neat P4. During his efforts, Ricciardo pulled off a few crisp overtaking manoeuvres (take note, Verstappen) while also taking care of the soft tyres on which he started the race. This allowed him to switch to the supersoft tyres for a short stint at the end of the race, enabling him to catch and pass the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen. The Australian may be a fair margin behind Verstappen on the Saturday scoresheet, but in Italy he showed that on Sunday, when the points are handed out, he’s got quality to spare.
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