A walk in the park for Mercedes
The Formula 1 circus relocated from Belgium to Italy for last weekend’s Grand Prix at the famous parkland Monza circuit, F1’s fastest track. Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel arrived with a seven point lead over main rival Lewis Hamilton for his team’s home race, but left trailing the Mercedes driver by three points after a dominant display by the German team.
Hamilton had been quickest in the opening free practice session before his team-mate Valtteri Bottas topped the timesheets in the second session. The Saturday morning final practice session was reduced to just 16 minutes because of heavy rain and, whilst most drivers failed to set a time, the Williams duo of Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll were the quickest of the seven drivers who did.
The qualifying hour was badly affected by rain too, with a crash for Haas driver Romain Grosjean halting the the first part of the session early. Over two hours later the action resumed under continuing very wet conditions and Hamilton claimed pole position for the following day’s race, breaking Michael Schumacher’s record. The Ferrari duo of Kimi Räikkönen and Vettel were unusually off the pace, only seventh and eight fastest, but grid penalties re power unit element replacements for Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo promoted the Scuderia pair to fifth and sixth on the grid. Stroll, Force India’s Esteban Ocon and Bottas lined up behind Hamilton for the following day’s all-important race start.
The weather was much improved as the Grand Prix began and polesitter Hamilton sprinted into an immediate lead which he was never to relinquish other than briefly during the pitstop phase. Bottas lost out to Räikkönen during the opening lap skirmishes, making life more difficult for him than it should have been in the dominant Mercedes car, but the Finn quickly regained fourth position before dispatching Stroll and Ocon and claiming second place on the fourth tour. This established a one-two pairing out front for Mercedes and as the duo started to extend their lead it was essentially already game over for the outcome of the race.
Vettel, from sixth on the grid, had his work cut out in the surprisingly uncompetitive Ferrari, but soon got the better of team-mate Räikkönen, Stroll and Ocon to move up to third position, which given the amazing pace of the two Mercedes cars was the best he could hope for on this sunny day just outside Milan. The fact that he reached the chequered flag as the best of the rest behind Hamilton and Bottas a massive 36 seconds adrift summed up Ferrari’s poor day at the office.
Australian Ricciardo entertained the Ferrari fans, who no doubt appreciated his Italian roots, with a strong recovery drive from 17th at the start to finish fourth, closing on Vettel with the advantage of super soft tyres compared to the German’s softs due to reversed tyre strategies. His Red Bull team-mate Verstappen was flying during the initial laps, but a collision with the Williams of Massa on the third tour ruined his day and the Dutch ace did well to recover to tenth position by the end.
Räikkönen helped Ferrari’s damage limitation with a fifth place finish, with the impressive Ocon claiming sixth for Force India. Stroll and Massa earned a decent points haul for Williams in seventh and eighth, whereas beleaguered McLaren suffered another double retirement for Alonso and Vandoorne due to ongoing Honda power unit woes. The decision day is imminent when McLaren decides who will power their cars from 2018 onwards.
So Ferrari received a real drubbing in their own backyard from their arch rivals Mercedes and Hamilton claimed sole leadership of the drivers’ championship for the first time this season, whilst his team extended their advantage in the constructors’ championship.
All will reconvene in Singapore in two weeks’ time where the nature of the tight street circuit may well be more to the liking of Ferrari and they might be better able to challenge Mercedes than they ever did in front of their massed home fans at Monza. With seven Grand Prix remaining, the drivers’ title fight is still wide open between Hamilton, Vettel and even Bottas, with all still very much to play for, so I hope you’ll join me in Singapore as the best Formula 1 season for several years continues its unpredictable course and thrills fans at the circuits and at home.
2017 F1 Italian Grand Prix Results
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1hr15m32.310s
2 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +4.471s
3 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +36.317s
4 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) +40.335s
5 Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari) +1m0.082s
6 Esteban Ocon (Force India) +1m11.528s
7 Lance Stroll (Williams) +1m14.156s
8 Felipe Massa (Williams) +1m14.834s
9 Sergio Perez (Force India) +1m15.276s
10 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) Lapped
11 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Lapped
12 Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) Lapped
13 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) Lapped
14 Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso) Lapped
15 Romain Grosjean (Haas) Lapped
16 Pascal Wehrlein (Sauber) Lapped
17 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) Retired
18 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) Retired
19 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) Retired
20 Jolyon Palmer (Renault) Retired
2017 F1 Drivers’ Championship (after 13 rounds of 20)
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 238
2 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 235
3 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 197
2017 F1 Constructors’ Championship (after 13 rounds of 20)
1 Mercedes 435
2 Ferrari 373
3 Red Bull 212