Hamilton stumbles at start, Rosberg pounces; Vettel soothes Ferrari pride with P3 at Monza
As closely matched as the two Mercedes teammates and archrivals are this year, it only takes a small error for one to emerge victorious over the other. So it was on Sunday in Italy when Lewis Hamilton fumbled his Monza pole start in a style reminiscent of his early season clutch-bite problems, allowing himself to be swallowed up by the front part of the field. In an instant the championship points leader had fallen back to P6, a nightmare for the Englishman but a dream come true for Mercedes’ teammate Nico Rosberg. Unlike Hamilton, Rosberg made the perfect getaway and was able to fight off the two pursuing Ferraris on the opening lap, immediately pulling out a gap on the Prancing Horses and the rest of the field that he would never truly relinquish. In the end, Rosberg drove a perfect race and sailed to victory by a whopping 15 seconds, his first-ever victory at historic Autodromo Nazionale Monza, on a day when everything broke his way. That made it his second victory in a row after last week’s promenade at Spa and gave the German contender renewed momentum is his desperate quest for his first F1 title. After ceding the points lead during Hamilton’s remarkable July onslaught, Rosberg has won the first two tilts after the summer break to cut the deficit to a mere 2 points with 7 Grand Prix remaining. In this back-and-forth season, the pendulum of luck appears to have swung back his way yet again.
After his remarkable back-of the-pack to P3 finish last week at Spa, Hamilton could have been forgiven for thinking that he had all the luck firmly on his side, as well as perhaps fatally damaging Rosberg’s confidence with that miracle run in Belgium. But with one pivotal moment of wheel spin as the lights went out, he conceded all that momentum back to his closest competitor in a season when, once again, Mercedes are the class of the field by far. Despite Hamilton’s bobble the team stuck with their 1-stop tire strategy for him, enabling Hamilton to jump the Ferraris and the Williams of Valtteri Bottas and come home a well-deserved P2, at least minimizing the self-inflicted damage. Still, Hamilton had to have been rueing what might have been and the missed opportunity to keep Rosberg down. Instead it looks to be game on between these two rivals until the bitter end and it wouldn’t be surprising to see it all come down to the final contest in Abu Dhabi.
Ferrari had a classic damage-limitation day in front of their rabid home fans, the always enthusiastic tifosi. Faced with the inescapable fact that they are nowhere near as fast as the Silver Arrows especially on a high-speed circuit like Monza, the storied team from Maranello deployed a somewhat risky 2-stop tire strategy. But their drivers were able to execute it perfectly to at least keep Red Bull in their place and reestablish themselves in the battle for second place Constructors’ points. Team leader Sebastian Vettel took the last podium spot with a decent P3 while Kimi Raikkonen set a number of fast laps on his way to P4. All in all, it was realistically about as well as the Scuderia could have expected to do when faced by the outright pace of the Mercedes while competing at their notoriously speedy home track.
For Red Bull the day was a bit of a reality check, as they too saw the limits of their power plant on this brutally fast circuit. Daniel Ricciardo drove an excellent race within those limitations to take P5, while wunderkind Max Verstappen made a poor getaway and had to fight his way back into the points. In the end he was able to recover somewhat to come home P7 in a rather subdued race for the Dutch teenager a week after he received loads of criticism for his borderline reckless driving at Spa. But look for Red Bull to bounce back next week on the very tight and twisty street circuit in Singapore where their RB12 chassis should shine… if Verstappen can keep it out of the walls. Valtteri Bottas scored valuable points for Williams with a hard-fought P6 while his teammate Felipe Massa, who announced this week that he is retiring at the end of the season, came home further back in P9. The two Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg finished P8 and P10 respectively, a valuable haul for the little team on a day when they made the most of what they had and kept the McLarens and Haas duo behind them and out of the points.
Top 10 finishers in the Italian GP:
|5||3||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||53||+45.295s||10|
|7||33||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||53||+54.236s||6|
|8||11||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||53||+64.954s||4|
|10||27||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||53||+78.656s||1|
Italy marked the last of the European races this year. The next race is at the always exciting and visually stunning Singapore Grand Prix in two weeks time. Hope to see you then under the dazzling lights of the Marina Bay Street Circuit!