The most historical race in Formula One took place over the weekend; the well liked and respected Italian Grand Prix straight from the Autodromo Nazionale Monza. But unfortunately the promise of a cracking race failed to materialize as fans were treated to a lackluster and controlled Mercedes race.
About the only thing that was half interesting was the incredibly dramatic race start. As has been the case as many races before it, Nico Rosberg’s win was decided when Lewis Hamilton failed to get away clean and dropped back to sixth before the first corner. On further replays this poor start is rather odd. We saw Mitch Evans ignite his rear tires from pole position in the GP2 race just hours earlier and drop down the field, but Hamilton was different. It wasn’t wheel spin or start time reaction, just a pure unlucky start. The only reason I could pin it down too was Hamilton’s eagerness on the formation lap. Hamilton darted away from the field and made his way to the grid extremely quickly instead of backing the pack up. This meant his tires would have been colder when the race started because it took longer for the grid to form up. You can make your own mind up on whether it was a cause or not, I’m still conflicted.
Hamilton wasn’t alone in the bad starts club, Esteban Gutierrez would drop ten places off the start back to 20th as he appeared to drop into anti-stall off the line. This was extremely disappointing for the team as he had used qualifying to grab Haas’ first ever Q3 appearance. Wonder boy and the only flippin’ name anyone seems to be mentioning at the moment, Max Verstappen, also struggled on the start as he would drop 5 places back to P12.
Early on in the race, Renault’s power deficit to the dominant Mercedes power unit showed as Hamilton easily dived up the inside of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo into the first chicane on lap 2. A bigger test would come for Hamilton laps later when he was stuck behind the Mercedes powered Williams of Valtteri Bottas. Although Hamilton was instructed to back off whilst they waited for Bottas to pit, you can’t stop a racing driver from racing. Hamilton overtook Bottas on lap 11 through the second chicane as the Williams driver struggled for grip on his worn Super-Soft tires.
The battle at the top disappointingly didn’t play out on track, but in strategy. After both Mercedes started on the soft tires they were practically locked into the theoretically faster one-stop. They didn’t disappoint as Rosberg and Hamilton pitting for mediums on lap 25 and 26 respectively.
Ferrari opted for the alternative strategy, running a two-stop of Super-Soft, Super-Soft and Soft tires. When Ferrari and Mercedes had both made one stop each, Lewis Hamilton was still behind Kimi Raikkonen. Ferrari missed a trick to get Sebastian Vettel to 2nd on the podium by not running Raikkonen on the softs in the middle stint. Had they done this, Raikkonen could have tried to back the Mercedes of Hamilton up whilst Sebastian Vettel darted ahead. Even if this didn’t work out, it wouldn’t have changed anything in terms of finishing positions, though hindsight is a wonderful thing. I can understand why Ferrari would play it safe, considering this is their home Grand Prix and they hadn’t graced the podium in the last four races. They would eventually finish 3rd and 4th, Sebastian Vettel leading Kimi Raikkonen home.
There was two fine pieces of pure racing that took my eye today. Firstly, Daniel Ricciardo vs Valtteri Bottas was certainly a fight to watch in the closing stages as they battled over 5th position. Ricciardo ran a Super-Soft, Soft and back Super-Soft strategy whilst Bottas couldn’t make the tires last and was forced to run Super-Soft Soft and Softs again. This meant Ricciardo had the faster tires toward the end and he had put them on later so wear wasn’t an issue. As we headed onto lap 42, Ricciardo was getting close enough to begin thinking about an overtake and thus many fans woke up from their dozing sleep and actually began to watch. But before we could even think about where and when Ricciardo might dive up the inside, he did! He jumped from right back on the moon to the inside of Bottas at the first chicane, catching everyone, including Bottas, off guard! With awesome car control and some true Australian determination, we saw what pundit Martin Brundle described as the overtake of the year. It was also great to see Bottas giving the respectful room to Ricciardo whilst still fighting hard to hold onto the position. Ricciardo wouldn’t look back and finished 5th ahead of Bottas in 6th.
The second best battle of the race came on lap 45 when Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso had an epic fight through the first and second chicanes for 12th place. I think this battle epitomized what we all want to see more of in Formula One, pure, clean and beautiful racing. The respect and comradery shown between the two drivers was excellent – versus the lazy and disrespectful style shown by the one just out of high school: Mr Max Verstappen.
So in the end, Nico Rosberg took a comfortable and easy win with no real challenge ever materializing. This is an important win for Rosberg as they now head into the flyaway races of the season with Rosberg behind by just a mere two points. In 2015 the end of the season proved to be where Lewis Hamilton got lazy whilst 2014 it was where he got his act together. Singapore promises to be an important race for both drivers.
So to conclude, the Italian Grand Prix was a boring and very unentertaining race. I did find myself actually briefly closing my eyes at points. Sadly the story of Formula One in recent years has been exciting starts and finishes, we sorely need something to make that middle part more perplexing.
(by Steven Walton)