Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 24° Track 36° Humidity 29% Wind 1.4 m/s
Race Day was opposite day in Monza, stunningly beautiful weather in direct contrast to yesterday’s qualifying. Crystalline blue skies over the circuit with puffy clouds hanging over the Dolomites in the distance created the perfect vista for racegoers as the clock counted down to the start of the Italian Grand Prix.
The vicious monster of grid penalties continued to chew up drivers and teams, with 8 cars now shuffled backwards: Renault, Red Bull, McLaren all had penalties plus Sainz and late addition Perez, dinged for a gearbox. Such was the mind bending multitude that Sainz actually started 1 spot ahead of his qualifying penalty DESPITE his own penalty. In pre-race interview, Jean Todt clearly stated the rationale for these penalties was to control costs, and as such, I just have to ask if it would be possible to include mechanisms for evaluating if these regulations are working as intended? Call me crazy but it seems like the FiA often seem to leave this part of the process out.
The run to turn 1 looks to be epic if the F2 races are anything to judge by and if past experience is any guide, Toto Wolff and Mercedes will be holding their breath to see if Ocon and Stroll can manage braking without punting Hamilton off the circuit. Pirelli are recommending a 1 stopper, Supersoft to Soft, though one could go the other way round.
It will be Ferrari’s job to get round Ocon and Stroll as rapidly as possible because if Lewis gets a good start they will be losing massive chunks of time until they do. As expected, most drivers started on the Supers, with just the Red Bull drivers, Palmer and Alonso choosing to start on the Soft.
Lights Out!!!! It was a blinding start from Ocon with Hamilton on some wheelspin, but slotting comfortably ahead of Stroll into T1. Bottas was forced to fend off a vicious assault by Raikkonen through the chicane as Ocon nabbed P2 clearly from Stroll. Damage for Perez in the start as the inevitable chaos of T1 inflicted itself upon the field. Raikkonen continued the fight with Valterri and managed to snag P4 from Bottas. The battle STILL wasn’t done though, as through Parabolica Bottas went outside and then flashed side by side down the strait before the grunt of the Merc PU allowed hime to edge ahead and slot.
Bottas immediately set his sights on Williams and in moments he was putting big pressure on the Willams. Lap 2 saw Bottas by Stroll into the start of lap 3. Raikkonen and Vettel had a back and forth that saw Seb ahead and in a remarkable tangle, Massa whacked up the inside into the chicane and forced Verstappen wide, contact between the 2 puncturing Max’s tyre and damaging the wheel.
New Front wing and tyres for Max and Grosjean as well, who had earlier suffered damage from a coming together with Ricciardo. Meanwhile, on lap 5 Bottas had caught up to and passed Ocon, who began looking backwards at the approaching Vettel, who had already slipped ahead of Stroll. Stroll was now rocking about supremely happy in P5 and busy defending from Raikkonen. Kimi, not making his own life easier, entirely missed his braking into T1 and put himself directly into Massa’s wheelhouse, relieving the pressure on Lance for the moment.
Lap 8 saw Vettel with a DRS pass into T1 on Ocon, but the damage was done to his race as Hamilton was 8 seconds up the road. Raikkonen was continuing to suffer, suspecting that he had some damage at the rear and taking up station behind the Williams, but without the ability to make a firm pass.
Lap 11 Hulkenberg boxed from P16 for the Soft as the battle between Stroll and Ocon began to hot up, with the Williams into DRS on the Force India. At the front, Vettel was unable to make progress on the Mercedes, with Hamilton having extended his lead to 11.5s by the start of the 13th lap.
Hulkenberg was also having issues with his engine derating and was not a happy camper, despite giving the engineers what they asked for according to team radio. With Raikkonen continuing to struggle with rear end grip, Stroll and Ocon were racing in a bit of a bubble for the moment, the Force India able to eke out just enough margin through the lap to stay ahead down the straight.
Carrying on from last week, Alonso and Palmer again had a tussle that saw Jolyon cut the chicane as Fernando forced took off on the way around the chicane. Palmer rejoined side by side which prompted a torrent of abuse from Alonso that would carry on for many a lap. Lap 16 saw Raikkonen into the pits for a set of Softs. Ocon followed him in the next lap and was out just in front of Raikkonen, fending off the undercut from Ferrari.
Stroll reacted the following lap as Ricciardo pulled an amazing move on Perez to seize P6 from the Force India driver. With the Red Bull driver on opposite tyre strategy he had been quietly but efficiently carving his way up the grid. But it was bad news for the Williams driver as the undercut had worked for both Raikkonen and Ocon, leaving Stroll at the back of the trio.
Palmer picked up a 5s penalty for his earlier off track advantage and it was Kvyat becoming the train leader in P7. Lap 20 solved that problem neatly as Daniil boxed and having been freed Vandoorne was immediately swamped by Ocon and Raikkonen the following lap. Ocon cranking past Stoffel into the Curva Grande and Kimi following suit, leaving Stroll to trail the McLaren the rest of the lap. Sttroll banged past him down the straight into lap 22 and got on with it. Massa dipped into the pits and on lap 23 Raikkonen set his sights on Ocon and was well into DRS.
Lap 24 saw the battle continue between the two as Massa reclaimed P9 from Vandoorne rather effortlessly and set up station behind his teammate. At that point in the race, all the top 5 on the road, Hamilton, Bottas, Vettel, Ricciardo and Perez, had yet to pit, and a reported radio call from Mercedes said +10 target for their stop, suggesting lap 33-38. Lewis officially stuck it into Verstappen as he lapped him and Raikkonen finally got the job done on the Force India. Or not so finally, as Ocon fought back and they were side by side into the second chicane, but as Kimi led the way out that was the end of their pas de deux.
Lap 28 and Palmer was in for his new tyres and 5s penalty, which kicked him out P17. The following lap Verstappen was in for a new set of Supers and Alonso, with no penalty, aside from his engine, was in and out in P11.
Ahead the battle for P7 was hotting up with Stroll well into DRS but still unable to get the job done. Ricciardo continued to have a quietly fantastic race running P4 despite a bit of drama on lap 1. Lap 31 saw the end of Palmer’s day as he was told to box and retire the car. Alonso was struggling with his ERS and the end result of that was another pit stop, out on a new set of Supers.
Vettel was in lap 32 and out just in front of Perez, who had yet to pit. Hamilton responded the following lap, and was out ahead of Ricciardo and Vettel. Bottas kicked off some purples and he and Perez both came in the following lap, leaving Ricciardo in P3 and looking to be taking the fight to Raikkonen.
Vandoorne’s day was then thoroughly ruined, as his brand new engine suffered from a sudden lack of power and he was told to stop pushing and bring it in. Verstappen, pushing on his new tyres, attempted a pass from the outside into T1 and took a chunk of Grosjean’s front wing as a souvenir as part of the maneuver, as RoGro smoked his front tyres trying to make the turn.
Lap 37 and the gap from Ricciardo to Ocon continued to hover just short of the size needed for Danny Ric to get out comfortably ahead, and began to chase down Raikkonen. But the Red Bull man had been hard at work and was boxed at the end of the next lap. The team chucked him out lap 39 and 3 seconds now separated the Red Bull from the Ferrari, with Danny Boy having the massive tyre advantage and plenty of laps to do something about it.
At the front, both Mercedes were lapping nearly a second faster a lap than Vettel and then Ricciardo was into DRS on Raikkonen. And rather unlike Stroll he chucked it up into T1, braking insanely late and was by with a minimum of tyre smoke.
Next up the road, Vettel, and Red Bull rather fancied his chances of doing the job. 11 seconds, 13 laps was going to keep everyone on their toes to the end of the race. Into free air, Ricciardo was a full second faster the following lap, but whether enough of his tyres would survive when he caught Vettel remained to be seen.
Bit of drama for Lewis, who reported a loss of power to the team, but the engineers did not seem overly fussed, promising to look into it. Lap 45 fast lap for Danny Ric as he carved away the seconds to Vettel, 8.5s with 8 laps to go.
Hamilton’s power woes, judging by the lap times, were either imaginary or resolved as he continued to rock identical times to Bottas and the both of them gaining on Vettel. Further back, Verstappen had just managed to get round Magnussen for the last points position. Magnussen continued the battle and into the braking area, as Verstappen moved over to take the racing line, there was a touch of wheels with KMag, which put him off track and immediately on the radio
4 laps, 6 seconds and Vettel had found some pace, stemming the bleeding to Danny Ric who now had the bit firmly between his teeth, at around 0.5s a lap. Magnussen’s complaints eventually found their mark and an investigation into the incident was announced.
3 laps to go and Hamilton reset fast lap, 2 laps to go and Ricciardo took it away again in pursuit of Vettel. The two Williams continued to trail in line astern, with Massa inside DRS but not putting Stroll under pressure.
Penultimate lap, and Ericsson and Alonso both were told to retire the car. Once the stewards finished laughing about KMag’s complaint, they announced no further action on the incident.
Last lap and easy breezy across the line for both Mercedes, Hamilton officially retaking the championship lead as he crossed in P1, but Massa had finally decided to have a go, which brought Perez into play behind. Side by side into 2nd chicane, with Stroll taking the inside, leading on the way out but leaving Sergio planted on Felipe’s gearbox. Slowly the Force India edged closer until they reached Parabolica, where it became apparent that Perez simply lacked the car go get it done.
Brutal display of dominance from Mercedes this weekend, and as the cars completed their warm down lap, Vettel reported an off had complicated his last 15 laps, resulting in inconsistent engine performance. Even without that, it was clear that Ferrari were fully outclassed today, in a way that they were not in Spa. The lack of their new PU and it’s fancy new piston might’ve put the knife into their hopes this weekend, or it could be that Mercedes has made a step forward that Ferrari will find hard to match no matter how much 3D printing they do. Still, the upcoming races will be the proof, as on paper, the advantage starts to lean the way of Ferrari and it’s shorter wheelbase. With Lewis having finally retaken the championship lead, by just 3 points, the battle for the season is firmly on.
Brilliant recovery drive from Ricciardo, who continues to just get the job done, in stark contrast to his teammate, who is all potential but continues to be plagued not only by mechanical unreliability, but a seeming inability to get round the circuit without having disastrous contact of some sort. The contra strategy worked wonders for Danny Ric (and would’ve for Max as well had he not punctured) and frankly the Bulls looked more the competitor to Mercedes than the Ferraris did.
Nice work too from both Ocon and Stroll. Despite the Williams looking faster, Ocon was able to get the early advantage and never relinquished it. Nice little battle between the Williams, without tears, but also perhaps some clues as to where Williams have seemed vulnerable, given what looks like a surprising performance at Monza.
Outside the championship it was all drama with the double retirement from Macca, with the Honda deal hanging in the balance. Sky intimated that breaking the contract with Honda might be more difficult as Honda feel so humiliated by Macca’s treatment of them that they might consider suing should they be dropped. More to the point, with Renault categorically stating they don’t wish to supply another team, the question remains who exactly would give them engines if not Honda. Equally of concern, how is it possible at this level for the economics of any of this to work in such a way that teams can choose PU’s that best fit their design philosophy and budget. Big questions for Liberty to ponder as they look to the 2021 regs, along with whether or not the grid penalties imposed for new PU’s and components are really serving the purpose for which they were intended.
Thanks, as always, for stopping by.
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