Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 21° Track 28° Humidity 67% Wind 1.3 m/s
The sky was the colour that photographers hate, a slate grey that flattens everything and refuses to make even the liveliest livery pop. Not that it was necessary given the remarkable qualifying fireworks, to wit, Raikkonnen nabbing pole from an already celebrating Vettel, leading to, ummm discussions at Ferrari initiated by an outwardly not entirely happy Sebastian, along with the delightfully salient fact that Alonso will be lining up directly behind K-Mag after their contretemps yesterday which saw their respective team prinicpals looking as though they would come to blows.
For the record. Ericsson,, Ricciardo and Hulkenberg in that order at the back. For Ricciardo and Ericsson, straight up PU replacements penalties, and for the Hulk it’s that plus the penalty for being naughty at Spa. It’s a big day for Pierre Gasly as well, starting inside the top 10 along with Lance Stroll (yes, that’s correct, he’s P10) who seems to like Monza along with his faster rivals having penalties and/or getting involved in T1 silliness….
The latest driver rumours now involve Perez BACK to McLaren, but yeah, we’ll see about that as the game of musical chairs is hotting up a bit. On the grid, JEV did announce he was not interested in coming back unless he could win, which did seem to limit the teams he might drive for a bit…
The start is 638 metres long according to Sky, and the opportunities for shenanigans into T1 is rather large, as demonstrated yesterday quite well by Alonso and Magnussen. With DRS disabled for the first two laps per the regs, those laps, along with the ones around the pitstops, will be where you see the cars wrung out by the drivers and little managed. The tow will make these laps more interesting than usual, as it can give trailing drivers a usable advantage. Getting in front of Vettel will be Hamilton’s job, but even if he manages that it would be quite the job to stay ahead. Some variation of a one stop on offer, as with a long pitlane and resulting delta, no team will want to visit the garage more than once. Yesterdays GP2 race saw the Supers go off unexpectedly (the track was hotter than expected) and it led to a fairly wild result. Hopefully today’s race will provide similar ….
Lights Out!!!! Rocking start by Hamilton and he was alongside Vettel as it was practically 3 wide approaching T1. Kimi had a small lock up as he worked to keep Vettel behind him, as further back Hartleys race was ended rapidly, as he was pincered in between Ericsson and Vandoorne. Ericsson’s front wing did the business, puncture and broken suspension for the Hartley and damage for Ericsson as well. Magnussen was tagged by Perez and that did him as well, significant bodywork damage and a puncture as well. Verstappen had also had a magnificent start, and had nailed Bottas off the line. At the front, Lewis continued his pursuit of Vettel through the Curva Grande and into the chicane had pulled alongside and attacked on the outside into the left hander. With Vettel a bit hung up behind Raikkonen and Hamilton on the outside Vettel then understeered into Lewis and spun. He recovered but was next to last (of those still running) as the field snaked around the back of the circuit and the Safety Car was called for Hartley’s stricken Toro Rosso.
Into the pits for Vettel and onto a set of Softs along with a new front wing and then what was, by all appearances, an unsafe release into the path of a wounded Ericsson, but with no further action taken…
Safety Car in lap 3 and the restart saw Hamilton, all over Kimi. Raikkonen backed off, but Lewis was with him, and took the lead down the straight on the outside as the approached the first turn. Raikkonen kept his foot in, braked super late into and retook the lead on the outside into T4, to the delight of the hometown crowds. Grosjean and Sainz traded places at the Safety Car restart, but after a bit of work, the HAAS driver retook the spot as the race ticked over into the 6th lap, with Stroll in 8th and Magnussen, having pitted for a severe amount of time to deal with the damage from his coming together with Perez on the first lap, was down to last and onto the Mediums to try and make the end of the race with some tyres left.
Vettel, on the Softs, had already recovered to P15 as he focused on damage limitation and the long road to redemption. Ahead, it was Ricciardo trying to get round Pierre Gasly, who seemed to be in no mood to make life easy for the soon to be former Red Bull driver, forcing him to back out as he tried to get round into T1 or risk losing his nose. This set Vettel up, and down the straight on the next lap, the Ferrari forcefully slammed past, shutting the door firmly and leaving no room for Ricciardo to fight back.
At the sharp end, Hamilton was on a leash about 1 second long, dangling off the back of Kimi’s gearbox and then into lap 10, Alonso was into the pits, with “the SAME problem”, and his race trashed. Vettel, meanwhile, had continued his forward progress leaving Riciardo, on lap 12, in the same place he had been 3 laps earlier, trying to get round a very, very obstinate Pierre Gasly.
On the move in the midfield during this melee was Sergio Perez, into the points and having a serious look at Sirotkin the following lap, 0.6 seconds back. Bottas continued to follow Verstappen at roughly a second and Ocon picked off Sainz to go P6 and have a go at Grosjean, loitering just ahead. Vettel rocked ahead of Sirotkin, to the surprise of no one, and Perez got the job done on Sirotkin lap 16. The following lap, Vettel was by Stroll and began his chase of Perez, who promised to be a bit more of a challenge.
Sure enough, Vettel came from far back down the start finish straight on lap 18 to have a go, well by with DRS and then locked it up into T1, allowing the Force India to retake the spot he had more or less given up on. The following lap was deja vu all over again, with the exception that Vettel got the braking sorted and was by with not much of a fuss.
With the pitstop window looming for the Supers, Hamilton dialed it up, and after having dangled a bit farther back was suddenly back within DRS of the leading Ferrari. Behind, Bottas had a lunge from way back at Verstappen, causing both of them to have a messy moment that saw the running order unchanged.
Lap 20 and Vettel was by Sainz, but his tyres were beginning to look a bit ragged and the following lap Ferrari pulled the trigger and brought Raikkonen in, as Mercedes looked ready for a stop as well. But Mercedes sent Hamilton round to go for the overcut as he’d likely been told to do the opposite of Raikkonen and it was on….
Lewis purpled the sectors on the way in, and it was a fast stop for Ferrari. As Hamilton rocked it around, behind Raikkonen purpled the sectors, going even faster on his outlap than Lewis. Hamilton’s original inlap was around a 1:23.6 and as they kept him out that dropped to a 1:23.996. Lap 23 and they continued to run exactly even lap times.
RoGro was in lap 24 and Vettel was up to P5 and by Ocon as Ricciardo’s BRAND NEW PU went boom and brought out the double yellow in T4…. Oh My, look out for a Horner fit over that. At the sharp end, Kimi was beginning to eat Hamilton’s laptimes by significant amounts, as rain touched the circuit around T6 and T7 according to several radio reports. The retirement of Ricciardo caused Verstappen no small amount of agita over the state of his PU. Raikkonen was by now well within Hamilton’s pit window and it was now down to Bottas playing defense, as Kimi had caught up to the back of the other Mercedes, and was 2.5 seconds back. Sure enough, the radio message went out from Mercedes, “Keep Kimi behind you” and the team race for the win was on.
Lap 28 and Hamilton was in, and out well behind Raikkonen but with tyres that were going to be much fresher at the end of the race. Kimi reset fast lap as he chased down Valterri ahead and while Bottas was busy trying to slow Kimi, Verstappen had pitted and emerged behind Ocon, not making his life any easier. Lap 30 and in went Vettel for a second stop, back onto the Supers and off.
Raikkonen was almost into DRS on Bottas but behind, Lewis took over fast lap and halved Raikkonen’s lead, down to 3.6 seconds as they rolled off into lap 32. The gap dropped below a second at the front and into Parabolica they went. Down the straight they went and neither driver committed and as the rocked into the first turn, it was getting tighter, as Mercedes radioed in they thought Raikkonen had blistering.
Down the straight lap 34 Hamilton had a go, and got it wrong, flatspotting his tyre as Raikkonen was at just half a second back of Bottas. Into the final turn they went headed for lap 35 and again, it was Raikkonen just managing as he had blistered his left rear, making no move. Behind, Hamilton had maxed out the temps on HIS left rear and now it was down to an entirely different set of driver skills, difficult, if not impossible to appreciate on telly but every bit as important as raw overtaking.
Lap 36 and things began to settle, with Lewis backing off to nearly 2 seconds to cool his tyres and Raikkonen persisting in staying close to Bottas who was finally pitted as he began to lose time to Verstappen. Off went Kimi and Hamilton was immediately back on it, closing up to just outside DRS range as the race for the lead continued to deliver, Hamilton with an 8 lap tyre advantage and 14 laps to get it done.
Williams managed to have not 1, but 2 bad stops and that did the no favours, but they were (surprisingly) still in it, after a solid long run put them into position to actually score. Into DRS lap 40, but Raikkonen was able to stay well ahead down the straight and the gap was over a second when all was said and done. Behind, Bottas, who had emerged behind Verstappen, was almost into DRS and as they crossed the line he was within half a second while up ahead, Lewis had snuck back into range on Kimi as well.
Raikkonen managed to get DRS from a lapped runner, but fortunately for Lewis he was able to get by as well before T1, and was dead close. Bottas had the move, but wasn’t able to make T1 and as he skipped the chicane it was a get out of jail free card. Despite being closer than ever, the Ferrari’s pace on corner exit continued to keep the Mercedes at bay. An investigation into Verstappen’s defending on Bottas was also called lap 45 as there was a bit of contact that preciptitated the trip throught the chicane and it looked all but certain for Hamilton to have a go….
And have a go he did, despite Raikkonen’s best efforts at defending, round the outside into T1 went Lewis and there was just nothing in it for Kimi, who had tried to hang on and have a go into T4. That looked to be the end of it, as Ferrari told Kimi to watch the tyres and bring it home. 5 second penalty for Verstappen, moving in the braking zone, or causing a collision or whatever the stewards hung their hat on. Verstappen was, ummm, fairly vocal about how unfair life was as the video told a different story to the one in his head. This also settled the need for Bottas to pass Max on track as with the penalty, Red Bull told him to ignore Bottas by and focus on getting home far enough ahead of Vettel to not lose the spot.
Half a second, 3 laps to go and Ocon was going to have one more tilt at Grosjean for best of the rest as Verstappen continued to linger in front of Bottas, who clearly hd not only superior pace, but more sense as well. Into the last lap they went, and Bottas was still looking for that opening, but given Max’s state of mind he thought better of it as the penalty guaranteed him a podium finish. Ocon was giving it everything he had, but RoGro and Haas had all the answers. All eyes were on Hamilton, and Mercedes was going to have to lay on some extra security to get their drivers out of the circuit, “stealing” the win at Ferrari’s home track after a front row lock out. Difficult blow for Vettel as well, losing points when it seemed he should have been gaining them.
But there’s a reason they go racing and that’s because the outcomes are unpredictable and it was on full view today. And as much as folks love to bang on strategists, Mercedes made the brilliant call to keep Lewis out and run long, giving him not only the tyre advantage at the end but running Kimi into the rear of Bottas and forcing him to burn up his tyres, first by covering the overcut and then by running in the dirty air behind Valterri. Ferrari also only brought a total of 3 sets of Softs for both drivers (Vettel had but a single set) and the lack of running on that tyre wound up biting them fairly hard, as relative to Mercedes they struggled more with tyre management, in addition to being outstrategised.
RoGro brought home the best of the rest for HAAS, followed by Ocon, Perez and Sainz, meaning a jump of two places for the Frenchman in the Formula B championship, P12 now, and up 1 spot for Perez to P9, who unlike his new team, retained his earned points in the WDC thus far. And happy days (relatively) for Williams, a single point for Stroll and the team putting them both onto 5 points, but leaving Sirotkin as the only driver left to score this season. Hamilton once again was outside a race win on Vettel as the championship headed towards Singapore, where once might reasonably expect the balance to tilt towards the Scuderia. Or not, as the season rather continues to rather delightfully defy expectation on a race to race basis.
On the WDC side, Mercedes extended it’s lead to 25 points over Ferrari, and HAAS was up to P4, tied with Renault on 84 points each, but given the honours due to finishing in higher places. I think….
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