Italian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Hello everyone! It’s Tom Grantham here filling in for Alex for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix at the legendary Monza! One of the hottest topics on the grid this weekend has been the replacement of gravel with Astroturf around the Parabolica corner. This has generated several drivers’ excitement at the decreased risk of damaging their cars if they go too wide off the corner. This is certainly a safer change, but let’s be honest, it adds some excitement to this corner as drivers will now attack it with a braver pace…providing they don’t brake too late!

It has also been revealed that Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat has incurred his first engine penalty for this season after his engineers put a new V6 engine into his car on Friday evening to fix issues with his car. Kvyat will now start with a ten-place grid penalty.

Now, before I continue on to talk about qualifying I would like to take a moment to talk about the rough diamond* and the prince, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. The two former friends now have a schoolboy tiff that has now surpassed the likes of Vettel and Webber, thanks to an exchange of team orders and car parts on the circuit. It is clear that while there is an obvious division in the garage, Mercedes are not going to let this split the team up as heard by Hamilton’s and Rosberg’s responses during Thursday’s drivers conference. It is clear as the championship reaches its climax, all eyes will be on the feuding few while other drivers (see Ricciardo/Alonso/Bottas/Massa/Anyone on the grid) may take the advantage and slip by under the radar.
A quick mechanical note: Different drag combinations on Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren cars have taken place pre qualifying to help manage the cars on the circuit and a change to the Mercedes engines has been noted which will make it easier for the Williams duo to submit more competitive laps. This showed during Qualifying. It is also worth a mention that during pre-qualifying it was discovered that Hulkenberg once again encountered electrical issues with his Force India.

Onto qualifying!

Q1:
A very mechanically interesting qualifying session from the word “go”. After some gear box issues, Rosberg exited the pits a few minutes later than he wanted to, however he did not let this fracture his pole chances. Both Mercedes went out on the circuit on hard compounds making commentators question if a one-stop strategy would be on the cards for the troublesome duo. Sutil drives out on to the circuit with hydraulic problems while Kobayashi enters the first recorded lap with a time of 1:28.299. Shortly after the tifosi loose themselves with fiery red Ferrari filled emotion as Alonso hits pole position with 1:26.514, Rosberg flies through taking pole with 1:24.862. Queue a qualifying battle between Rosberg and Hamilton, where Hamilton hits 1:25.571 and Rosberg narrowly gets 1:25.607. Massa sneaks his way into second while the two McLarens each hit a starting 1:30s time. Ricciardo stole ninth while Massa stole pole with 1:25.528 with eight minutes of the session to go. Thirty seconds later Rosberg steals first again with 1:25.493 travelling 353.9 km/h through the speed trap while Lotus F1 Team’s Grosjean returns to the garage after springing a leak. With just over six minutes to go Vettel became reckless by going too wide through the apexes of Ascari chicane and then too wide onto the brand new Astroturf at Parabolica, loosing time. With just under 6 minutes left Hamilton steals first again with 1:25.363, while Rosberg considers a gearbox change with his engineers, the risk is too high.

In a last ditch effort; Hulkenberg flies out in the last few minutes of Q1 with a very shaky performance under pressure running a time of 1:26.665 placing him in ninth position. Bianchi also rushes out onto the circuit after experiencing issues and places eighteenth between Lotus’ Maldonado in seventeenth and Grosjean in nineteenth while passing the chequered flag. At the end of Q1 Hamilton describes his final pole lap as poor with his front right wheel locking up into turn one and again into Ascari chicane pushing too wide into the second apex. I guess you cannot be perfect while shooting a Pharrell Williams music video at the same time as driving an F1 car.
Knockouts at the end of Q1: Maldonado, Grosjean, Kobayashi, Bianchi, Chilton, and Ericsson.

Q2:
Hulkenberg exits the pits first and places a time of 1:31.488, which is later beaten by Kvyat with 1:26.265. Rosberg flew out of the pits and set a lap of 1:24.682, then followed by Bottas, Alonso, Perez, and Raikkonen. Massa then captures second place with a 1:25 flat showing the start of a weekend long battle between Mercedes and Williams. Meanwhile, Alonso oversteers on Parabolica and discovers the new joys that is the Astroturf and regains control of his car back on the circuit. With seven and a half minutes remaining Rosberg is told to come to the pits to conserve his car while Ricciardo and Vettel both place sixth and seventh respectively while Hamilton steals first with 1:24.540. Button pushes for fifth in a show to try to keep his contract at McLaren pushing his teammate into the bottom six.

With just over five minutes to go, Rosberg re-enters the circuit in an attempt to beat Hamilton’s time, but is unsuccessful but still shows to be the fastest through the speed trap with 353.9 km/h. With four minutes left Rosberg returns to the pits. With just over one minute and twenty seconds remaining Raikkonen pushes for a better lap but makes a mistake through Ascari chicane. With a last ditch effort Vettel secures seventh place and Raikkonen misses out on Q3.
Knockouts at the end of Q2: Kvyat, Raikkonen, Vergne, Hulkenberg, Sutil, and Gutierrez.

Q3:
From the start of Q3 it was clear that it was going to be a time battle between Mercedes and Williams, with both Williams drivers pushing hard against the sturdy boshe and the prepubescent Brit. All cars go out from the start of the ten-minute session to get their laps out, Perez goes first with a time of 1:26.230, one second slower than expected of him, while Rosberg and Bottas hit 1:25.552 and 1:24.697 respectively putting Massa in pole position. It looked good for Williams as Massa gains 1:24.845 securing second place. By the five-minute mark, Hamilton and Rosberg had already beaten Bottas and Massa’s times and everyone went back to the pits.
With just over two minutes left of Q3, Rosberg, both McLaren drivers and a few more go back out onto the circuit again in a last ditch effort to improve lap times. Rosberg continues to secure his second place position while not managing to snatch pole from Hamilton while McLaren’s collective efforts show Magnussen taking fifth place from Button, pushing Button to sixth, creating an all Mercedes front row, all Williams second row, and all McLaren third row.

Results from Qualifying:
1. Hamilton (Mercedes)
2. Rosberg (Mercedes)
3. Bottas (Williams-Mercedes)
4. Massa (Williams-Mercedes)
5. Magnussen (McLaren-Mercedes)
6. Button (McLaren-Mercedes)
7. Alonso (Ferrari)
8. Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
9. Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
10. Perez (Force India-Mercedes)
11. Kvyat (STR-Renault)
12. Raikkonen (Ferrari)
13. Vergne (STR-Renault)
14. Hulkenberg (Force India-Mercedes)
15. Sutil (Sauber-Ferrari)
16. Gutierrez (Sauber-Ferrari)
17. Maldonado (Lotus-Renault)
18. Grosjean (Lotus-Renault)
19. Kobayashi (Caterham-Renualt)
20. Bianchi (Marussia-Renault)
21. Chilton (Marussia-Renault)
22. Ericsson (Caterham-Renault)

While there were no major race incidents during qualifying it was a clear show of good competitive driving and team management ending with a first row of Mercedes, second row of Williams and third row of McLaren which is exactly the sort of start that both Williams and McLaren need right now. The results and general performance of Vettel and Ricciardo show that Red Bull Racing seems to have dropped a little in pace which will hopefully be addressed by their engineers tonight before Sundays race. But that said, with Red Bull dropping their pace and McLaren stepping up, it is clear to me that we are all in for an interesting race at the classic Monza circuit tomorrow.

– Tom Grantham

* Actually a HAM sandwich.

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