Italian Grand Prix: Mercedes are friends now, apparently…

Hello everyone! Tom Grantham here for my final report for this weekend’s edition of Alelbuth while Alex continues to settle in to Madrid. The results of today’s race seem to reflect upon the positions posted at qualifying. Mercedes in the front row, Williams in the second row, and Red Bull Racing finally finding some pace during the race and securing a fifth and sixth place finishes for Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel. While McLaren were pushed down to eighth and tenth place. Magnussen would have finished in front of Perez’s Force India, however the Dane incurred a 5- second penalty against Perez during the race.

First off, I would like to apologise for bringing up the Hamilton/Rosberg situation, as by now, everyone is tired of hearing about it. It is however, still very clear that there is a division in the Mercedes garage even though when asked if he and Rosberg were friends again, Hamilton replied, “Of course we are, we are teammates and always will be!” with the biggest smile he could muster. His actions in the drivers room post race showed an entirely different story as he faces away from the camera and the conversing Rosberg and Massa, fiddling with his cap. It would be a safe bet to say that they two are still not friends but are maintaining a professional relationship, which was demonstrated with a clean race by both drivers today.

It might have been easy to keep all eyes on the Mercedes duo today, however the real entertainers in today’s were Williams’ Bottas and Massa, McLaren’s Button and Magnussen, Force India’s Perez and Red Bull Racing’s Ricciardo who all kept up a constant competitive pace with multiple duals for position with or without technical issue.

Against all odds at the start of his race, Hamilton worked his way up through the ranks to get to a very well deserved first place this weekend. All did not go as planned from the race start as Hamilton’s energy recovery system malfunctioned causing him to lose power and places from the line giving way to Rosberg to begin his speedy lead. Within three to four laps his ERS was reconfigured and he was able to race at full pace again, quickly working his way up the field to begin a multi lap battle for first with his teammate. Eventually overtaking Rosberg at turn one, where he proceeded to keep his lead right until the end of the race.

Rosberg held a very convincing lead from the start, beginning with a quick take-off and building up to a 2.8 second lead over Massa. This lead did not last long when by lap 9, Rosberg broke too late at the start of the Rettifilo chicane and had to steer between the bollards to rejoin the race, losing 1.8 seconds to Hamilton and 1.7 seconds to Massa. Eventually Rosberg’s pace slows and Hamilton began to battle for Rosberg’s position, lapping faster than his German teammate. Eventually Rosberg had another mistake again by breaking late at the same spot at the start of turn one having to turn through the bollards again giving time for Hamilton to take first place. Rosberg comfortably held his second position for the rest of the race after a pit stop to hard compounds.

A definite contender for driver of the day in my eyes will absolutely be Bottas due to his fantastic constant over takes during the early race. Bottas came into the media’s eye from lap 9 as he is noticed being followed by Hulkenberg and Ricciardo. During the next few laps Bottas took ninth, overtook Perez for eighth, Alonso for seventh, and Button for fifth in a very convincing duel, at the approach to turn one. After a pit stop, Bottas continued his streak by taking Perez for eighth; he worked his way up the grid to hold a very comfortable fourth until the end of the race.

Massa also joined the Bottas battle in a race down to turn one, leapfrogging both his teammate and Magnussen in the early stages of the race to run in second at the start of lap 5. Hamilton also overtook Magnussen shortly after the first chicane. Massa finally pit on Lap 24, and fought to maintain his position. Williams definitely ran a fantastic race strategy today.

Button and Magnussen ran a very well managed team race today with some slight positioning issues. They both did well to secure a third row starting position during qualifying but they had to fight hard to keep within the top ten during the race, with a car that (yet again) did not seem to have enough pace to fight for position. Both McLaren drivers were in the spotlight today as Button entered an climatic dual with former teammate, Sergio Perez, lasting for many laps to finally reach a conclusion on lap 39, where Button overtook Perez at turn one, defended fiercely and eventually going wheel to wheel with Perez into the second chicane. Perez went off of the road and cut the second apex of Della Roggia essentially gaining position over Button. It is accepted that Perez was able to regain possession by driving too deep into the apex, however he is not penalised, as Button was found to not left enough room and forcing Perez off the track. Magnussen had a fantastic race finishing seventh over the line, but incurred a 5-second penalty causing him to come in at tenth place. This incident occurred during lap 31 where Magnussen caused Bottas to go too wide out of turn one. The commentators comment that there was nothing that Magnussen could do, however the Stewards later penalised Magnussen with a 5-second time penalty. This certainly was a very exciting race for McLaren as they produced two improved results with competition points for both drivers.

There were only two retirements during today’s race. The first of which occurred on lap 6, when Marussia’s Max Chilton broke too late entering the Della Roggia chicane, causing him to oversteer off of the track, through the gravel, and into the wall… When asked about the incident Chilton replied that he had a slight lock-up and that he pushed the braking distance, causing him to go off track. The second race retirement was the Scuderia’s Fernando Alonso, much to the Tifosi’s dismay. At the beginning of lap 29 near the entry to turn one, Alonso’s gearbox failed, refusing to downshift, leaving him no choice but to park up and retire. Before today, Alonso had enjoyed 89 races without a mechanical retirement since Valencia 2010.

Due to recent political situations within the world of Formula 1, Rosberg did not receive a cheery reception on the podium during the interview, however both he and Hamilton made it clear that they are “friends” now, and are working together as teammates… Despite Hamilton earlier ignoring team advice, and increasing his fuel usage, and pressuring Rosberg, and eventually reaping the rewards by overtaking for first place… Best friends. Even though Massa is no longer racing for Ferrari, the Tifosi gave him the warmest welcome as he returned to the podium after finishing a fantastic third. Massa was visibly elated to finally have his first podium finish of the season after a run of bad luck and poor choices in strategy.

Finishing Positions:
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
3. Felipe Massa (Williams-Mercedes)
4. Valtteri Bottas (Williams-Mercedes)
5. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
6. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
7. Sergio Perez (Force India-Mercedes)
8. Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes)
9. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
10. Kevin Magnussen (McLaren-Mercedes)
11. Daniil Kvyat (STR-Renault)
12. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India-Mercedes)
13. Jean-Eric Vergne (STR-Renault)
14. Pastor Maldonado (Lotus-Renault)
15. Adrian Sutil (Sauber-Ferrari)
16. Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault)
17. Kamui Kobayashi (Caterham-Renault)
18. Jules Bianchi (Marussia-Ferrari)
19. Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber-Ferrari)
20. Marcus Ericsson (Caterham-Renault)
RET. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
RET. Max Chilton (Marussia-Ferrari)

Both Mercedes and Williams displayed a fantastic team performance today to get 1-2 and 3-4 finishing positions, followed by Red Bull Racing who showed vast improvement during today’s race. While the Italian Grand Prix was almost a problem free race, with a few minor incidents, it was still a competitive race with well earned results by the leading drivers and teams. Despite the bad publicity that certain drivers on the grid receive, they all worked very hard to get the result they received today and I would not have seen it go any other way.

Thank you everyone for reading my pre race and post race analysis this weekend! I shall now let you resume normal programming by passing the baton back to Alex now that she will be settled in by the time the Singapore Grand Prix arrives! As a passing food for thought and discussion, there are rumours that due to financial constraints, there will be eight teams on the grid next year each with three cars on the circuit. What do you think about this new rumoured change to Formula 1?

– Tom Grantham

 

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.

Italian Grand Prix: Track Analysis

Ciao amici, e benvenuti al Gran Primio d’Italia! The 5.793km Autodromo di Monza requires a completely different aerodynamic setup compared to any race on the calendar. Adding to atmosphere, the unique blend of long straights, and slow corners pose a circuit that is seriously hard on the brakes.
A lower downforce package for straight-line speed is favoured for Monza, resulting in some slippy cars on track (especially out of Lesmo) and a greater risk of locking the wheels into the braking zones. Hard and medium compound tyres are therefore the tyre allocation for the weekend.

In sector one, the first chicane at Rettifilo is a difficult braking zone, one of the tightest corners on the F1 calendar, and the slowest point on the circuit. Watch for the opportunity to overtake at turns four and five into the second sector. A good exit from the second chicane is needed to carry the momentum into Lesmo. Overtaking is easy in the DRS zone on the back straight before heading into the final sector. Using the kerbs on the exit of the Ascari chicane (turns eight-nine-ten), drivers approach the Parabolica at a pretty quick pace (330km/h). The iconic gravel trap at the Curva Parabolica has been replaced with a tarmac run-off area, removing an ample amount of risk from running wide into turn 11. Previously, running off-line into turn 11 and putting a foot on the grass would see drivers pulled off track and into the gravel trap. It was a corner where drivers’ dared to brake late, to push just that little bit further. This year, the tarmac run-off doesn’t save time, but it does save bodywork, and allow drivers to safely re-enter the track. Safer –yes, exciting – well…

But at least for what the Parabolica lacks in amusement this year, the Tifosi will make up for, I’m sure. To match the distinctive circuit, only the distinctive Tifosi can deliver such enthusiasm (understatement) from the grandstands.

In other news, I’m very happy to introduce a guest blogger for this weekend. Tom Grantham* is an experienced blogger and friend who has very kindly agreed to take over alelbuth for the Italian Grand Prix. Tom will be writing the Pre Race Thoughts and Race Post for Round 13, as I rather ingeniously organised to move to Madrid over the race weekend. Idiot.

– Alex

* Otherwise known as Lord Grantham

Italian Grand Prix: Vettel Lengthens his Lead

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel seems almost set to take out his fourth consecutive World Championship title, securing his sixth win of the season at Monza yesterday. Fernando Alonso delivered an inspired drive for the ever so enthusiastic tifosi. While Mark Webber put an end to his run of bad luck in Italy and even managed to make the podium, you know what they say, twelfth time’s the charm…

The race got off to a rocky start, with Kimi Raikkonen locking his brakes into turn 1 and running into the back of Sergio Perez. The McLaren got away relatively unscathed, though he was forced to take the escape road through the first turn. Kimi was having no such luck. The contact had severely damaged his front wing and he immediately lost several places. Di Resta is doing nothing to shake the title of “Unluckiest Man in Formula 1”, failing to make it past the first lap. The Force India driver, who was taking avoiding action not to run into the back of his team mate or Grosjean, clipped his front left tyre on the Lotus’ right rear. The contact completely broke di Resta’s left fishbone, and limping off the track, he became the first of two retirements.

Lotus were waiting ready for Raikkonen at the end of lap 1 for a new nose and fresh tyres. Some would have counted him out of the race at this point, but that is not Kimi. The Finn drove right on the limit to catch the back of the grid (which at this point were more than half a minute in front of him), despite messages from the pit wall warning Kimi of fuel consumption he caught up to the two Marussia’s of Chilton and Bianchi by lap 8, and Caterham’s van der Garde by lap 14. On the same lap Toro Rosso driver Jean-Eric Vergne suffered from transmission failure, becoming the second and final retirement from the race.

Ferrari showed a frightening dominance from both drivers, though the man of the hour was undoubtably Alonso when he made a spectacular move on Mark Webber on lap 3. The Spaniard used all his KERS to get into the Red Bull’s slipstream in a hope to pass him before the chichane. It wasn’t quite enough to the the Ferrari infront, but amazingly Alonso went wheel to wheel against Webber into the chichane and came out with the racing line, and the position. Mark didn’t emerge completely unscathed, receiving some front wing damage on exiting the chichane which may have affected the balance of the car. Nevertheless, it was a nail-biting demonstration, that with any other pair would definitely had ended in disaster.

Most of the pack came into pit from lap 20 with the exception of Raikkonen who stayed out until lap 30. After the first round of pit stops, Ricciardo remained in front of Button’s McLaren. The Toro Rosso driver wasted no time in showing his new bosses at Red Bull his worth by keeping Button at bay. The McLaren did appear to be held up by the Toro Rosso, but he could not find a way past. The battle worked it’s way down from eleventh and tenth to eighth and seventh, before Button lost pace and conceded a place Grosjean. Ricciardo went on to hold his position to cross the line in seventh.

The battle for eleventh and twelfth began between Raikkonen and Hamilton from lap 45, with the Lotus managing to hold off the Mercedes until lap 48 when it was apparent the Lotus just didn’t have the speed.

Massa was out to impress his current bosses, delivering a result that would definitely work in his favour while the contracts are being finalised. Massa, who qualified ahead of his team mate, started in fourth and spent most of the race cruising comfortably in his held position where he crossed the line in. The Brazilian showed a calm sense of confidence in his driving that has been scarcely seen this year. This is why it was slightly disheartening for Massa to again be told to move out of the way to let Alonso passed at the beginning of the race.

The surprise in qualifying was Nico Hulkenburg third on the grid. The Sauber driver got off to a fantastic start to make his way past Button, Vergne, Perez, Ricciardo, and Rosberg all before the end of lap 1. Hulkenberg kept good pace, and spent most of the race keeping Rosberg at behind him, despite the Mercedes posting fastest lap times. The Ferrari powered Sauber came home in fifth.

While the race as a whole had battles down the grid, it was slightly (dare I say) dull to not see a battle between Vettel and Alonso. A challenge between first and second is undoubtably the most exciting part of a race to watch. The best races in the past have been nail-biters right to the line. As much as I’m a Vettel fan, that’s what I want to see again.

The championship resumes in two weeks in Singapore (my old home), the night race is one of the hardest and most demanding on the calendar, and I am kicking myself that I’m not there. Next year.

– Alex

Qualifying Pole Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Podium Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Fastest Lap 1:25.849 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

Italian Grand Prix: Hulkenburg proves to be the faster Ferrari

The fastest Ferrari powered car from yesterday’s qualifying wasn’t that of Fernando Alonso, or even Felipe Massa. No, the quickest Ferrari engine came from Sauber’s own Nico Hulkenburg. The German surprised himself and the team by qualifying third on the grid, just behind the two Red Bulls. Practice and qualifying were both dry, but word on the ground at Monza (curtesy of my own little racing spy) is that the chance of rain during the race is at about 55% now. What does this mean for Hulkenburg? He raced well in Malaysia this year under ‘damp’ conditions, finishing eighth, which has been his highest finish this season. A bit of rain may indeed be favourable conditions for Nico, it’s difficult to say whether he is good in the wet. The Mercedes this year look strong in the wet, as does the Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo.

A Ferrari with a custom chassis has won at Monza in the rain before, Sebastian Vettel managed it in 2008 for Toro Rosso. Personally I don’t think a win is on the cards for the Sauber driver, but I’m thinking a finish in the points, maybe around seventh.

– Alex

Italian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

The atmosphere at Monza is arguably the best out of any race in the championship making it a favourite for drivers and fans alike. To understand why, you only need to look no further than the tifosi. The Italians are mental, and in the best possible way. No other race in the championship brings such passion and devotion to the sport, and this year is no different. The Autodromo di Monza is a true racers circuit made up of high speed straights and corners. So what does this mean for the drivers? They need to have straight line speed, this means a quick car with low downforce and drag compared, and a completely different aerodynamic setup to any other race. Monza is not as hard on the brakes or the tyres as other races on the calendar so engine reliability will be the key over the weekend to drive the car on the limit for most of the circuit. This weekend’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza is shaping up to be tight race, with lap times during practice and qualifying being separated by only a few hundredths of a second.

Webber, who is keen to get a good result this weekend, has not had the best of luck in Italy. His previous 11 visits to the circuit have seen him finish in the points on only three occasions. But hey, twelfth time lucky I guess? The Red Bull driver looked in good stead during practice, posting eighth in FP1, second in FP2, and third in FP3. Webber’s team mate (and I use the word “mate” very loosely here) was on form during practice, posting fourth in FP1 and being the only driver in FP2 to crack sub 1m:25s, and again securing first in FP3. The Red Bulls are proving unstoppable this weekend, and qualifying saw both cars easily make it through to Q3 for Vettel and Webber to line up first and second on the grid.

After weeks of speculation, rumours were finally put to rest with Red Bull announcing that Daniel Ricciardo would replace Webber’s seat at Red Bull in 2014. The Toro Rosso driver was not happy with his practice times however, admitting that he’d made some driver errors and failing to set a fast time in the medium tyres. Eventually posting thirteenth in FP1, seventeenth in FP2, and then back up to sixth in FP3. Despite a rocky practice session, the Toro Rosso graduate was on fine form during qualifying. Ricciardo made it all the way to Q3 and will line up seventh on the grid. Team mate Vergne, who is likely to remain at the Red Bull sister team in 2014 had better luck despite not being happy with the balance of the car, managing tenth in FP1, fifteenth in FP2, and eleventh in FP3. The Frenchman was lucky not to be knocked out in Q2 and will start tenth on the grid.

Lotus team mates demonstrated the team’s policy for equal opportunity by posting synchronised times of 1m:25s.116 in FP2, despite both cars having a different set up. Kimi went with a longer wheelbase during practice, while Romain has stuck with the standard configuration. After the final practice session, Lotus decided that there wasn’t a considerable advantage to be gained, so Kimi will too be racing with the standard configuration tomorrow. A promising result during practice didn’t translate into qualifying with neither Lotus cars making it past Q2. The E21 struggled with grip through the chichanes from the lack of downforce on the rear wings. Kimi will start eleventh on the grid, and Grosjean from thirteenth.

Mercedes had no major issues are happy so far with the balance of the car at Monza. The low downforce set up of the car looked good during practice with Hamilton first in FP1, sixth in FP2 and fourth in FP3. Qualifying turned out to be a disaster for Hamilton as his lap was impeded by Force India’s Adrian Sutil. As a result the Mercedes was knocked out in Q2 and will start from twelfth. Rosberg, while happy with the atmosphere, made steady pace to improve his lap times to catch the Red Bulls, and will start from sixth. Both McLaren’s have been consistent through practice and qualifying, with both cars making it through to Q3. Perez was able to shave a few tenths of a seconds off his lap time more than Button, seeing the silver arrows set to start eighth and ninth.

Though the tifosi are cheering for one man, and one man alone. Fernando Alonso can do no wrong in front of Ferrari’s home crowd, and he did not disappoint during practice posting second in FP1, fifth in FP2, and second in FP3. Despite his strength in practice and in qualifying, the cool Spaniard is keeping his wits about him, and focussing on gaining points over Vettel in an attempt to close the gap in the Driver’s Championship. Massa, who would undoubtably be feeling the pressure to perform well this weekend got off to a nerve wracking start by almost rear ending his team mate at the exit of the pit lane in the dying seconds of FP1. Not the best way to impress the bosses. The Brazilian knows it won’t be an easy weekend, and managed fourteenth FP1, eighth in FP2, and seventh in FP3. Massa ultimately out qualified his team mate with both Ferrari’s making it to Q3. A brief attempt by Alonso to slipstream Massa ultimately came to nothing, and the Spaniard will start from fifth, while the Brazilian starts from fourth.

Sutil’s move on Hamilton saw him receive a three place grid penalty for tomorrow. Di Resta suffered more bad luck with brake disc issues, costing him valuable track time, and as a result qualified sixteen on the grid. Sutil will start from seventeenth just in front of Bottas’ Williams, and the Caterhams and Marussias.

One of the reasons why the Autodromo di Monza is a fantastic race to watch is that qualifying times are in no way as crucial as other circuits. At Monaco, where you line up on the grid can roughly determine what position you will cross the line it. At Monza, the sheer speed down the pit straight and through the first chichane allows for easy overtaking that can shake the grid up considerably.

I feel the Ferrari’s will maintain their strength for the race. In particular I think Alonso will make up places, and a podium finish is definitely on the cards for him (plus I really want to see the tifosi loose their s*** for a Ferrari on the podium). Raikkonen will need to work the hardest if he wants to make the podium given the speed of his E21 today. Though if anyone had to get speed out of a car when it seems to be on the limiter, Kimi is probably the driver to do that. Somehow the Iceman can always do that. I’m torn to admit that I think Vettel will reach the top step of the podium. As much as I love a win from Vettel, I would not be devastated to see him have to work through the grid for a win, it’s too easy for him from pole.

– Alex