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