A gripping headto head battle
A fading last parp from a tifoso’s air horn as podium streamers flutter in the Monza afternoon. Dipping sun and the bitter-sweet sensation that accompanies the end of the European F1 season.
The Italian GP seemed a stroll for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton, and for the first time this year Hamilton leads the drivers’ championship. What a title fight we have with just three points separating Lewis and Seb after 13 rounds. It’s too close to call ahead of F1’s Asian leg, and while Mercedes found a performance edge post-belgian and Italian GPS, the ebb and flow between the Silver Arrows and the Scuderia looks set to continue to Abu Dhabi.
Monza was always going to be a Merc track: their W08 is a straight-line rocket, blessed with F1’s best power unit and an aero package that seems tailored to the circuit’s long straights. But fans of Vettel and Ferrari need not despair: their form this year in Melbourne, Monaco and Hungary suggests the SF70H will be strong at Marina Bay and elsewhere.
This month’s cover story (p34) puts the HAMVET wrangle under the microscope, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of both drivers, while weighing up the risks their engineers are prepared to take in the race for pace. Both Lewis and Seb know all too well the pressures of a showdown. Hamilton’s 2008 title win could hardly have been more cliff-hung; two years later, Vettel went into the final race as a long-shot title contender, to emerge as F1’s youngest champ.
It’ll be just as close this time around – and both men know it. “The fight will continue,” said a beaming Hamilton in Monza. “I know we are going to get stronger,” averred Seb, radiating elation after being feted a Ferrari hero on the podium.
Pity, then, their ‘backroom boys’, who will be mindful of introducing any reliability compromise: one component failure could be enough to tip the balance. As our tech columnist Pat Symonds notes: “The dichotomy between performance and reliability becomes ever more difficult to manage as the performance advantage is eroded.” Mercedes have incurred gearbox penalties due to aggressive gearshift development; Ferrari will be ‘pinged’ for any further turbocharger change.
And what of Valtteri Bottas, whose steely drives have quashed any notion he’s a Hamilton stooge? Valtteri is within sniffing distance of the top two and could yet emerge from the wings. We visited him at home in Finland (p46) and discovered an individual of rare strength and unflappability. Don’t be surprised if he’s in it till the end.
A prediction? Vettel for champ and Merc ‘makes’ winners (again). But, then, what do I know…? Anthony Rowlinson Editorial director