A grip­ping headto head bat­tle

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS - An­thony Rowl­in­son @F1rac­ing _mag face­book.com/ f1rac­ing­mag in­sta­gram.com/ f1_rac­ing_­mag

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

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