FERRARI FAIL ON HOME TURF
Despite Seb’s valiant efforts, it was Lewis who took both victory and the championship lead at Monza
This was a bitter blow for Ferrari. At their home race, in their 70th anniversary year, they were well and truly beaten at Monza. And to cap it all, in this tight world championship contest, Lewis Hamilton wrestled away the points lead from Sebastian Vettel for the first time this season.
On the very first lap, Hamilton had driven off into the distance. He stayed there and was swiftly joined by his team-mate, Valtteri Bottas, to secure an emphatic one-two for Mercedes.
Standing on the podium overlooking the sea of Ferrari fans and flags afterwards, Hamilton was all too aware of what he’d achieved in his rivals’ backyard, but he certainly didn’t mind too much when he was booed by the partisan crowd. “I’m happy to play the villain,” he said, smiling. QUALIFYING When Hamilton crossed the finish line to set a new all-time record with his 69th pole position, he punched the air with delight. He was thrilled after putting in a brilliant lap at the end of the session, in unseasonably wet conditions, a full 1.148 seconds from his nearest competitor, Max Verstappen, and 2.279s ahead of Bottas.
There had already been a lengthy stoppage of two-and-a-half hours during the Saturday afternoon session as heavy rain drenched the royal park. It had been wet all morning and despite qualifying getting under way as normal at 2pm, just five minutes into the session it was red-flagged when Romain Grosjean crashed his Haas on the start/finish straight.
Moments before, Grosjean had been on the radio to his engineer, complaining about the atrocious conditions: “I can’t see where I’m going, it’s too dangerous!” he exclaimed.
Then the long wait began. More rain fell, then hopes rose as it started to ease – only for it to fall even more heavily. The organisers had no choice but to delay proceedings until the weather cleared.
Finally, we got under way again at 4.40pm, but entering Q3, the rain once again started to intensify. That didn’t trouble the fearless youngsters, as first Max Verstappen, then Esteban Ocon began setting the pace and they were joined in the mix by Williams’ Lance Stroll. But the chance of having a shock pole-setter was dashed by Lewis Hamilton. In a performance that Mercedes technical director James Allison described as “imperious”, Hamilton destroyed the opposition with his final run. It was a lap that deserved to break Michael Schumacher’s all-time pole record.
RACE As the pack charged towards the Rettifilo, Hamilton neatly edged ahead of Lance Stroll’s Williams and comfortably rounded the first corner in the lead. Within four laps he was accompanied by Bottas, who had also made light work of passing Räikkönen, Stroll and Ocon. But he wasn’t the only driver on the move.
The Red Bulls looked mighty in the wet on Saturday, but were thwarted by their lowly starting positions. Verstappen (who originally qualified P2) started 13th, while Ricciardo, who was third on Saturday, started 16th owing to grid penalties.
On the third lap, Verstappen, who had already made up five positions, challenged Williams’ Felipe Massa for seventh place. As the pair rounded the Rettifilo chicane together, they made contact – the right front of Max’s RBR striking the Williams. The result was a puncture and Verstappen sank to the tail of the field as he pitted for fresh rubber.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner rued Verstappen’s bad luck and suggested that if he hadn’t had the problem, he would have secured a podium finish. As it was, he finished P10.
BELIEVED RED BULL WERE THE SECOND QUICKEST IN THE RACE, BUT CONCEDED MERCEDES WERE ‘IN A CLASS OF THEIR OWN’
“It’s a racer’s instinct to make as much progress as possible,” said Horner. “And he was unlucky as the puncture effectively destroyed his race. Still it’s race 13, he was 13th on the grid, sitting in the RB13. So if you believe in superstition… I’m just happy he didn’t finish 13th.”
The star of the race, though, was his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. He made slight contact with Grosjean’s front wing at the first chicane on the opening lap, but from there ran a clean, trouble-free race. He picked off a car on each lap to rise from 16th to P9 by lap 7. He then made up another four places between laps 16 and 21 as the supersoft runners ahead of him pitted. When it came to making his own stop – the thirdfastest at 2.2s – Ricciardo was in a net fifth place.
After overtaking both Kevin Magnussen and Sergio Pérez into Variante della Roggia, Ricciardo’s best pass came on lap 40. He braked late and deep into the Turn 1 chicane to pinch P4 from Kimi Räikkönen. Next in his sights was the second Ferrari and since he was on the softer tyre, he began lapping a second quicker than Vettel ahead of him. With five laps to go he was just 5.8s behind, but the chase was in vain. Vettel held on to third.
Horner believed Red Bull were the second quickest in the race, but conceded Mercedes were “in a class of their own.” It had looked easy, but Singapore is next, a track where Mercedes tend to struggle. This title battle will continue to ebb and flow, but Ferrari will come back fighting.
Top: Hamilton converts his 69th pole into the lead at Turn 1. Far left: Verstappen suffers a puncture on lap 3. By lap 5, Bottas has edged ahead to P2 to follow his team-mate Ricciardo overtakes Räikkönen for fourth place with an impressive...