ROSBERG RE­BOUNDS

MERC MAN DOM­I­NATES AT MONZA

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - BY AN­THONY ROWL­IN­SON

Strong meat, is Monza. A clas­sic that has re­tained all its char­ac­ter as a speed cathe­dral; a place where the faith­ful come in their masses to wor­ship.

Only the dead could be im­mune to its petrol emo­tion, as race en­gines echo around the woods and sin­gle-seaters zip through sum­mer air, dis­ap­pear­ing in a heat-shim­mer. And even the dead have their place here: ghosts in the trees whis­per­ing tales from the past.

Who cares if the ‘wrong’ guy wins. Monza leaves a taste to savour.

Qual­i­fy­ing

Lewis Hamil­ton looked serene as he re­flected on his Monza pole. There’d been a lit­tle fist-pump of ex­ul­ta­tion as he hopped from his W07 pulling into parc ferme, af­ter yet an­other scorcher at the Au­to­dromo [his fifth pole here], but noth­ing elab­o­rate.

It was the same a few min­utes later as he faced the reg­u­la­tion press grilling in the close heat of Monza’s me­dia cen­tre, made warm by the steady beat of a Septem­ber sun.

It had a been a blinder of a lap and he knew it, but he also knew that such had been his dom­i­nance in es­tab­lish­ing a pole mar­gin of al­most half a sec­ond over team-mate Nico Rosberg, there was no need to show­boat or play games.

“It got bet­ter and bet­ter through qual­i­fy­ing,” he said. “The last two laps were fan­tas­tic. The last lap in par­tic­u­lar was su­per-clean, with no lock-ups. Com­ing out of Turn One, I was al­ready a tenth up and I kept my mo­men­tum from there. I drove the last cor­ner [Parabol­ica] the best I have done all week­end.”

He was sim­ply the best man out there – and by some mar­gin: his 1m21.135s to Rosberg’s 1m21.613s told its own story of per­fec­tion at­tained. The only hint of a cloud in Hamil­ton’s oth­er­wise haze-blue sky was a mi­nor lock-up in his first Q3 run. But he dis­missed any no­tion that it might cause him a prob­lem on race day: “I didn’t re­ally da­m­age the tyres,” he said. “There was a small lock-up into Turn One but the flat spot was min­i­mal. I can’t re­ally feel it.”

In set­ting pole and set­ting up a 50th grand prix vic­tory, Hamil­ton be­came the third mem­ber of an elite trio of driv­ers who have been P1 at La Pista Mag­ica five times – the other two be­ing Juan Manuel Fan­gio and Ayr­ton Senna. It’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly com­mon to men­tion Lewis in the same breath as these le­gends; al­ready the most suc­cess­ful Bri­tish driver, he’s fast clos­ing in on some of F1’s all-time records; his pole tally is now 56, only nine be­hind Senna’s 65 and 12 off Michael Schu­macher’s 68.

“He was re­ally dom­i­nant,” con­firmed Merc supremo Toto Wolff. “There was no prob­lem for Nico, but he just didn’t feel as com­fort­able as Lewis over­all. It was one of those typ­i­cal Lewis Hamil­ton qual­i­fy­ing ses­sions. Now we have to main­tain that mo­men­tum.”

There was a sense of ‘af­ter the Lord Mayor’s show’ in the wake of Hamil­ton’s trial-blaz­ing. Rosberg se­cured an­other Mercedes front-row lock­out thanks more to the ma­chine at his dis­posal than to any track hero­ics, while Fer­rari lined up a pre­dictable 3-4 – Se­bas­tian Vet­tel be­ing the only other driver in the ‘21s’ on 1m21.972s, ahead of Kimi Raikko­nen on 1m22.065s.

Vet­tel was far from down­beat, de­spite not­ing that Fer­rari were “fur­ther away from Mercedes than we were last year.” His ob­ser­va­tion that Merc were able to run more pow­er­ful engine modes dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing than they can sus­tain in race trim of­fered hope, even if slim, of red com­pe­ti­tion for sil­ver on Sun­day. Fer­rari’s up­graded Power Unit was keep­ing the Scud­e­ria in the game, al­though not truly in the hunt.

“We know we need to be quicker, but we don’t ex­actly know the an­swer how,” Vet­tel quipped. “If any­one out there does, get in touch and we can do a con­tract.”

Valt­teri Bot­tas slammed in a cred­it­wor­thy P5 on a track that has tended to suit the Merc-pow­ered low-drag Wil­liams well these past three sea­sons. Beat­ing two Red Bulls and both Force In­dias to lead the ‘best-of-the-rest’ tus­sle was no small achieve­ment and per­haps con­firmed that Wil­liams had been right to call time on Felipe Massa’s ca­reer. Ear­lier in the week­end Massa had an­nounced he was quit­ting F1 ( see col­umn, page 7), but any hope of bow­ing out with a podium at the track where he has fin­ished P3 for the past two sea­sons took a knock when he failed to progress into Q3. He’d start 11th, hav­ing in­tro­duced asym­me­try into what would oth­er­wise have been a per­fect two-by-two top 10.

Massa’s slip al­lowed Este­ban Gu­tier­rez into rar­i­fied Q3 air for the first time, el­e­vat­ing his Haas team to the top ta­ble, too. “We did a great job in achiev­ing the con­sis­tency that has al­lowed us to work on the de­tails that make the dif­fer­ence,” he said. “The laps were fan­tas­tic and I loved push­ing the car.”

Team-mate Ro­main Grosjean suf­fered trans­mis­sion prob­lems in FP3 that com­pro­mised his qual­i­fy­ing prep. He placed 12th, then was rel­e­gated to 17th af­ter a penalty for a gear­box change.

Else­where, Fer­nando Alonso led the Mclaren charge (P13 to Jen­son But­ton’s P15), while Pas­cal Wehrlein stunned in the Manor for P14.

On the day that But­ton an­nounced his F1 sab­bat­i­cal, Wehrlein’s per­for­mance was a timely re­minder that while F1 is about to lose some of its big beasts, a feisty and su­per-ta­lented young brood is primed and ready to fill their seats.

Race

“No­body is to blame”, in­sisted Mercedes’ ever-il­lu­mi­nat­ing team boss Toto Wolff, when pressed as to what might have caused Hamil­ton to start so badly at the Ital­ian GP. Lewis dropped from pole to sixth then spent the next 53 laps play­ing catch-up to his scarper­ing team-mate, for an even­tual sec­ond place.

It was, added Toto, no-one’s “fault” – be­cause fin­ger-point­ing in an op­er­a­tion as fraught and frag­ile as a high-fly­ing F1 team is the start of “things go­ing down­hill”. But there had been an er­ror in the start-line pro­ce­dure – one which could be traced back to the driver – so while Lewis Hamil­ton was not “to blame”, noth­ing but a fin­ger-fum­ble caused him to be slow away.

Not that Lewis was quite able to ad­mit to fail­ing, as he elab­o­rated on the “in­con­sis­ten­cies” of Mercedes’ clutch sys­tem and how, be­fore a rule change for 2016, an en­gage­ment tar­get would have been set by en­gi­neers, for driv­ers to hit. Now, re­spon­si­bil­ity for find­ing that launch sweet-spot is down to driv­ers alone.

“I lost at the start,” Hamil­ton re­flected. “I knew that my en­gi­neers would be wor­ried and ner­vous about how the start went, so that’s why I tried to put their minds at ease [with a ra­dio mes­sage ex­plain­ing there hadn’t been a tech­ni­cal fail­ure].

“Af­ter that I don’t re­ally re­mem­ber what hap­pened,” he con­tin­ued. “I did the se­quence ex­actly the same and just saw lots of cars com­ing past. In the mo­ment, you’re just think­ing about get­ting back to where you started. I could see Nico pulling away and I know from my ex­pe­ri­ence here that the chances of the win de­crease lap by lap, sec­ond by sec­ond. Still, we live to fight an­other day.”

If it felt some­what un­just that the man who had bossed qual­i­fy­ing with a vir­tu­oso pole-set­ting dis­play should be so harshly pe­nalised for an er­ror of se­quence, rather than a fail­ure of skill, that only un­der­lined once again that Rosberg – er­ror-free from P2 to che­quer – is sim­ply too good to be dis­counted. When not hav­ing to de­fend for his life against a ra­bid Hamil­ton, Rosberg is as smooth and con­vinc­ing a win­ner as any of the top-lin­ers who pop­u­late the richly ta­lented 2016 F1 grid. He proved that at Monza, just as he did 10 days ago, at Spa, or ear­lier in the sea­son in Baku and Shang­hai.

“The start was the big op­por­tu­nity,” he said. “Fer­rari had a bit more grip at the start, on the softer tyre, but apart from that, soft-medium was the fastest way to go to the end of the race.” Nico’s gain cer­tainly arose from Lewis’s loss, al­though as Wolff noted, Hamil­ton’s Spa podium had been safety-car as­sisted. Them’s the F1 breaks.

Re­gard­less, both Mercedes boys ben­e­fited in Monza from start­ing on soft tyres car­ried through from Q2, that per­mit­ted 25 laps of rac­ing be­fore their first and only stops, for medi­ums. All their ri­vals (if “ri­vals” they can be called) had started on the su­per­softs they’d felt obliged to use to se­cure pas­sage from Q2 to Q3. No need for Team Sil­ver to run Pirelli’s grip­pier com­pound; with tenths to spare, softs were all they needed. Fer­rari’s Vet­tel and Raikko­nen could reach only laps 16 and 17 be­fore stop­ping for more su­per­softs, and by then Rosberg was nine sec­onds up the road, de­spite his harder com­pound.

That lead had be­come a cruisy 15s by race end, Hamil­ton hav­ing hus­tled

his way up to sec­ond, with Vet­tel a fur­ther five sec­onds back.

So not a great day for Fer­rari, at their home race with top brass such as Ser­gio Mar­chionne and Piero Lardi Fer­rari in at­ten­dance. But not a dis­as­trous one ei­ther.

Vet­tel, who like Raikko­nen ran a su­per­soft-su­per­soft-soft tyre plan, tried hard to en­ter­tain the Monza Fer­rari mas­sive, ben­e­fit­ing from Ham­li­ton’s start-line woes to leap into sec­ond and chal­lenge Rosberg for the lead into the first chi­cane. But he got no change out of Nico; nor did he from an­other sniff into Turn 4. Af­ter that, all any­one saw of Rosberg were tailpipe and dif­fuser.

Vet­tel re­mained chipper, how­ever, for he’d given his best in a car that was quick – if not quick enough. “It was a great day,” he said, “and I had a re­ally good start, but Nico did a re­ally good job on the brakes into the first chi­cane and then later on lap one. We had good pace, but ob­vi­ously Mercedes are quicker than us. They man­aged to do the race with one less stop, so Lewis ended up just too far ahead. But I’m happy and proud of two Monza podi­ums in my first two years with Fer­rari. And our mis­sion does not stop here. This is only the be­gin­ning.”

Mercedes’ deftly ex­e­cuted race strat­egy lay­ered over a sub­stan­tial un­der­ly­ing per­for­mance ad­van­tage brought their fourth 1-2 of the sea­son and places Hamil­ton and Rosberg just two points apart at the top of the driv­ers’ ta­ble: 250 (Lewis) to 248 (Nico). Four­teen races down, seven Rosberg wins to Hamil­ton’s six… F1 2016 is noth­ing if not tight – be­tween the Mercedes pair, at least.

Raikko­nen fol­lowed Vet­tel home, leav­ing Bot­tas and Daniel Ric­cia­rdo in a tus­sle over fifth. A sweet, bold in­side pass from Ric­cia­rdo set­tled that one in Red Bull’s favour on lap 45, with team mate Max Ver­stap­pen also gain­ing a late sev­enth place at the ex­pense of Ser­gio Perez.

Dragstrip Monza was al­ways go­ing to be Red Bull’s weak­est race, but they left La Pista Mag­ica sec­ond in the con­struc­tors’ ta­ble, 11 points ahead of Fer­rari and with Ric­cia­rdo 16 points clear of Vet­tel for third in the driv­ers’ chase. With seven sinewy race­tracks to come over the next 11 weeks, the boys in blue may have some­thing to say about who’s do­ing all the win­ning.

Se­bas­tian Vet­tel strug­gled, but even­tu­ally claimed third place

Rosberg took his sec­ond grand prix win in a row The Mercedes man was in charge from the start

Hamil­ton was forced to claw back ground

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