Last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix was a fantastic race and could be a defining moment of the season. Ferrari came close to dominating the weekend, but in the end, Mercedes emerged as victors.
Ferrari failed to capitalise on their front-row domination, with what was probably the fastest car. Worse still, they failed to do it on their home turf where they would certainly have been given a rapturous reception.
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In fact, after the race Lewis Hamilton said that it was the home crowd “negativity” that spurred him to victory. Hamilton managed to overcome both of the Ferrari drivers and the partisan “tifosi” to secure his sixth victory of the current season and extend his championship lead over Sebastian Vettel.
The car was working really well and even though we lacked top speed our race pace was good, I’m happy with that! It is a shame that despite finishing 3rd we ended up being 5th, but we still scored some good points #KeepPushing #ItalianGP 🇮🇹 pic.twitter.com/5heTrttEvu
— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) September 2, 2018
In a post-race interview during which some sections of the crowd could clearly be heard booing behind him Hamilton said, “Today was so difficult. We’ve got a great crowd here and although the negativity is never great, that’s what powered me along. I love being here in Italy. I love the food. The track is incredible, and it’s a such an honour to win here in front of such a great crowd.”
However, it is easy to understand why the home crowd are frustrated, it has now been eight years since Ferrari won a race at the Monza. Fernando Alonso’s victory in the 2010 Italian Grand Prix was the last time that they took first place on home soil, and this year marked the fifth successive win for Mercedes.
Hamilton continued, “There’s been a lot of negativity but there were a lot of British flags out there today. They know who they are. In future, I only want to turn to a negative to a positive. It is easy in the arena that we’re in, it is very, very easy to allow it to get to you, to allow it to have an impact on your life and think about it. But it is also quite easy to harness it and use it. That gave me so much motivation today I welcome it, they can continue to do that, it just empowers me.”
While Vettel started second on the grid, the German driver soon found himself back down in eighteenth place after he collided with Hamilton when the Brit overtook him on the opening lap. Hamilton then went on to destroy any hopes that Ferrari may have had by passing Vettel’s teammate, Kimi Raikkonen who had started the race in pole position, in the forty-fifth lap to take a race winning lead.
This was the fifth time in the last seven years that Hamilton has won the Italian Grand Prix. In doing so he equalled Michael Schumacher’s record number of wins at Monza, and more importantly, he increased his lead in the driver standings to 30 points.
It is the fifth time Hamilton has won this grand prix in the last seven years, equalling Michael Schumacher’s record number of wins at Monza and boosting his lead in the driver standings to 30 points. In the end, Vettel was forced to settle for a fourth place finish.
While Raikkonen will have been disappointed not to have won, he was still able to celebrate the one-hundredth podium finish of his career in front of Ferrari’s passionate fans. Nonetheless, the frustration at missing out on his first win since 2013 must be immense.
Hamilton and Vettel have been battling in the driver standings since the start of the season and there has never been much of a gap behind them. Both are hoping to win their fifth world championship, but now, for the first time this season, there is more than a single race victory between them.
Hamilton’s 30 point lead, with 25 available for winning a race, gives him a solid advantage over Vettel with just seven races left in the season. However, Vettel will not give up without a fight and the next three months are sure to be thrilling.
In Italy, Ferrari began the race with an incredible advantage over Mercedes; they had both positions in the front row for the first time in Italy since 2000. This meant that Hamilton and his teammate Valtteri Bottas were sure to have their work cut out.
While Raikkonen tore away to establish a clean lead right from Turn 1, Vettel collided with Hamilton and was sent spinning to the back of the pack. The collision was investigated by the stewards, but they ruled that the move was fair and that no further action would be taken against either of the drivers. The decision left Hamilton free to chase another win at Monza.
The safety car came out until lap 4 and Hamilton immediately overtook Raikkonen. However, the Finn managed to regain the lead position just a few seconds later.
Raikkonen pitted, followed by Hamilton eight laps later, giving Bottas a chance to take the lead. Earlier in the season Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff praised Bottas as “the perfect wingman”, and he demonstrated this in Italy by holding up his fellow Finn Raikkonen to give Hamilton the chance to close the gap.
If was this tactical and excellent defensive driving from Bottas that eventually gave Hamilton the chance to take the lead from Raikkonen with just eight laps remaining.
The last few years have seen complete domination at Monza from Mercedes, they have won every race since 2013. However, this year there were real reasons to believe that Ferrari would emerge on top.
During qualifying Raikkonen set the fastest lap in F1 history, breaking the record seas by Juan Pablo Montoya in 2004, with an average speed of 165mph. Ferrari’s car has a slight power advantage at the moment and it accelerates much better out of corners.
For some reason, the Ferrari cars seemed to lose their advantage in the actual race, despite showing a clear advantage during qualifying. Asked if the team knows why this happened, Mercedes boss Wolff said, “No, I don’t understand it. The performance pattern has completely changed from yesterday to today [Sunday], and I haven’t got an explanation yet. Maybe the clever people around Shov [Andrew Shovlin, chief race engineer] will know, but I think we just need to analyse it.”
Wolff suggested that the answer might lie in the fact that Ferrari can run certain engine modes in qualifying that are not available in the race.
“It looks like the performance that they are able to deploy on one lap is maybe something they cannot replicate throughout the race. I don’t want to go any further because it could be read in another way that I am trying to find excuses, but they have certainly had a very, very good car [on Saturday] and a good car [on Sunday]. But we haven’t seen Sebastian [Vettel] perform in a car without any damage.”
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He was also keen to point out that the Ferrari team has improved the car since it was defeated in Belgium. “We have understood the car better [and] understood the tyres better. We have added some performance and, even if Saturday didn’t show it because we couldn’t qualify on pole, I felt that we’ve done some good work over the last couple of days. And I would have also said that if he hadn’t have won.”
Whatever the reason, as has happened in Hungary, Germany, and numerous other places over the years, Hamilton proved that he was too good, beating both Ferraris while in a slower car and on their home ground.
Technical details aside, one of Ferrari’s problems is that Vettel is making too many mistakes. Since he became angry in Baku last season, Vettel has crashed out at the start in Singapore, hit Bottas in France, been penalised in Austria for blocking Carlos Sainz in qualifying, and thrown away victory in Germany.
In contrast, it is very rare to see mistakes from Hamilton, and he was faultless throughout the Italian GP. He won by combining clever thinking and tactics, with superb precision driving. He managed his tyres well, and was happy to play the long game waiting for the right moment to attack.
Elsewhere in the race, it was another disappointing weekend for Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo. He was forced to retire due to a technical fault for the fourth time in six races. While he enjoyed impressive victories in Shanghai and Monaco, his season has been disrupted by problems with the car.
Next season he is moving to Renault and the Toro Rosso driver Pierre Gasly shall be taking his place at Red Bull.
His teammate, Max Verstappen, looked like he may enjoy his sixth podium finish of the season, but then he was given a five-second penalty for colliding with Bottas. Verstappen was the third driver across the line but he was demoted to fifth place.
When hearing about the decision the Dutchman was enraged and could be heard over the team radio saying, “For what? Honestly, they are killing racing!”