After being strong through free practice and having put in a commanding qualifying performance, we feared the writing was on the wall for the rest as Sebastian Vettel started the Italian grand prix from pole position. With two of the four championship contenders, Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus, starting outside of the top 10, a Vettel victory at Monza could have spelled the end to the championship challenges of those two drivers, also.
As expected Vettel took a pretty straightforward win in Italy and despite an outstanding recovery drive from Hamilton to take ninth, both he and Raikkonen will now consider themselves out of the hunt for the world drivers’ championship. Indeed, Hamilton said as much when interviewed after the race calling the event “a disaster” for him, going on to say “That’s it for the championship”.
It’s hard to disagree. After the race in Monza he stands third in the world drivers’ championship, a huge 81 points behind championship leader Vettel. Raikkonen is a further seven points back after failing to collect any points in Italy after finishing in 11th place. With 175 points still on the table, mathematically speaking it’s not over for either driver, but realistically Fernando Alonso, himself 53 points behind Vettel after finishing second in Monza, is the only driver who can stop Vettel taking a fourth consecutive driver’s crown.
While Hamilton’s analysis of his championship chances looks fairly balanced, the same cannot be said of his analysis of his performance in Monza. Hamilton said after the race that he was “very disappointed with myself”, claiming that he “didn’t deliver this weekend”. That was, I think, a very harsh self-assessment. The 2008 world drivers’ champion was clearly disappointed after qualifying on Saturday. He failed to get a representative lap time on the board in Q2, meaning that he failed to make the last part of qualifying and, for the first time this season, couldn’t compete for a place in the top 10 or, indeed, pole position.
Hamilton said that he “drove like an idiot” in qualifying, but he still might have made Q3 had he not been impeded by Adrian Sutil on his final attempt (the German received a three place grid penalty for the incident). While Hamilton was clearly disappointed with his performance in qualifying, he shouldn’t be so downbeat about his performance on race day.
The Englishman, starting down in 12th place on the harder of the two available tyre compounds, drove an outstanding race for the scant reward of only two world championship points for his ninth place finish. Moving from 12th to ninth in the race doesn’t sound like a particularly stunning performance given the relative pace of the Mercedes, but that, of course, doesn’t tell the whole story.
Hamilton was expecting to stop just once in Italy, and would have been expecting to stop later than the cars that started ahead of him on the grid given he was starting on the prime tyre, while all the cars ahead of him, with the exception of Raikkonen, started on options. As things turned out, Hamilton was in the pits on lap 13 after the team detected a slow puncture. This forced the Mercedes driver onto a two stop strategy.
If this wasn’t bad enough, Hamilton also had to contend with a broken radio throughout the race. Indeed, Hamilton would have stopped even earlier if he’d heard his team calling him into the pits on lap 11. Hamilton said that the absence of his team radio was “almost like driving blind”, going on to elaborate by saying “you just don’t know where people are, when to pit, when you’ve got to push, when you’ve got to save tyres… you’ve just got to manage it yourself and hope for the best”.
Despite this handicap, though, he drove a brilliant race, pulling off a number of outstanding passes, including a couple of brilliant passes through Curva Grande, including one on Kimi Raikkonen to take 11th place on lap 49. Another couple of laps and he might have been able to negotiate his way ahead of the second Lotus of Romain Grosjean and the Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo, who finished just 0.4 and 1.2 seconds ahead of the Englishman respectively.
Had it not been for Hamilton’s exciting charge back from around 17th place after his first pit stop, we would probably have had a dull and disappointing race. The rain that threatened ahead of the start never materialised and neither did any sort of challenge to Sebastian Vettel who, despite some concerns about his gearbox and that of his team-mate Mark Webber, took a customarily dominant victory.
Alonso drove a solid race to take second place, providing some excitement himself along the way with a brilliant pass on Webber on lap three, but he was never in a position to challenge Vettel. Unless there’s a big change-a-round in fortunes, it’s looking like it could be a similar story in the hunt for the world drivers’ championship. Vettel’s position seems to strengthen by the race and while Alonso does all he can to challenge the Ferrari just doesn’t look to be able to compete with the Red Bull as things currently stand.
Ferrari can though, take comfort in the fact that they have reclaimed second place in the world constructors’ championship from Mercedes with Alonso’s second place being complimented by a fourth place finish for his Brazilian team-mate Felipe Massa, while Mercedes could only manage sixth for Nico Rosberg and Hamilton’s ninth place finish.
This will be scant consolation for Alonso, though. With seven races to go the championship it’s looking like we’re likely to see the Prancing Horse beaten by the rampaging Red Bull yet again.