After the drama of the Belgian grand prix the focus of the Formula 1 world was very much on the Mercedes team and their two world drivers’ championship protagonists, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. The pressure was on both drivers to deliver a clean race and a positive result for the team. The big question was, which of the two drivers would handle the pressure and intense scrutiny the best?
The answer to that question, at least at Monza, appeared to be very much Hamilton. That might be somewhat of a surprise to some given that it’s Rosberg who is supposedly the mentally stronger of the two drivers, but he simply had no answer to Hamilton in Italy.
Both drivers had experienced some reliability issues through free practice, with Hamilton missing an hour of free practice two with an electrical issue, while Rosberg failed to set a time in free practice three after experiencing his own reliability issues. Going in to qualifying it was pretty even in the reliability stakes, but not so in terms of pace.
Hamilton had the edge throughout all three segments of qualifying, and in Q3 he really stamped his authority on proceedings with a first effort that was just under half a second quicker than his Mercedes team-mate. Rosberg closed the gap on his second run, but he still qualified over a quarter of a second behind Hamilton on the front row of the grid.
Hamilton’s stunning qualifying performance counted for nothing on race day, however. The Briton got an awful start, through no fault of his own (car related software glitch), which dropped him down to fourth position and handed Rosberg the lead.
Hamilton had to make his way ahead of Kevin Magnussen in the McLaren and Felipe Massa’s Williams, both of whom had passed him at the start, before being able to set about Rosberg, who had pulled well clear in the lead of the race. He started to make his move on lap five, taking advantage of Massa’s move on Magnussen to make his own move on the Danish driver.
Massa and Hamilton then started to close the gap to Rosberg, who made a mistake on lap nine, running straight on at turn one and losing nearly two seconds to the pursuing duo. That was all the encouragement that Hamilton needed, pulling off a great move on Massa in the same place as Rosberg’s error just a lap later, before setting about closing down his team-mate.
Although Hamilton was able to get close to Rosberg – closing to within 1.1 seconds at some stage – he was unable to get to within DRS range on the first stint on the medium tyres. Rosberg got the advantage of the “undercut”, pitting first for fresh tyres on lap 25, briefly handing the lead to Hamilton before the 2008 world drivers’ champion pitted just a lap later and returned the lead to his championship rival.
As battle resumed between the two Silver Arrows Hamilton’s race engineer suggested that his driver might want to hang back a little and preserve his tyres for attack in the closing laps of the race. Hamilton had other ideas. He decided that the time to make his move was there and then and started to eat in to Rosberg’s lead at an incredible rate of knots. On lap 28 he had closed to within 0.7 seconds of his team-mate and with the pressure very much on Rosberg cracked, making an identical error to the one he made on lap nine, going straight on at turn one, losing time and handing Hamilton the lead of the race.
It was a lead that Hamilton never looked like relinquishing, pulling relentlessly away from his team-mate and building a comfortable 4.5 second gap. While there were some fierce battles, and great racing, behind the two Silver Arrows, Rosberg could never get close to Hamilton out front. Despite his own lock up at turn one in the closing stages, Hamilton had everything under control and took what was a comfortable victory in the end, with Rosberg completing a Mercedes one, two and Massa and team-mate Valtteri Bottas bring the two Williams cars home in third and fourth.
Rosberg’s championship lead is now down to 22 points – still a big margin – but the psychological impact of the events of Spa and Monza might be more significant to the outcome of the 2014 world drivers’ championship than the loss of seven points to Hamilton in Italy. Will we see more mistakes start to creep in to Rosberg’s driving? Is the knowledge that he would be at risk of being completely vilified should he make contact with Hamilton again affecting him?
It’s too early to answer those questions, but what is clear is that Hamilton’s racing instinct won him the race at Monza. He knew when to push, when to apply pressure and when to attack. He recovered brilliantly from the technical problems that caused him to lose the lead of the race at the start to win. Irrespective of the psychological impact on Rosberg, events in Italy will certainly give Hamilton a lift.
Has the momentum swung in his direction? I can’t wait to find out in Singapore.