Italian Grand Prix | Sunday 06 September | Autodromo Nazionale Monza | 14:00
The season’s status-quo was returned at Spa a fortnight ago with Mercedes securing another one-two and Hamilton dominating the weekend. We now head to Ferrari’s famed stomping ground in the north of Italy. Will the partisan Ferrari support see Vettel and Raikkonen return to the podium, or will Mercedes once again make it a day to forget for the locals?
For the second race in a row we were treated to two formation laps. This time the reset was brought about due to Nico Hulkenberg having to abort his start. When the lights eventually went out there was a mad dash off the line. Lewis Hamilton finally managed to get a clean start and the Brit, who had qualified on pole, was already starting to open up a gap on the rest of the field as early as the mid-way point of the first lap. Whilst Hamilton got through the first corner with open air in front of him, the other drivers in the first four rows of the grid were having an almighty battle as they went through La Source. Sebastian Vettel, who had qualified in ninth, managed to move up to sixth by the time the first lap was completed. While Hamilton got off to a good start, teammate Nico Rosberg’s woes off the grid continued. Having started in second place, he had dropped to fifth by the time the teams came out of the second corner.
As the race wore on, Hamilton built on his lead at the front of the pack. Meanwhile Romain Grosjean had moved up to into fourth spot by the eightieth lap; the Frenchmen would go onto take advantage of Sebastian Vettel’s blowout to claim his first podium finish since 2013. Whilst Grosjean would have been delighted with his third-place finish, Nico Rosberg would have been less cheery about coming across the line in second. The Silver Arrows man was starting to catch up to his teammate in the final ten laps but was kept at arm’s reach. Rosberg must have been wondering how the Grand Prix would have played out if he had got off to decent start.
Daniil Kvyat followed the podium finishers across the line; his fourth place finish would have softened the blow of teammate Daniel Ricciardo’s retirement from the race. Ricciardo looked set to challenge for the podium positions until the mechanical gremlins in his Red Bull decided to get play up again. Sergio Perez was one of the drivers to capitilise on Ricciardo and Vettel's retirements. The Force India man crossed the line in fifth and scored some valuable points for his team. He was followed by Felipe Massa who was the highest placed of the two Williams cars; his teammate Valtteri Bottas finished in the points scoring positions but it was way down in ninth. Kimi Raikkonen managed to save face for Ferrari with a seventh-place finish.
Located some ten odd miles outside of Milan, the famous Autodromo Nazionale Monza awaits this field. The circuit has gone through several redevelopments since it was opened in 1922, mainly in a bid to improve safety. The 5.793km long track is situated in the Royal Villa of Monza park - this park has provided a fantastic backdrop for many a classic Formula one action shot. Drivers will go head-to-head over 53 laps, which sees them cover a total of 306.729km. Although the track has been turned into a much more sedate beast over the years, it still has some treacherous aspects to it. Whilst Monza holds significantly less corners to challenge the drivers compared to Spa, it still poses a few of the most infamous turns in F1. Parabolica in particular possess a threat; this 180 degree bend is famous for inducing the odd high speed crash. Another challenge for drivers is the Variante Ascari sequence which is a culmination of turns eight, nine and ten. The two DRS activation zones are located on the start/finish straight and the straight between turn seven and eight. While the weather's not looking great for Friday’s practice session, nor qualifying on Saturday, it seems conditions will be perfect for Sunday’s race with clear skies being predicted. Pirelli have issued the soft yellows and medium whites in a bid to counteract the wear that the high-speed track inflicts on the tyres. Last year’s race saw Lewis Hamilton claim both pole and win the main race. He was joined on the podium by teammate Nico Rosberg and Williams man Felipe Massa, who finished in second and third respectively.
To Win Outright
Lewis Hamilton 4/10
Nico Rosberg 9/4
Sebastian Vettel 16/1
Kimi Raikkonen 33/1
Valtteri Bottas 33/1
Felipe Massa 40/1
Sebastian Vettel - To Win Outright (16/1)
While Lewis Hamilton is a firm favorite with the bookies to make it back-to-back Grand Prix victories, I think Vettel and Ferrari may have a trick in store for the Brit at the Temple of Speed. Ferrari definitely have a leg up on Mercedes at Monza, not only has the track been a Ferrari testing venue for over fifty years but their new golden boy, Sebastian Vettel, has tasted victory on three previous occasions at this track. The German became the youngest ever race winner in Formula One history at Monza in 2008 when he won in a Toro Rosso. His two other wins came in 2011 and 2013, when he was behind the wheel of a Red Bull. With the odds for a Vettel victory at 16/1 and the Ferrari man itching to get back onto the track after a late burst tyre cost him a podium finish at Spa, he offers good value for a win. It is definitely not a bet I’d stake my house on, but I’d be more than willing to throw a hundred rand at it.
Lewis Hamilton - Fastest Qualifier (7/20) & Fastest Lap (11/10)
Just when it looked like the rest of the field was starting to catch up to him, Hamilton went out and put in a superb performance at Spa. This is probably the biggest hallmark of a great champion; to be able to produce a result when the pressure starts to build. The problem with him dominating the field, as he’s done over the past twenty odd months, is that the return for a bet on him isn’t great unless you’re dropping a sizable sum. While it’s difficult to bet against him, I often find it harder to bet on him. I’m hoping that the Ferrari strategists can outwit their Mercedes counterparts and help get one of their boys a win in the main race. I really can’t see them competing with Mercedes in qualifying however.
Daniil Kvyat - Top 6 Finish
Daniil Kvyat managed to pull off back-to-back top six finishes with his fourth-place at Spa last time out. The young Russian is starting to make the upper echelons of the field his natural habitat again. He had an impressive display last year at Monza. Having started 21st on the grid he worked his way through the pack to eventually finish one place outside of the points scoring positions.
Max Verstappen - Top 6 Finish
Although young Max Verstappen couldn’t make it back-to-back top six finishes, he was still highly impressive in Belgium. The Toro Rosso rookie now sits in tenth spot on the Drivers’ standings with 26 points to his name. He has really started to find his feet at this level and will be relishing taking on the famed Monza circuit. Although his Renault powered Toro Rosso may not be the sneering beast that its nose decals proclaim, his aggressive driving style should make up for this.