Italian GP 2017: No chance for the Red Team to match Mercedes’ “insane” pace!

Usually Monza isn’t known for extreme weather conditions, but last weekend was an exception. When qualifying got underway, it was raining heavily. Everyone headed out on the blue-marked full-wet tyres. Not even the full-wets prevented Haas’ Grosjean from aquaplaning off on the main straight after only four minutes of running! Q1 was red-flagged, as the rain kept getting worse. The session was delayed by 15 minutes for eight times! The rain was swirling around the circuit area, and it became a very long wait for both the drivers and the fans. A good sense of humour helped many drivers to cope with the long wait. The Red Bull duo of Verstappen and Ricciardo acted as cameramen, and Williams’ Massa played football with his son and team members on the pit lane. The Mercedes aces Hamilton and Bottas decided to have a little fun and play a PlayStation game! 

After a 2.5-hour delay the session was resumed. The rain had almost stopped, and the track conditions kept improving all the time. Q2 offered a chance to go out on the intermediate tyres. The pecking order in the wet was a bit unusual. It wasn’t surprising that the Silver Arrows were setting the pace, but Red Bull clearly benefitted from the wet conditions. Verstappen went third fastest in the second session. Unfortunately, Ferrari was the team to suffer the most from the wet and slippery conditions. Right before the decisive last segment, the heavy rain began again. In spite of the tricky conditions and almost zero visibility, Hamilton took a sweeping pole by 1.1 seconds! Hamilton has now more poles than any man in history - 69! Red Bull performed in a fantastic way, as Verstappen qualified second and teammate Ricciardo third. Such a shame that both of them had grid penalties for multiple power unit element changes (15 grid slots for Verstappen and 25 grid slots for Ricciardo). The most positive surprise of the qualifying was Williams rookie Stroll, who qualified as high as P4, but, due to the penalties of the Red Bull drivers, was going to start the race on the front row (being the youngest front row starter ever)! Force India’s Ocon was brilliant 5th, which converted into P3 on the grid. Kimi managed to out-qualify Sebastian, but Q3 saw extremely modest P7 and P8 for the Ferrari aces. It was absolutely shocking to see that the gap between Sebastian and title contender Hamilton was massive 2.5 seconds! The red cars and the pouring rain seemed to be a horrible combination!

Luckily, when the race day came, it was sunny and dry. Nine drivers altogether had been handed different grid penalties, so I was quite confused of the real grid order. All top drivers started the race on the super soft compound, except the Red Bull duo of Verstappen and Ricciardo, who opted for the more durable soft rubber. Against all odds, both Stroll in his FW38 and Ocon in his pink Force India got an excellent start. Stroll was even challenging pole-setter Hamilton for the lead. However, the Briton cut right ahead of the Canadian, forcing Stroll to lift his foot off the throttle. Ocon immediately saw his chance and moved past Stroll. Between the top three, there was an intense and wheel-banging battle between the Finns. First Kimi made a move on his compatriot Bottas, moving to fourth. Only a moment later Bottas snatched his position back from the Iceman. Their rear tyres touched, but the fight was fair. 

The Silver Arrows were utterly flying around Autodromo Nazionale Monza. In no time Bottas made his way past both Stroll and Ocon, jumping second in the race. Hamilton in the lead could easily control his pace, which his rivals were completely unable to match. Kimi, on the other hand, complained continually about having problems with the rear of his car. Sebastian made an easy-looking overtaking move on his teammate and jumped fifth. Sebastian drove with passion on the home turf of his team, quickly chasing down both Stroll and Ocon. The German attacked immediately and jumped already third in the race. Unfortunately, he had no chance to match the pace of the Silver Arrows. 

Due to his tyre choice, Ricciardo was the last top driver to pit for a fresh set of super soft Pirellis. The Australian re-joined the track behind Kimi in P5, but there were only 2.5 seconds separating the two. Ricciardo’s pace on the fresh set of super soft tyres was absolutely crushing, and he attacked Kimi right away. Kimi tried to defend his position, but there was nothing the Iceman could do. Ricciardo jumped fourth and started to chase down Sebastian, who was 11 seconds ahead in P3. 

Mercedes’ dominance in Monza - on the home soil of their title rivals - was absolutely dumbfounding. It was actually frightening how superior the Silver Arrows were. Hamilton took his 59th career victory, and Bottas made it a staggering 1-2 for Mercedes. Sebastian crossed the finish line in P3, but was already crushing 36 seconds down on race winner Hamilton! Nevertheless, it was very  emotional to see Sebastian on the podium, in front of the passionate tifosi. Luckily Ricciardo ran out of laps, and the Smiling Avenger had to settle for P4 this time. Kimi drove to the chequered flag in P5, with Ocon 6th and Stroll 7th. 

Hamilton’s victory meant that the Briton snatched the lead from Sebastian in the drivers’ championship standings. Sebastian is now three points down on Hamilton. I hope from the bottom of my heart that the Yas Marina Circuit suits Ferrari in practice as well as it does on paper, because Sebastian really needs a victory to fight back in the championship! However, Sebastian seemed exceptionally calm and trusting in the post-race comments about Ferrari’s performance in the remaining races. I definitely hope that Sebastian knows something, that us others don’t! Ferrari is definitely an underdog in terms of the constructors’ championship standings, as they are already 62 points down on Mercedes. But nevertheless, my hunch says that it’s going to be a great last third of the season! Forza Ferrari!

With passion for racing red, 
Iina Huhmarniemi

Sep 05, 2017