Who would have thought it? After Lewis Hamilton’s superhuman pole lap in qualifying on Saturday I’m sure I wasn’t alone in predicting a Hamilton victory on Sunday afternoon at Monza, but a poor getaway off the line ensured Hamilton could only finish as high second to teammate Rosberg in the race. The championship is now down to just a two point difference as we head into what feels like the final third of this record event 2016 F1 season, and as the Singapore Grand Prix looms in just 10 days time I’ve looked back and assessed some of the biggest talking points from Monza.
Race Over Before The First Corner
In all reality the race was over before the field had even reached turn one on the opening lap. After Hamilton’s poor start and Rosberg’s clean getaway the remainder of the race was a mere formality as Hamilton initially struggled to pass the pacey Williams of Bottas before outpacing the Ferrari’s on their two stop strategy. After the 0.5s gap between Hamilton and Rosberg on Saturday I expected the championship leader to rapidly reel in Rosberg once clear of Raikkonen and Vettel, much like in Russia however that wasn’t to be the case, and Rosberg drove a strong, trouble free and quiet race to take the checkered flag and make it two race wins in two weeks.
There was plenty of talk on social media after the race about the lack of excitement and overtaking, and it’s true that not much of note happened barring a fantastic overtaking maneuver by Daniel Ricciardo and a late race fastest lap from Fernando Alonso, but the calendar would be a poorer one without the Italian Grand Prix so despite Sunday’s procession I’m pleased to see the race remain at Monza for the next three years. Reinstating the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola would be the icing on the cake.
Rosberg Handled the Podium Ceremony With Grace
I think Nico Rosberg did himself an awful lot of favours handling the podium ceremony the way he did. Monza is always the most electric and passionate of F1 podiums and Sunday was no exception when what seemed like half the fans in attendance congregated underneath the podium to see Sebastian Vettel collect the trophy for third. I can’t say I didn’t expect it, but watching Rosberg get booed and jeered in his interview with Eddie Jordan was disheartening to say the least, and how he responded and handled himself up there was fantastic to see, and it’s amusing to hear the cheers begin as soon as the German born, Monaco residing driver began to address the crown in Italian!
Rosberg’s reaction was fantastic, and although I’m sure it won’t, it should really be as good as signal as any to fans watching the remainder of this year’s podium ceremonies that although Rosberg may never have the fanbase or ability to captivate huge audiences like Lewis Hamilton, he remains a worthy victor who’s operating at the peak of his driving powers. The harsh reality is that in an equal fight, I think most know that Hamilton has the edge. But a championship is won over the course of a season and Rosberg is still in with a shout of taking the ultimate crown. It’s been a long understood saying that consistency wins championships.
No Battle For Best Of The Rest
There wasn’t even a close battle for best of the rest behind Mercedes in the race. Ferrari were a clear second fastest clocking in ahead of a closely matched Williams and Red Bull battle on a circuit which out of all the tracks we visit this year should be thought of as one of Red Bull’s weakest. Ricciardo managed a stunning overtake on Bottas to take 5th place and limit the points gained by Ferrari, and Verstappen finished the race in 7th, exactly where he started after a poor start saw him drop outside the top ten. On such a power dominant circuit like Monza it was impossible to expect Red Bull to fully challenge Ferrari for the podium but Singapore looks to be a far more tantalizing prospect. For the first time this season, and in recent memory we may truly have three teams and six cars fighting it out for the win.
The Chasing Pack
Elsewhere down the grid at Monza it was an unfortunate weekend for Jolyon Palmer, who’s race was ended after a collision with long time rival Felipe Nasr (going back to GP2). Palmer’s last four race finishes of 12th, 19th, 15th and a DNF mask what has actually been a remarkable turnaround in pace for the 2014 GP2 champion and I think it would be a huge shame not to see Palmer continue with Renault into 2017. Whilst teammate Magnussen arrived at Renault to great fanfare, Palmer has consistently moved closer and closer to matching his teammate’s pace over the course of the year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them reach a very even level of performance before the end of the season. It’s been a turnaround in form just when Palmer needed it most, but in my opinion he’s done enough to remain at Renault.
After three consecutive points scoring races in Hungary, Germany and Belgium, McLaren failed to finish in the points for the first time since Silverstone at a track which like Red Bull and Renault, was expected to be one of their weakest. The irony of Fernando Alonso setting the fastest lap of the race in a Honda powered car, at one of F1’s most power dependent circuits was about as exciting as the closing stages of the race got, but there’s been serious improvement at McLaren and Honda over the course of this season and I expect the team to be strong in Singapore. If it doesn’t happen before the end of the year, I fully expect McLaren to be back next season with F1’s fourth fastest package. And it should be a comfortable fourth.