By Sean Kelly, C4F1 Statistician
If you got the impression that the 2017 Italian Grand Prix was over almost as quickly as it began, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.
Sunday’s race at Monza was the fifth-fastest Grand Prix in the history of the Formula 1 World Championship, and the fastest in F1 since the end of the Bridgestone/Michelin tyre war in 2006. At 1h15m32s it was almost two minutes quicker than last year’s race. Had 2016 race winner Nico Rosberg’s car been on the track at the same time this season he would have finished more than a lap down on the winner!
Intriguingly, if that improvement continues into next year, there is a genuine chance the 2018 Italian GP could break the all-time race speed record. That currently stands at 153.842mph from the 2003 Italian GP, set by race winner Michael Schumacher…
...Which brings us neatly to Michael, who retains this distinction for now, but lost his all-time pole positions record to Lewis Hamilton this weekend. Hamilton – who ironically replaced Schumacher at Mercedes before the start of the 2013 season, eclipsed Schumacher’s pole record of 68 in emphatic fashion, claiming pole by a massive 1.148s in extreme wet conditions.
A change of all-time leader in poles is one of the rarest occurrences in the Formula 1 record books. Since Jim Clark assumed the lead from Juan-Manuel Fangio at the 1967 Canadian GP it had only changed hands twice more in the ensuing fifty years – when Ayrton Senna surpassed Clark at the 1989 US Grand Prix, and again when Schumacher moved past Senna at Imola 2006. While Hamilton is the new leader, 30-year-old Sebastian Vettel is ‘only’ 21 poles behind him, so he’s not assured of generational superiority just yet.
Another of Schumacher’s records under threat this year is his 40 career wins from pole position. Hamilton’s victory on Sunday was his 38th such victory, and it is entirely conceivable this will also fall before the end of the year.
Hamilton’s fourth Monza win in the past five years is also one behind Schumacher’s circuit record, but most importantly of all, it gave Hamilton the lead of the world championship for the first time in 2017.
His five podium finishes in the past ten races have all been wins, and his 18-race scoring streak is now only one short of the best run in his career, set when he won back-to-back titles in 2014-15.
Not that we should be surprised by such numbers. Mercedes has maintained its record of leading every single racing lap held at Monza in the turbo hybrid era, and until Felipe Massa led the very wet FP3 session on Saturday morning, Mercedes had even led every session held in Italy since the start of 2014!
Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas rounded out Mercedes’ 3rd 1-2 finish of the year, which by Mercedes standards is positively pedestrian. The team scored eight such finishes in 2016, 12 in 2015 and 11 in 2014!
Bottas’ 18th career podium finish not only means he has passed compatriot Keke Rosberg’s career numbers – now trailing only Mika Hakkinen (51) and Kimi Raikkonen (81) among Finns – but it was also the ninth podium of the year for Bottas, matching the total he scored in the rest of his F1 career combined!
Sebastian Vettel will be licking his wounds after a weekend where Ferrari lost at home by a whopping 36 seconds. Admittedly he extended his points streak to 18 in a row (tied with Hamilton) and gave Ferrari a 67th podium at Monza (the most by any constructor at a single circuit), but this will be of scant consolation on a day when he surrendered the points lead for the first time all year.
In contrast, Daniel Ricciardo was a fighting fourth from 16th place on the grid. Although he’s still never finished on the podium in Italy, Ricciardo’s fantastic recovery drive also included him netting the fastest lap. He now has 9 in his career, along with five wins and a pole position, yet they have all come in 15 different races.
If Vettel had food for thought, Raikkonen had a veritable banquet awaiting him after a race in which Vettel beat him by 24 seconds and set a personal best lap 1.1 seconds quicker than the Finn. It was the 12th time in 13 races this year in which Vettel has beaten Raikkonen, with Silverstone being the only exception.
Esteban Ocon was one of the stars of qualifying when he put his Force India third on the grid (albeit after the Red Bulls were penalised). It was his career-best start and Force India’s best since Nico Hulkenberg was second on the grid at the 2016 Austrian GP.
By claiming his third top six finish of 2017 Ocon continued his remarkable streak of finishes to 22 in a row, without ever retiring. If it continues this way, Max Chilton’s record of 25 finishes before posting a DNF in his career can be tied by Ocon at Suzuka.
Ocon’s performance in qualifying was impressive enough, but it was overshadowed by the heroics of Lance Stroll, who put Canada back on the front row of an F1 race for the first time since Jacques Villeneuve at this same venue 19 years ago – the month before Stroll was born!
Hamilton finished 1.148 seconds ahead of Verstappen and Ricciardo but because of penalties it's Lance Stroll who starts on the front row pic.twitter.com/6EvEOvHJ7O— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) September 2, 2017
In fact, Stroll’s surprise front row start was enough to break Max Verstappen’s short-lived record as the youngest man ever to start on the front row at 18 years 309 days, 23 days inside Verstappen’s age at the 2016 Belgian GP (ironically, Stroll was promoted to the front row by a Verstappen penalty). In another rarely-broken F1 record, this had been held by Ricardo Rodriguez continuously since the 1961 Italian GP until beaten by Verstappen last year.
Stroll’s seventh place in the race itself was the second-best finish of his career after his Baku podium, and his fourth career points finish. Veteran teammate Felipe Massa continued his distinction of scoring points in every Italian Grand Prix held in this decade by coming home eighth, as Williams moved 15 points clear of Toro Rosso in the championship.
In a quiet day by his recent standards, Sergio Perez bounced back from a five-place gearbox penalty that relegated him from 11th in qualifying to 10th on the grid (trust us, we’ll explain later) to score at Monza for the fourth year running, but it will probably irritate him to have finished behind his intra-team nemesis Esteban Ocon for the second race running.
The final point of the race went to Max Verstappen, a deserved result after the Dutchman suffered yet more early race woe, this time with a puncture. A fightback drive netted him points for only the third time in the last seven Grands Prix.
Despite Monza’s reputation for testing power units to their fullest, this race passed with only two retirements for the fifth time in the last six years, and Monza also kept up its remarkable run of uninterrupted green flag racing. There has been no Safety Car deployment in the Italian Grand Prix since the opening laps of the 2011 race, a longer run than at any other race on the calendar.
Perhaps the epitaph of this race will be that it heralds the beginning of the end of mechanically-induced grid penalties. A baffling number of power unit and gearbox changes left nine different drivers penalised, one driver (Kevin Magnussen) starting in the top ten despite being eliminated in Q1, and one penalised driver (the aforementioned Perez) starting HIGHER than he qualified! It even led to confusion on the grid, with grid girls holding the wrong driver boards up until the moment the cars arrived!
When Formula 1 motorsport managing director Ross Brawn arrives at his desk on Monday morning, resolving this may well be first on the agenda…