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View from the Pit Lane: Italy

Mercedes collected a dominant one-two in Monza as Hamilton led home Bottas.
By Karun Chandhok,
C4F1 technical analyst

I’m back from the Italian Grand Prix and, well, that was a bit one-sided! 

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes showed why they are proven to be the more potent power unit in this whole new V6 Hybrid era. To finish 35 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari is probably as dominant performance that we’ve seen this season. 

When you look at it Vettel started further back and he came up through the places quite quickly and at that time the gap was only about five seconds to the leader and I thought “Ooh this could be interesting and maybe Ferrari are better than we thought at Monza.”

But as the race went on it just was pretty obvious that the two Mercedes cars were in a league of their own on F1’s classic power circuit.

That’s a bit of a worry for Ferrari and all the people in the engine and power unit departments in Maranello. They’ve got to be scratching their heads because, when we look through the rest of the season, we’ve got places like Singapore which should favour Ferrari – and we’ll come back to that.

But there are circuits like Suzuka where you need a lot of power to grunt up from Spoon Curve through 130R. Abu Dhabi is another circuit with fairly long straight and big acceleration zones. 

Mexico has a massively long straight and those are three circuits where it’s going to be clear that Mercedes have an advantage.

Ferrari have got one joker left to play which is they haven’t yet introduced their fourth engine and their final power unit configuration for this year which Mercedes have.  So Ferrari could potentially spend a bit of time developing that last power unit – and that I’m sure is what is going on.

Experience counts in wet qualifying 

It was really, really messy with the weather on Saturday and such a long day.  As a driver it’s so tricky dealing with rain delays and waiting and waiting forever. There’s a lot of time where you’re psyching yourself up, particularly in the build-up to qualifying. 

You’re getting ready to go for that big blast and you know that is the one time of the weekend your senses are absolutely at a heightened level, you’re thinking about every time you hit the brake pedal, you’re thinking about every steering input you make, every throttle application, you’re thinking about every out lap and build lap, how you’re going to bring the tyres into the window.

Your mind is at such a high level and then there’s a bit of a let-down when the session is red flagged and everything has stopped for such a long period of time. And then you get a 10-minute warning to get that level back up there.  

It is all a challenge for the driver but that’s where experience counts where in some way, a calm head and a driver who’s able to really get himself in the zone quickly can come to the fore.           

In the end, I thought Hamilton’s lap in Q3, was absolutely amazing.

The track conditions were changing all the time and when you watch the on-board, he is really, really good at moving around the track and finding grip where the grip was away from the traditional racing line. You have to go out there and look for the grip, feel the grip and you have to understand where it is.

I remember racing in Monza in 2008, and the lines were so different, we had to brake all the way on the inside, then you go across the line, and across the rubber and you have to use lots of parts of the track to brake and accelerate which you wouldn’t imagine doing in the dry. The grip level is so different in the wet and Hamilton exploited that very well.

Shout outs to Stroll and Ocon

Hats off to Lance Stroll and Esteban Ocon both of them did a fantastic job in Q3.

Stroll deserves a big shout out really because Williams have been pretty underwhelming in wet conditions of late, but he was strong in Q1, Q2 and Q3 and so he proved it wasn’t a fluky one lap – he was good in all conditions.

In the race he held his own. He had his teammate Felipe Massa behind him and he hung onto the back of Ocon. You have to say the Force India is a more competitive package than the Williams these days and so hats off to him, I thought he did a great job all weekend.

So did Ocon who was best of the rest behind the top teams and did a good solid job to finish sixth. 

Red Bull right on track 

The race itself, as I said, was pretty uneventful. There was a bit of overtaking and a bit of ranting from Fernando Alonso on the radio but it wasn’t the most enthralling race, particularly at the front.

It was impressive to see Daniel Ricciardo come through the pack. Red Bull have shown that on a circuit where really they had no business to be competitive, and in the same range as Ferrari or Mercedes on paper at least, in practice, when it came to the race, they were probably quicker than Ferrari.

For Ricciardo to go from 16th up to fourth is a very strong performance and that bodes well for them.

Going to Singapore, Suzuka and Malaysia, I think the next three races should be really good tracks for them; Singapore in particular they should be really strong.

I thought Max showed a little bit of impatience in the early part of the race because he should of recognised that the Red Bull was a much stronger car than Williams and Force India and others in the midfield.

Really if he had been a little bit more patient I think he could have got away without a puncture. The fact that Ricciardo finished fourth and only four seconds behind Vettel probably tells you what could have been for Verstappen.

There’s no question he could have been closer because he was already up the order at that stage so I think it was a case of a bit of frustration from the penalties and maybe he could have shown a bit more patience.

Next stop Singapore…

We ought to look ahead to Singapore and the rest of the season.

Hamilton is now ahead in the world championship for the first time this season and by three points ahead of Vettel. 

Singapore is a really interesting race because it’s a street track which is still a bumpy ride.

Monaco has been resurfaced, it’s no longer the bumpy challenge it used to be, it’s actually pretty smooth. Yes, it’s low speed corners, yes it’s narrow and you need a lot of good front end mechanical grip in the middle sector but Singapore is pretty unique.

It’s a track where two years ago Mercedes had got the set-up wrong; the car was sort of three-wheeling, they had too much movement in it and it constantly had one wheel off the ground and they were completely at sea. 

Last year they got it together with Nico Rosberg who won the race but Hamilton wasn’t strong there and in some ways there was a sense that he was over driving the car, a bit like in Sochi this year, a bit like in Budapest until the Grand Prix itself.

So, I’m really interested to see how he goes when we get to Singapore this year. The 2017 cars are different, there’s more grip, there’s more downforce and that may help him but equally I think it’s important to note that Ferrari and Red Bull are much closer to Mercedes than in the years previously.

We are going to Singapore knowing that Ferrari are the favourites. It’s a big chance for Vettel to retake the lead in the world championship, it’s a big chance for Ferrari to get Raikkonen possibly into second place to try to push Hamilton further down.
I think Mercedes are now going to start playing the games of team orders and making Valtteri Bottas start to play a more supporting role. 

So again we’re at that stage of the season where we’ve left Europe behind us and we’re going to the last flyaways. There’s firmly a sense that we’re counting down now to the end of the season.

There’s still long way to go though. In the past the end of the European season used to mean Suzuka and Adelaide, but now we’ve got seven races still to go. So there’s a lot of action still to come.

Apart from that not a whole lot happened in Monza - apart from having the best pizza in the world as usual. See you all in Singapore!