Following the Mercedes internal crisis resulting from Nico Rosberg’s questionable manoeuvre on his team-mate in Spa, the Formula 1 world was curious to find out how the two main title contenders would interact during the historic grand prix in Monza. True to the words of the team’s directors, the two Mercedes avoided hitting each other, but emotions still ran high as both challenged for the win – on their own terms.
After a calculated approach to the happenings in Belgium, Lewis Hamilton was nothing but cool, calm and collected when entering the Italian Grand Prix. Having “left the past behind”, he delivered the fastest runs of two practice sessions to also claim the pole for the Sunday race. Sure enough, his team-mate came right behind him to lock-out the front grid for the 6. time this season.
Although no one doubted Mercedes’ winning potential, some teams hoped for an escalation of the Spa conflict on the Monza track – Williams being one, having claimed the second row in Italy’s qualifying after being dubbed most likely victors on the historical circuit if the Silver Arrows’ were to experience a mishap.
But the Mercedes directors were adamant that no contact would take place between their drivers this time round and they were true to their words. Although it was Rosberg who took the upper hand on the first lap, benefitting from Hamilton’s slow start due to clutch issues, the Brit quickly recovered from fourth to get on his team-mate’s tail. The single pit-stop on the season’s fastest circuit was expected to be a deal-breaker in the duel – out of which Rosberg came out victorious, having pitted one lap before Hamilton, on lap 25. But on fresher tyres the Brit was closing the gap fast; and although his team-mate asked his engineers not to advise him on how big that gap was, the German eventually cracked under pressure. For the second time that afternoon he missed the turn on the first chicane and had to take the escape road, which virtually handed the position to Hamilton. From then on the Brit was uncatchable and crossed the finish line with a comfortable 3.1 sec lead over his closest championship rival.
The victory has narrowed down the championship gap between the two to 22 points, but more importantly gave Hamilton a much-needed confidence boost ahead of the escalating battle for the title against his team-mate. Following the race Rosberg kept his cool, congratulating Lewis and apologising to the team for mistakes made that day. But even an Italian “Grazie” to the crowds from his second podium step did not quiet the sound of boos from below.
Meanwhile, the third front-row finisher was greeted with heartfelt applause from the tifosi, cheering the man who wore their national colours for many years prior. Felipe Massa had finally claimed his first podium this season, raising a champagne toast to his Ferrari past and to his extended Williams’ future, confirmed earlier that day.
“I was not very lucky in some of the races, but the luck is on our side I’m sure now. From now to the last race we’re going to be there fighting, so I’m so happy to be on the podium here and there’s a lot more to come,” Massa said addressing the fans.
The Brazilian’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas crossed the line just behind him, making the William’s bosses’ dream come true – the total points scored by the two drivers put their team into third ahead of Ferrari in the constructors’ championship.
Other than reminiscing old affinities with Massa’s result, the Italian tifosi had little to celebrate, as Ferrari’s weekend went from bad to worse. Despite a strong outlook upon the team’s arrival to Monza and during first practice, the Prancing Horses’ form deteriorated as days passed, culminating in a mere 2-point finish by Kimi Raikkonen and topped off with Fernando Alonso’s retirement mid-way through the race. The DNF (did-not-finish) caused by a failure to the ERS (energy recovery system) was the first mechanical failure to end the Spaniard’s race early since the 2010 Malaysian GP, and his first DNF since his crashing out from the same grand prix in 2013.
More joy for the spectators came from Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo who, after a mediocre qualifying session wowed the crowds over and over again on Sunday, performing breath-taking overtakes with veteran precision. There was no doubt that the Aussie’s pass on his team-mate and four time champion Sebastian Vettel had gone down a treat among the viewers. The two finished 5. and 6., cementing their spot behind Mercedes in the constructors’ standings.
But Ricciardo was not the only provider of thrilling on-track action, as Monza has seen a reemergence of McLaren as a front-of-grid pretender. The team had locked-out the third row for the start of the race but struggled to maintain the positions throughout the afternoon. Nevertheless, the battle between Jenson Button and his former team-mate and current Force India driver Sergio Perez left everyone gripping their seats as the two kept trading places, with the Mexican eventually finishing ahead of the Brit, in 7.
With only two non-finishers (Max Chilton crashed out of the race after hitting the kerb on lap 5), the Italian grand prix brought with it an air of composure into the paddock, with many content faces leaving the Monza track. But as the circus sets off for the Far East with six races to go, the storm is only just brewing in the championship battle – and no declarations of team-mate harmony can stop the rivalry from escalating.