What is it about home turf? So many times we have seen the local favourites, whether in soccer, cricket, golf or motorsport, raise the hopes of those fans in the area, only for them to go home with lowered heads and drooping shoulders.
The expression “it’s theirs to lose” is often used prior to such events and last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix certainly garnered such comments.
Qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix was the best for many a year.
After Ferrari’s positive performance during the practice sessions, pole position seemed to be a foregone conclusion.
But it was Lewis Hamilton who pushed his Mercedes to the limit in the dying seconds of Q3 to take the number one spot on the grid with a time of 1 minute and 19.294 seconds.
Within seconds Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari set an even quicker time of 1 minute and 19.280 seconds, but then Kimi Raikkonen, in the second Ferrari, crossed the line in a staggering 1 minute and 19.119 seconds to grab pole from his team-mate and set the quickest lap time ever at the Italian track.
So, with an all red front row and a second row filled by Silver Arrows it had all the ingredients of a titanic battle.
A great start from Raikkonen, who covered Vettel’s early attempt at an overtake, but at the second chicane we witnessed an unnecessary move by Vettel allowing Hamilton to force his way up to second place.
A touch between the two resulted in the Ferrari driver spinning and ending up facing the wrong way at the tail end of the field with damage to his car.
A steward’s investigation determined that it was a racing incident and no penalties were applied. I have often wondered why Vettel continues to try and win the race on the first lap.
This was not the first time we have seen it, and it makes no sense. Surely slotting in behind Hamilton on lap one but being on track to fight to the finish is the more logical solution?
Vettel’s fight back through the field confirmed that both he and his Ferrari had the pace to apply pressure to the Mercedes of Hamilton.
Valtteri Bottas was slipping back and was out of position to be a “wingman” so a golden opportunity for Ferrari was lost. Having lost a further 13 points to Hamilton, Vettel has slipped to 30 points in arrears and may just have handed the current world champion an unassailable lead.
With just seven races left he will need all his skills, a level head and a lot of luck.
Last year, Hamilton won three of the remaining races, Bottas two, with Verstappen and Vettel one apiece. I agree the Scuderia have a better car this season, but right now I feel the odds have swung very squarely towards MercedesBenz to bring home yet another Driver’s and Constructor’s world title.
Raikkonen delivered an excellent performance, but the team’s early tyre change was to cost him in the final stages of the race, when Hamilton’s fresher rubber allowed him to take the lead and victory.
The Finn’s rear tyres were looking thoroughly second-hand and messages from the pit wall about vibrations through them did not bode well.
It could have resulted in a blowout and a non finish.
Thus, a sensible drive resulted in a solid second overall. Helping Hamilton to his victory was the measured drive by team-mate Bottas, who held Raikkonen at bay for several laps, giving the Englishman the opportunity to catch and ultimately pass and win by over nine seconds.
A true team effort but hopefully this will not become the norm for Bottas, as I believe he still has an enormous amount of potential that needs to be unleashed.
At the finish it was Hamilton from Raikkonen, Bottas and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, but the young Dutchman was handed a five second penalty by the stewards after a clash with Bottas, which was not received well by Verstappen.
This was enough time to drop him to fifth and allow Vettel up into fourth, grabbing a much needed extra two points.
Haas driver Romain Grosjean was sixth until a technical protest from the Renault team was upheld, resulting in the Frenchman’s disqualification from the results.
This resulted in Williams having both teams in the top 10, as Lance Stroll moved to ninth and team mate Sergei Sirotkin slipping into 10th, for his first point of the season.
Monza delivered one of the most exciting races of the year. Let’s hope this will be the type of action the remaining races will deliver.
Italy marked the end of the European leg of the season so now it’s off to Asia for the Singapore round.