Formula 1 visited the iconic Autodromo Nazionale Monza circuit in Italy last week for round 14 of the 2016 season and there were plenty of talking points that emerged.
With the race forming the first grand prix of what is now effectively an eight-race title showdown between the Mercedes pair, it was always going to be a significant weekend for the two title protagonists. This, coupled with the tremendous atmosphere created by the legions of partisan Italian fans, means that F1’s visit to the Temple of Speed was always going to throw up some interesting points for discussion…
Rosberg responds in style
It would have been easy for Nico Rosberg to feel utterly defeated after being beaten to pole position by Mercedes team-mate and title rival Lewis Hamilton on Saturday. The German simply never looked like he had the measure of the Briton over one lap and found himself out-paced by 0.478 seconds during qualifying, an eternity in F1 terms. However, Sunday saw Rosberg respond in emphatic fashion.
The Mercedes man made an excellent start and did well to overtake Hamilton while also keeping the fast-starting Ferrari pair of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen behind him on the opening lap. From there, Rosberg took advantage of Hamilton’s poor start (which saw the World Champion drop down to sixth place) and never looked troubled over the course of the race.
Some may feel that Rosberg was fortunate, and simply took advantage of his team-mate’s poor start. While it is true that Briton’s poor start presented Rosberg with an opportunity, the fact is that getting off the line well is part of the deal when it comes to winning races. Furthermore, Rosberg grabbed the opportunity he was given with both hands, and by the time Hamilton had cleared the cars between himself and the German, he had no real hope of ever clawing back the deficit.
Rosberg managed the race superbly and kept Hamilton at a comfortable distance, eventually cruising to victory by the handy margin of 15 seconds. Monza is a track on which Hamilton is famously very strong, and for the German to come away from a weekend in which he could have been utterly out-classed with a victory will do wonders for his morale going forward.
Some progress for McLaren, but points are awarded on Sunday
McLaren were under no illusions that Monza would be a big test for them and in particular, their Honda power unit. On a circuit that places so much emphasis on raw power, the Woking-based squad were always likely to struggle compared to their rivals. The team were optimistic after enjoying a strong Friday, which saw both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button finish the day inside the top ten. Button, in particular, was confident that McLaren could make it into the third and final segment of qualifying.
On Saturday, however, both drivers fell well short of this objective, with neither of them able to get within 0.4 seconds of making it through to the top ten. Sunday brought little improvement as Button and Alonso finished in P12 and P14, respectively, a lap down on race winner Rosberg, and 15 seconds away from the points.
While the team can take some heart from the fact that they weren’t entirely left behind and finished in the middle of the pack, the reality is that the Honda power unit remains woefully off the pace. Alonso, in particular, sounded tremendously frustrated over race radio during Sunday’s proceedings as he found himself unable to put any sort of pressure on the cars ahead of him. Singapore, with its slower layout, may bring better things for McLaren, but their power unit still prevents them from fighting for solid points on every circuit.
A good day for Ferrari, but with a caveat
Ferrari achieved the maximum that they could realistically have hoped for at their home race. The Scuderia locked out the second row of the grid with relative ease on Saturday and held position to finish in P3 and P4 on Sunday. On a circuit around which Mercedes were expected to be utterly dominant, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen showed solid pace during the race, with Vettel eventually securing Ferrari’s first podium in five races.
Even though they were unable to really trouble the Silver Arrows ahead of them, the Italian marquee and its drivers appeared generally satisfied with their efforts over the weekend. The fact that they comfortably beat Red Bull is a further positive for Ferrari, as it has allowed them to close up on the Austrian team in the Constructor’s Championship.
Singapore, which is next on the calendar, is likely to allow Ferrari to mount a strong challenge against Mercedes, as they did last year, with Vettel claiming pole position and victory, while Räikkönen finished third. However, the Scuderia should not lose sight of the fact that Red Bull were always going to struggle around Monza as a result of their power unit disadvantage. As a result, Singapore will also bring a stronger performance from the Austrian outfit. In other words, while Ferrari can look forward to a smaller gap to Mercedes next time out, they should also be aware that Red Bull will be a threat once again.
In short, Ferrari enjoyed a solid weekend in Italy, but with one of their more difficult races out of the way, Red Bull are likely to resume being a thorn in the Scuderia’s side at the next race.
A missed opportunity for Haas and Gutierrez
Esteban Gutierrez produced a top-notch effort during qualifying on Saturday to pilot his Haas VF-16 challenger into Q3 – the first time that the American outfit has advanced to the final segment of qualifying. With Force India struggling for balance and McLaren failing to make Q3, Gutierrez had an opportunity to secure his first points of 2016.
The result would have been an important one for the Mexican, who is believed to not have a guaranteed seat at the fledgling outfit for 2017. His woes have been further compounded by the fact that team-mate Romain Grosjean was able to make the most of Haas’ strong early season form by bagging 28 points in the opening few races.
Unfortunately, even after leaving Grosjean in the shade during qualifying, Gutierrez made a poor start and dropped down the order, eventually recovering to P13. As it turned out, instead of finishing off a strong weekend with some points, the Mexican found himself following his team-mate home, which will do nothing to lift the pressure he is under. As for Haas, while they remain secure in eighth place in the Constructor’s Championship, points would have allowed them to put some pressure on Toro Rosso, who are 17 points ahead of them.
Wehrlein continues to gather momentum
Mercedes-backed Pascal Wehrlein made a steady, if unspectacular, start to his F1 career with Manor at the start of the current season. The German, who was expected to easily see off the challenge of (then) team-mate Rio Haryanto, found himself kept more honest by the Indonesian than he would have liked. The Austrian Grand Prix, however, proved a turning point for Wehrlein as he produced a fine drive to finish in tenth place – thus earning Manor their first point for 2016.
Since then, the 2015 DTM champion has been in impressive form, and qualifying in a solid P14 in Monza means that he has advanced to the second segment of qualifying in both of the last two races. Unfortunately for Wehrlein, he was forced to retire due to mechanical gremlins while running in a handy P13 on Sunday. However, his current eye-catching performances are coming at the right time for the youngster as he seeks to move up the grid.
Toro Rosso’s 2015 engine has finally caught up with them
With Toro Rosso making use of a 2015-spec Ferrari engine, it was expected that the Faenza-based squad would begin to struggle as the season wore on due to the progress of their rivals on the power unit front. The team made the most of the woes surrounding the Renault and Honda power units to score some strong points in the first half of the season.
However, their performance in Monza made it clear that such days are behind them, at least for 2016. Both Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat were nowhere near the top ten all weekend, and with both McLaren drivers easily finishing ahead of Sainz after Kvyat’s early retirement, it is clear that the 2015 Ferrari engine is now the worst one on the grid.
With 45 points to their name, Toro Rosso remain in a respectable seventh position in the Constructor’s Championship, but their ability to add significantly to that total will be limited for the rest of the season.
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