Nico Rosberg stunned everyone by clinching his first-ever victory at Monza, the home of Ferrari and the venue of the Italian Grand Prix. This was Rosberg’s 21st career win, and his successive ‘first-ever’ win after he won the Belgian Grand Prix last weekend. Maybe, Rosberg suffers from major ‘fear of missing out’ or FOMO (as its popularly called on social media) and that’s a good thing for him, as he’s chasing his first-ever Drivers’ Championship title.
With this win, Rosberg is now just two points behind his team-mate and arch rival Lewis Hamilton in the Drivers’ Championship and ahead on overall tally of wins this season with seven wins over Hamilton’s six. We have said it before and we will say it again – the 2016 Formula 1 season will be one of the most closely contested seasons we have seen in a while. So make sure you adjust your calendars for the remaining seven races.
Lewis Hamilton lost the race right at the start. This is after clinching an unbeatable pole position on Saturday, a humiliating four-tenths ahead of Rosberg – which could be considered as a mile in Formula 1 terms. If our math is correct, this was Hamilton’s sixth pole position of the season, but he’s won just twice from this position. For those interested in statistics, 13 out of last 17 Grand Prix races (barring the 2016 edition) held in Monza were won from pole. Imagine that odds that beat Hamilton.
Despite the Mercedes dominance, the one big rule change that has made racing interesting this season is the introduction of manual starts. Drivers now have to line up their car, engage start mode and settings, and launch once the lights go out all by themselves – without help from the pit wall. This single rule has allowed us interesting opening lap combinations that have then made a few races interesting.
If the Belgian Grand Prix saw the ‘Orange Army’ in attendance and in support of Max Verstappen, at the Italian Grand Prix, there was a ‘sea of red’ as the tifosi came out in strong support of their favourite team – Ferrari. The race also had the senior management in attendance – adding more pressure to a team already under enough pressure. Whether Ferrari’s third place finish with Sebastian Vettel was cheered by the team or not, the fans certainly loved seeing ‘red’ on the podium.
Given the low downforce nature of the circuit, it was known pre-race that Red Bull Racing would lose ground to Mercedes and Ferrari, and that their best bet would be to finish fifth and sixth. After a series of interesting on-track overtakes, Daniel Ricciardo and Verstappen did very well to finish fifth and seventh respectively – this is after overtaking two Mercedes powered cars on a circuit where the Renault engine would have a power deficit. Which makes us wonder if Daniel Ricciardo’s overtake of Valtteri Bottas was the best of the season (yet)?
Meanwhile, Ferrari narrowed the second place points gap withRed Bull Racing in the Constructors’ Championship to 11 points. This will be an interesting battle that will go down till the wire – much like Rosberg vs Hamilton. Ferrari’s challenge will be bolstered by the fact that Kimi Raikkonen seems to be scoring to his (and his car’s) potential, finally. Whereas for Red Bull Racing, they know that many of the upcoming circuits (Singapore, Suzuka, etc.) suit their high downforce configuration car better. The other point that Red Bull Racing would’ve noted is that while their prodigy Verstappen is bringing them extra attention, Ricciardo has been the silent performer who has brought them the podiums and points this season. Indeed, Ricciardo has outscored Verstappen four times in the last four races.
In the Force India vs Williams battle, Force India lost ground by five points with both teams managing to finish both their cars among the points. We were a little puzzled with Force India’s lack of performance given that Spa and Monza have been happy hunting grounds for the team in the past. Their drivers complained of lack of balance all through the weekend and much like the Red Bull Racing-Ferrari battle, this battle too will depend on ‘circuit characteristics suiting cars’ theory. For all our readers in India, we’re backing Force India to finish fourth.
The Italian Grand Prix is also known in some ways for driver announcements – extension, transfer or even retirements. After Felipe Massa announced his retirement on Thursday, it was Jenson Button’s turn to announce his on Saturday. Although, the 2009 World Champion used the word ‘sabbatical’ and emphasised that he wasn’t ‘retiring’.
In a joint statement with Mclaren, Button announced that he would take a break from racing in 2017 but still remain with Mclaren as their ambassador and would help develop their car or race for them, as needed. The strange part is that it isn’t only the Mclaren car that needs development, it is the Honda engine that does as well. The stranger part of his announcement was that he had the option to come back and race in 2018, if a seat was available and if the Mclaren car was finally competitive.
Mclaren have covered their base by keeping Button handy for 2018, in case his replacement Stoffel Vandoorne fails to live up to expectations or if Fernando Alonso decides to retire. But if the Mclaren does turn dramatically competitive by 2018, we doubt if Alonso would think of retiring after enduring what he has in the last few seasons.
Finally, on the note of retirement, we hope that the powers that run Formula 1 never retire the circuit of Monza as the venue of the Italian Grand Prix. History of the circuit aside, the passion, the fanaticism and the love that the fans showed during the Grand Prix weekend, is why Formula 1 shouldn’t let go of Monza as it tries to build its market in newer territories.
Kunal Shah is a former racer who was responsible for the Force India F1 Team's business in India for over five years. He writes extensively on Formula 1 on www.kunalsf1blog.com and also hosts the Inside Line F1 Podcast in audio and video. You can follow him on Twitter @kunalashah
Mithila Mehta is an avid Formula 1 fan. She co-hosts the Inside Line F1 Podcast. In addition, she is a journalist and artist. You can read her travel stories on www.miss-wanderlust.com and follow her on Twitter @mith_m