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Vettel sprinting towards 2013 title

It's looking ever more likely that Sebastian Vettel will be 2013 World Champion (Image: Pirelli)

It’s looking ever more likely that Sebastian Vettel will be 2013 World Champion (Image: Pirelli)

The youngest triple World Champion in F1 history is set to become the youngest four-time World Champion at the end of this season. Sebastian Vettel just keeps on winning, and stretching his championship lead. With six races remaining in the season, Vettel is now 60 points ahead of main title rival Fernando Alonso and it’s becoming less and less likely that the Ferrari driver will be able to do anything about the German’s dominance this year.

To put Vettel’s lead into practical terms, let’s take a look at what his rivals must do in order to beat him this season:

Fernando Alonso

Alonso is second in the championship, 60 points behind Vettel. With six races remaining in the season, that means Alonso has to score an average of 10 points more than Vettel per race until the year is over. Plus one point, of course. That’s the equivalent of Alonso winning and Vettel finishing third at each remaining race (If Alonso does that, he only needs to equal Vettel’s points tally, as he will then have more wins, 8, than Vettel, currently on 7).

If Alonso finishes second at each remaining race, Vettel must finish sixth, and once Vettel must finish lower than sixth. If Alonso finishes third, Vettel must be eighth. If Alonso finishes fourth, Vettel must finish ninth, and have one result worse than ninth. If Alonso finishes fifth or lower at every race left in the 2013 season, Vettel will be World Champion, unless of course one of the other title contenders pulls off one of the miracles listed below.

Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton is third in the championship, 96 points behind Vettel. Hamilton must score an average of 16 points more than Vettel at each remaining round, plus 1 more point, in order to be World Champion. Let’s leave the gap to Alonso out of this calculation, as it will just get too complicated.

If Hamilton wins each remaining race and Vettel finishes sixth or lower, Hamilton will win the title. If Hamilton finishes second and Vettel ninth each time, plus one tenth or worse for Vettel, Hamilton will be World Champion. However, if Hamilton finishes an average of third or lower, he is out of the title race, regardless of what Vettel does in the remaining races.

Kimi Raikkonen

Raikkonen is in the same boat as Hamilton, being just two points behind the Mercedes driver. The only difference is Raikkonen needs Vettel to finish tenth or lower three times or worse rather than just once in the event that Raikkonen finishes second at each remaining race.

Mark Webber

Webber is fourth in the championship, 117 points behind Vettel. That means he has to score 19.5 more points per race than Vettel if he is to overhaul his team-mate in the title race. If Webber wins each remaining race, he has to hope that Vettel finishes an average of eighth or lower. If Vettel scores 8 more points than Webber at the next race in Korea, Webber will be mathematically out of the title race.

Nico Rosberg

Rosberg is the last driver in the points table who could still, in theory, beat Vettel to the 2013 title. Vettel is 131 points ahead of Rosberg with six races remaining. If Rosberg wins each race and Vettel finishes ninth or lower each time, Rosberg can be World Champion. However, if Rosberg does not finish at least 6 points ahead of Vettel at the next race in Korea, he will no longer be in contention (realistically or otherwise) for the 2013 title.

Realistically, only Alonso is in with a chance, and it’s a small chance at that. But a single retirement from Vettel could suddenly bring Alonso back into contention. A 60 point gap with 6 races remaining seems enormous. A 35 point gap (which is what it would be if Alonso were to win and Vettel score no points in Korea) with 5 races remaining seems slightly less daunting. Another retirement for Vettel with a win for Alonso would see it fall to 10 points.

At the earliest, Vettel could be crowned 2013 World Champion in Japan on 13 October. That’s if he wins the next two rounds (Korea and Japan) and Alonso scores 10 points or fewer in those two races combined. What happens to the other contenders in those two races is immaterial in that scenario.

So the title race is not over, not by any means, but the odds are stacked heavily in Vettel’s favour. It’s unlikely that he will take the title in Japan, but he could do so at the next race in India. That’s if Vettel wins the next three races, no matter where Alonso finishes.

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Vettel takes charge in Singapore FP2

Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) at Nissan Global H...

Sebastian Vettel is going to be a tough man to beat in Singapore this weekend after he dominated Friday practice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull emerged from second practice in Singapore well on top, as the triple World Champion topped the FP2 times, six tenths ahead of his team-mate, Mark Webber, and a full second faster than the rest of the field. It’s hard to see a way back from here for Vettel’s title rivals this weekend, which will be a situation that well pleases Vettel and Red Bull.

Early in the FP2 session, it looked like Webber might have an edge on Vettel around the streets of Singapore, but Vettel soon put paid to that idea when he bolted on a set of the supersoft option tyres and blasted around the Marina Bay circuit six tenths of a second faster than Webber could manage. In Webber’s defence, he did brush the wall on the exit of turn 21 quite hard on his hot lap, which would have cost him some time, if only as a result of the inevitable small hesitation during the incident.

Ahead of the weekend, Mercedes were optimistic about their chances of challenging for victory, particularly as the high-downforce setup required for Singapore is similar to that used in Hungary, where Lewis Hamilton dominated qualifying and the race. Hamilton started this weekend by setting the fastest time in FP1, but could not maintain his advantage in FP2 and fell to fourth in the times, over a second slower than Sebastian Vettel. Nico Rosberg was a fraction quicker than Hamilton and set the third fastest time for Mercedes.

Fernando Alonso, who is Vettel’s major title rival this season, struggled for pace and could only manage sixth fastest in FP2, 1.442 seconds off Vettel’s time. While the pace of the Ferrari might not be quite as poor as that comparison suggests, it looks like Ferrari may at least be struggling for pace over a single lap, which will hurt their qualifying performance on Saturday evening. And qualifying is so crucial in Singapore, where passing is difficult due to the tight and twisty nature of the street circuit.

Kimi Raikkonen, who by now is probably out of the title chase, could only manage the eighth fastest time, just over a third of his team-mate, Romain Grosjean, who was fifth fastest, and a 1.529 seconds slower than pace-setter Vettel. The lack of pace of the Lotus is a surprise, as they were expected to be quick in high-downforce configuration, but it’s still early in the weekend and there could still be more pace available from the Lotus E21.

At the back of the field, the order normalised in FP2, with Caterham drivers Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic setting times marginally quicker than the Marussia pair of Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi. In FP1, the Marussia drivers had both been quicker than the Caterhams, which is unusual given the recent form of the two teams. Max Chilton will be pleased with his performance in FP2, as he was quicker than Bianchi, something that hasn’t happened very often this season.

Williams appear to be continuing their difficult season, and look to be well off the pace of the top ten, suggesting that they will struggle to score points on Sunday. Valtteri Bottas was 17th fastest, 3.185 seconds off the pace, with Pastor Maldonado a further third of a second back in 18th place. Maldonado damaged his front wing against the wall after misjudging his braking during the session. That was the most eventful incident of the day, highlighting just how accurate Formula One drivers are around a tight street circuit.

Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg has so far not managed to repeat the miracles he performed two weeks ago at Monza, where he qualified third and finished fifth in the Italian Grand Prix. He could do no better than 14th fastest in FP2, well over 2 seconds off the pace. In the other Sauber, Esteban Gutierrez was 16th, a further half second behind his team-mate.

Full results from FP2:

Pos No Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:44.249 34
2 2 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:44.853 0.604 30
3 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:45.258 1.009 34
4 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:45.368 1.119 33
5 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:45.411 1.162 18
6 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:45.691 1.442 32
7 5 Jenson Button McLaren 1:45.754 1.505 30
8 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:45.778 1.529 32
9 15 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:46.002 1.753 27
10 6 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:46.025 1.776 31
11 19 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:46.406 2.157 34
12 18 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:46.429 2.180 33
13 14 Paul di Resta Force India 1:46.606 2.357 33
14 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:46.808 2.559 36
15 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:46.870 2.621 33
16 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:47.287 3.038 29
17 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:47.434 3.185 33
18 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:47.761 3.512 25
19 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:49.434 5.185 34
20 20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:49.526 5.277 34
21 23 Max Chilton Marussia 1:49.619 5.370 33
22 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:49.731 5.482 30

Hamilton well in front in Singapore FP1

Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time in FP1 in Singapore (Mercedes)

Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time in FP1 in Singapore (Mercedes)

Lewis Hamilton has set the fastest time in first practice for the Singapore Grand Prix by a convincing margin, over a third of a second ahead of the leading Red Bull of Mark Webber. Sebastian Vettel set the third fastest time, almost half a second behind his team-mate Webber, with Nico Rosberg fourth for Mercedes.

There are some changes to the Marina Bay street circuit this year. The notorious “Singapore Sling”, the turn 10 triple-apex chicane has been replaced by a smooth, quicker left-hand corner, to the general approval of the drivers. In 2010, Lewis Hamilton described the corner as “the worst corner I’ve ever driven in Formula 1,” which suggests it will not be missed at all.

That’s the only change to the layout, but there appear to have been some changes to the track surface. It’s normal to have a patchy surface on a street circuit, as the track uses public roads that have to be maintained from time to time. But this year it looks like large sections of the road surface have been replaced, possibly with better tarmac. Some parts of the surface are significantly darker than others, and they appear to be rubbering in faster than the rest of the surface, as Lewis Hamilton commented on his team radio during the session.

The result of the changes to the track, together with the inevitable car development that takes place in Formula One, is significantly increased lap times around the circuit. Hamilton’s leading FP1 time was 3.5 seconds faster than last year’s fastest first practice time. Hamilton’s time is also just seven tenths of a second slower than his own pole position time from 2012, and that’s before any of the drivers have run the option tyres at all this weekend, nevermind on low fuel.

It’s always tough to predict Sunday results on the basis of Friday running, but the early indications are that Mercedes and Red Bull are quick around the streets of Singapore. Ferrari have probably not shown their pace yet, which is not unusual for the Italian team at this stage of the weekend. Ferrari have brought some new parts to Singapore, including a new diffuser, and likely used the FP1 session to test the new pieces rather than look for ultimate lap time.

Lotus are also looking reasonably strong, albeit over a second off the pace of Hamilton in FP1. But they could well have much more pace available in the Lotus E21 than we’ve seen in the first session. FP2 and FP3 will provide a much better idea of the running order.

Somehow, all 22 drivers avoided crashing out of the FP1 session. The streets of singapore are slippery early in the weekend and the walls are always close under braking and on the corner exits. A number of drivers brushed the walls (Giedo van der Garde managed it twice) but there seemed to be no resulting damage. Kimi Raikkonen and Sergio Perez each had to execute a half spin to rejoin the track after getting their braking wrong and taking to a run-off area, illustrating just how accurate the drivers need to be to stay on line.

At the back of the grid, the order was reversed from the last few races. Marussia’s two drivers were quicker than their Caterham counterparts. Marussia started the season well, and as a result currently sit 10th in the Constructors’ Championship. Caterham have developed faster than Marussia through the season, however, to the point that they have seemed for most of the year to have a significant edge on their rivals. But in Singapore, for whatever reason, the order has returned to what it was when the season started.

Full results from FP1:

Pos No Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:47.055 20
2 2 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:47.420 0.365 20
3 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:47.885 0.830 19
4 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:48.239 1.184 23
5 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:48.354 1.299 18
6 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:48.355 1.300 12
7 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:48.362 1.307 21
8 6 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:49.267 2.212 20
9 18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:49.348 2.293 23
10 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:49.355 2.300 21
11 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:49.481 2.426 20
12 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:49.493 2.438 16
13 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:49.510 2.455 21
14 5 Jenson Button McLaren 1:49.608 2.553 20
15 14 Paul di Resta Force India 1:49.887 2.832 18
16 15 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:50.092 3.037 20
17 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:50.222 3.167 17
18 19 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:50.757 3.702 16
19 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:52.359 5.304 16
20 23 Max Chilton Marussia 1:52.673 5.618 15
21 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:52.920 5.865 24
22 20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:53.647 6.592 23

Vettel has one hand on the title after Monza win

Sebastian Vettel celebrates his Italian Grand Prix victory on the Monza podium (Photo: Ferrari)

Sebastian Vettel celebrates his Italian Grand Prix victory on the Monza podium (Photo: Ferrari)

Sebastian Vettel is now looking almost certain to make it four consecutive World Drivers’ Championship, after taking a dominant victory at Monza ahead of his main (and now realistically only) title rival, Fernando Alonso. Vettel is 53 points ahead of Alonso at the top of the drivers’ table with seven races remaining in the season.

To put Vettel’s lead into perspective: If Alonso wins the next two races and Vettel takes a two-race holiday, Vettel will still have a three point lead going into the Japanese Grand Prix on 13 October.

Another illustration: If Vettel comes second in each of the remaining seven races, he will take the title, even if Alonso wins every time. Vettel’s lead is massive.

And how did Vettel get to this point? By taking yet another comfortable and controlled victory. This time it was at Ferrari’s home race, which is at least part of the reason for all the booing directed at him on the podium. Vettel led from the start, losing the lead only briefly when he pitted earlier than a couple of the cars running close to the front. As soon as they changed tyres, he was back in the lead and far enough in front that there was never any real threat to him from Alonso and Webber behind.

Alonso played his part superbly, making an aggressive pass on Webber when the opportunity presented itself and accepting a position from Felipe Massa when it was offered. But ultimately, the Ferrari was no match for the Red Bull and Alonso had no real chance of catching Vettel. Even in the closing stages, when Vettel was told by his team to manage a potential gearbox issue, Alonso was not quick enough to catch Vettel by the chequered flag.

Mark Webber stood on the podium for the first time at Monza, by taking third place for Red Bull. It’s the last time Webber will stand on the podium at a European Formula One race, as the European season is now over and Webber is leaving Formula One at the end of 2013. He looked quite pleased with his performance at Monza, but was not altogether thrilled at the booing directed at Vettel by the crowd. Webber, like many viewers, thought it was in bad taste.

Felipe Massa had a strong race without as much reward as he perhaps deserved. He finished fourth for Ferrari, but it could easily have been third had he not lost out to Webber as a result of pit strategy. Massa passed Webber off the start line and stayed ahead until the first round of pitstops, but emerged from the pits behind Webber. From then on, Massa as unable to make much of an impact on the Red Bull ahead, and finished 3 seconds behind Webber.

Arguably the drive of  the day came from Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg, who finished a very impressive fifth after qualifying an astonishing third on Saturday. Hulkenberg lost two places on the opening lap, but then held position until the end of the race, except for a brief period when Kimi Raikkonen was ahead of him through use of a different strategy. Ultimately, however, Raikkonen had to pit again, which gave the place back to Hulkenberg. It’s his highest finish for Sauber and Sauber’s strongest result of the season, which will certainly have buoyed the Swiss team.

Hulkenberg is one candidate to take the place of Felipe Massa at Ferrari in 2014. An announcement is expected from Maranello in the next few days. Hulkenberg’s performance at Monza demonstrates quite clearly that he is worthy of a drive in a stronger team. If not Ferrari, there will no doubt be other teams interested in signing him for next season, possibly including the Lotus team.

Mercedes had a tough Sunday afternoon. Nico Rosberg started and finished sixth, and was unable to make much of an impression on Nico Hulkenberg, despite being quite close to the Sauber throughout the race. Lewis Hamilton had a strong start from 12th on the grid, and was up to 10th on the opening lap, but an early slow puncture wrecked his strategy and Hamilton had his work cut out to score points with the disadvantage of making an extra pitstop. To add to that, his radio was not working for almost the entire race, which meant the team had only the pit board to use for communication with their driver.

Hamilton nonetheless put in an entertaining drive and finished ninth after fighting his way through the field from 14th after his second pitstop. It was, however, not enough to keep him realistically in with a chance of taking the 2013 Drivers’ Championship, which he admitted was now out of reach after the race.

Daniel Ricciardo celebrated his recent signing for Red Bull by finishing seventh for Toro Rosso, exactly where he started. He was followed home by Romain Grosjean’s Lotus, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes and the McLaren of Jenson Button, who took home a single point after a frustrating Sunday.

Button’s problems started before the race even began, when a problem was discovered with his fuel system. The McLaren team had their work cut out to repair the car in time for Button to make the grid, which they managed, but then in the race, Button and Perez discovered they lacked straight-line speed compared to their rivals. It turned out that McLaren had miscalculated when choosing gear ratios for the race, and had selected a top gear that was slightly too short. Consequently, Button and Perez were handicapped in any battles they had on the track. One point was a small victory for Button considering the circumstances.

Force India’s day was a disaster. Paul Di Resta misjudged his braking for the second chicane on the opening lap and cannoned into the back of Romain Grosjean’s Lotus, destroying the front of the Force India in the process and putting him out of the race. Surprisingly, Grosjean seemed quite unaffected by the incident and went on to finish eighth. Force India’s troubles weren’t over, however, and Adrian Sutil retired from the race at the end of the penultimate lap with a brake issue. He was not in the points at the time, so the retirement cost him nothing, but it was the end of a miserable weekend for Force India.

Williams were another team that went unrewarded for a weekend’s hard work. Maldonado and Bottas had an incident-free race, but just did not have the pace to challenge for points. It was a little surprising to see them struggle so much, as Maldonado in particular had been quite confident about the race pace of his Williams after qualifying on Saturday.

Formula One now heads to Asia for a few races, the first of which is the Singapore Grand Prix on 22 September.

Full results from the Italian Grand Prix:

Pos No Driver Team Laps Time Grid Pts
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 53 Winner 1 25
2 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 53 +5.4 secs 5 18
3 2 Mark Webber Red Bull 53 +6.3 secs 2 15
4 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 53 +9.3 secs 4 12
5 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 53 +10.3 secs 3 10
6 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 53 +10.9 secs 6 8
7 19 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 53 +32.3 secs 7 6
8 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 53 +33.1 secs 13 4
9 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 53 +33.5 secs 12 2
10 5 Jenson Button McLaren 53 +38.3 secs 9 1
11 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 53 +38.6 secs 11
12 6 Sergio Perez McLaren 53 +39.7 secs 8
13 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 53 +40.8 secs 16
14 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams 53 +49.0 secs 14
15 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 53 +56.8 secs 18
16 15 Adrian Sutil Force India 52 +1 Lap 17
17 20 Charles Pic Caterham 52 +1 Lap 20
18 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 52 +1 Lap 19
19 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 52 +1 Lap 21
20 23 Max Chilton Marussia 52 +1 Lap 22
Ret 18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 14 +39 Laps 10
Ret 14 Paul di Resta Force India 0 Accident 15

Vettel takes Red Bull’s 50th pole position at Monza

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber locked out the front row at Monza, with Hulkenberg third (Sauber Motorsport AG)

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber locked out the front row at Monza, with Hulkenberg third (Sauber Motorsport AG)

Sebastian Vettel lapped the Autodromo Nazionale Monza faster than anyone else during today’s qualifying session, and thereby secured his 40th career pole position, and his Red Bull team’s 50th pole position. Mark Webber completed the front row for Red Bull, and was followed by the unlikely figure of Nico Hulkenberg in third for Sauber.

Vettel’s dominance at Red Bull over the last few seasons has been staggering. Out of 50 pole positions for the Red Bull team in their short history, Vettel has secured 39. The other 11 have gone to Mark Webber. That’s 39-11 in Vettel’s favour when it comes to pole positions. Not even vaguely close. Interestingly, Vettel now has four pole positions this season and has outqualified Webber at every race so far in 2013, highlighting just how well Vettel is driving during qualifying. Vettel’s speed is clearly not just about the car. He is in imperious form.

Mark Webber appears to be much more relaxed after he took the decision earlier in the season to leave Formula One at the end of 2013. Although he missed out on pole position, he appeared quite happy to be starting tomorrow’s race from second on the grid and seemed quite unconcerned about his inability to best Vettel this afternoon.

Nico Hulkenberg’s third place in qualifying is his strongest qualifying result since taking pole position at the 2010 Brazilian Grand Prix for Williams. It’s a surprising result, as the 2013 Sauber has not been an impressive car at any stage of the season thus far, and this is only the fourth time Hulkenberg has featured in Q3 in 2013. Hulkenberg has a real chance of delivering a strong points finish from third on the grid, as the Ferrari engine in his Sauber will deliver plenty of straight-line speed and there are very few corners at Monza to highlight the car’s weaknesses.

Felipe Massa outqualified Fernando Alonso for only the fourth time this season. The Brazilian was just one hundredth of a second faster than his team-mate, and less than a tenth of a second slower than Hulkenberg in third place. Last year, Massa had a very strong Italian Grand Prix, and he will be hoping to repeat the performance this time round, as it could help him to hold onto his seat at Ferrari beyond the end of the season.

Unusually in 2013, the first of the Mercedes drivers is down in sixth position. Nico Rosberg missed out on most of FP3 with an hydraulic problem, and consequently was on the back foot from the start of qualifying. He made the most of a difficult situation and set the sixth fastest time in Q3. In the other Mercedes, however, Lewis Hamilton had his worst qualifying session since 2010, missing out on Q3 after damaging the floor of his car during an off-track excursion in Q2 and failing to find the speed he needed to make it into the top ten as a result. He was also impeded on his final Q2 run by Adrian Sutil, who received a three-place grid penalty for his troubles. Hamilton was not, however, on a particularly quick lap and probably would have been eliminated in Q2 anyway.

Toro Rosso drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne are having a strong home grand prix weekend. Scuderia Toro Rosso is based in Italy, but that is easily forgotten by the home fans who seem to have interest in nothing but Ferrari. However, within the Toro Rosso team there is a determination to deliver strong results at Monza, and the drivers are well placed to do so. Ricciardo will start the Italian Grand Prix from seventh on the grid, with Vergne tenth.

Sergio Perez and Jenson Button split the Toro Rossos in qualifying, and will start the race from eighth and ninth on the grid. Monza is a track where the McLaren could deliver good results, despite the team having had a disappointing season thus far. Their Mercedes engines provide plenty of power, which will help them in a straight line and aid overtaking. If they are to have a chance of a podium in 2013, it’s at Monza. Last year the race was won by Lewis Hamilton in a McLaren, and Sergio Perez (who replaced Hamilton at McLaren this season) finished second in a Sauber.

Lotus had a qualifying session to forget. Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean simply did not have the pace to proceed to Q3 and qualified 11th and 13th on merit. They face a long Sunday afternoon in Italy, as the Lotus E21 is simply not suited to the high-speed, low downforce Monza circuit. However, there is the possibility of rain during the race, which could bring the Lotus drivers into contention.

Full results from qualifying:

 

Pos No Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Laps
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:24.319 1:23.977 1:23.755 15
2 2 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:24.923 1:24.263 1:23.968 18
3 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:24.776 1:24.305 1:24.065 21
4 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:24.950 1:24.479 1:24.132 21
5 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:24.661 1:24.227 1:24.142 15
6 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:24.527 1:24.393 1:24.192 26
7 19 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:24.655 1:24.290 1:24.209 24
8 6 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:24.635 1:24.592 1:24.502 17
9 5 Jenson Button McLaren 1:24.739 1:24.563 1:24.515 21
10 18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:24.630 1:24.575 1:28.050 20
11 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:24.819 1:24.610 16
12 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:24.589 1:24.803 14
13 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:24.737 1:24.848 14
14 15 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:25.030 1:24.932 19
15 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:24.905 1:25.011 19
16 14 Paul di Resta Force India 1:25.009 1:25.077 18
17 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:25.226 13
18 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:25.291 11
19 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:26.406 9
20 20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:26.563 10
21 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:27.085 11
22 23 Max Chilton Marussia 1:27.480 10
Q1 107% Time 1:30.221

Alonso inches closer to Vettel in Monza FP3

Fernando Alonso closed the gap to Sebastian Vettel in FP3 at Monza (Ferrari)

Fernando Alonso closed the gap to Sebastian Vettel in FP3 at Monza (Ferrari)

After third (and final) practice for the Italian Grand Prix, it’s still all about Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel. The World Champion topped the times again, this time by just over a quarter of a second, and this time the man in second place was Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. Mark Webber followed in third place for Red Bull, ahead of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.

Vettel knows just how important this weekend could be for him and his team. Monza is not normally a circuit that suits Red Bull, as it is all about top speed and that has been one of the few weaknesses of Red Bull’s cars over the past few seasons. After the Italian Grand Prix, most of the remaining circuits in the season will suit the Red Bull, which means Monza is Alonso’s best chance to take points off Vettel and move the momentum in the championship back towards Ferrari.

If Vettel can win at Monza, Ferrari’s home race and traditionally Red Bull’s weakest venue, it will be morale-shattering for Ferrari and Alonso. It would also make things mathematically very difficult for Alonso. A Vettel win this weekend with Alonso second would increase the gap at the top of the championship to 53 points with 7 races remaining. That would be enough of a gap for Vettel to win the title by finishing second in each remaining race, even if Alonso were to win every time.

Mercedes have seemed a little at sea this weekend. Hamilton topped the times in FP1, but has not been in the top three since. He set the fourth fastest time in FP3, 0.352 seconds off the pace. Nico Rosberg was hardly in the session at all, as what appeared to be a gearbox issue sidelined him after he had completed just five timed laps, none of which were indicative of his true pace. He registered the slowest time in the session.

Force India had a troubled FP3 session. Paul di Resta went straight on at the final corner, Parabolica, and went nose-first into the barrier, knocking off his front wing. There was no major damage to the car, however, and he should have no trouble taking part in qualifying. Shortly after Di Resta’s crash, Adrian Sutil spun in the Ascari chicane in the other Force india.

It’s looking good for Williams this weekend, with Pastor Maldonado squeaking into the top ten in final practice, just three quarters of a second off the pace. He will be looking to qualify in the top ten if possible, and then the target will be points on Sunday.

Daniel Ricciardo is having a strong weekend for Toro Rosso, celebrating his recent signing for Red Bull by going sixth fastest in FP3, just over half a second off the pace of his 2014 team-mate Sebastian Vettel. Monza is Toro Rosso’s home race, the team being based in Italy, and it would be a welcome parting gift if Ricciardo could deliver a strong points finish this weekend.

Full results from FP3:

Pos No Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:24.360 18
2 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:24.643 0.283 13
3 2 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:24.677 0.317 22
4 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:24.712 0.352 17
5 6 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:24.864 0.504 19
6 19 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:24.865 0.505 19
7 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:24.995 0.635 14
8 5 Jenson Button McLaren 1:25.103 0.743 15
9 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:25.116 0.756 20
10 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:25.120 0.760 18
11 18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:25.136 0.776 16
12 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:25.273 0.913 21
13 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:25.324 0.964 22
14 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:25.499 1.139 17
15 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:25.660 1.300 21
16 15 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:25.702 1.342 19
17 14 Paul di Resta Force India 1:26.120 1.760 11
18 20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:26.607 2.247 21
19 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:27.172 2.812 20
20 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:27.605 3.245 18
21 23 Max Chilton Marussia 1:27.665 3.305 18
22 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:27.822 3.462 5

Monza FP2: Red Bull on top, Lotuses set identical times

Kimi Raikkonen set an identical lap time to his team-mate Romain Grosjean in FP2 at Monza (Andrew Ferraro/Lotus F1 )

Kimi Raikkonen set an identical lap time to his team-mate Romain Grosjean in FP2 at Monza (Andrew Ferraro/Lotus F1)

Red Bull surprised everyone by setting the fastest and second fastest times in the second Free Practice session for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix. If Red Bull’s cars have a weakness, it’s normally straight-line speed. At Monza, straight-line speed is normally everything. But somehow, Red Bull have managed to be quickest without featuring in the top six through the speed trap. Vettel led the way, six tenths faster than Webber in the second Red Bull, who was just a fraction ahead of the Lotus pair of Raikkonen and Grosjean who set identical lap times.

Friday practice times are almost always bad predictors of qualifying and race pace. But they are there, and some analysis is possible, however limited the usefulness of practice times may be. However, it is important to remember that fuel loads can and do vary across the field, which does skew the lap times. In addition, not all of the teams are always running as fast as possible. It is not necessarily in the interests of the top teams to show their pace early in the weekend. There is some incentive to keep a little bit of pace in reserve until qualifying.

The first feature of Friday’s practice worth examining is the massive gap between Vettel and Webber at the top of the times. It’s universally acknowledged that Vettel is the better driver, but no amount of extra talent will result in a lap time six tenths faster than an experienced driver in the same car. Vettel was 0.623 seconds faster than Webber on the option tyres at a similar time in the practice session. Red Bull must have been testing different setups on the two cars, even if the only difference was fuel load. Either that or Webber made a mistake on his first hot lap on the option tyres.

What is ominous, if it is representative of the relative performance of the cars, is the gap from Vettel to the other, non-Red Bull, drivers. Two thirds of a second is a lot of time. If the Red Bull really is that much faster than the rest of the field, then Sunday will be a walk in the park for Vettel, unless it rains of course (it very well might).

Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean performed a trick that doesn’t happen often in Formula One. They set identical lap times. Completely coincidentally of course. There’s no way they could have done that on purpose. Each did a lap in 1 minute 25.116 seconds. The fact that they did the same time driving for the same team might seem to make it more likely – you might assume that they each reached the limit of the car’s capabilities and therefore the same lap time was, more or less, inevitable.

The thing is, they didn’t actually do the time in the same machinery. To the casual observer, their cars look the same. They’re each driving a Lotus E21 with a Renault engine and Pirelli tyres. But Kimi Raikkonen’s E21 is a little bit longer than Romain Grosjean’s E21. That’s because Lotus brought a longer wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles) version of their car to Monza and put Kimi Raikkonen in it for Friday practice.

A longer wheelbase car makes a few differences. Perhaps most importantly at Monza, where it’s all about high-speed and braking, a longer wheelbase car should provide improved braking stability. This is because there is weight transfer from the rear axle to the front axle under braking, but the amount of weight transferred is reduced in a longer wheelbase car. So, in theory, Raikkonen should be able to brake harder and later than Grosjean from the same speed for the same corner, and consequently should have some time in hand over his team-mate.

But that’s not the case. Perhaps there are some issues with the longer E21. Perhaps Raikkonen was running marginally more fuel than Grosjean. Perhaps there is some other reason why the two cars are delivering exactly the same level of performance.

Monza is known as the “Temple of Speed” for a reason. It’s the fastest track on the F1 calendar (and has been for quite some time). The fastest speed recorded so far this weekend is 339km/h by Daniel Ricciardo in a Toro Rosso. That’s also the top speed reached so far this season. So it would be expected that the cars with the most powerful engines should be very quick. The most powerful engine in Formula One, by reputation at least, is made by Mercedes. Next up is the Ferrari engine.

So Mercedes and Ferrari should be topping the times at Monza. They did just that in FP1, when Lewis Hamilton was quickest ahead of Fernando Alonso. But in FP2 the situation was the opposite of what was expected. Red Bull and Lotus filled the top four positions, all using Renault engines – reputedly the least powerful of those used by the top teams. Either Renault have found some extra power (which could only be down to the limited development allowed in fuels and oils, as engine development is forbidden), or the Mercedes and Ferrari-powered teams are hiding their pace. We shall find out tomorrow when the cars take to the track for qualifying.

Full results from FP2:

Pos No Driver Team Time/Retired Gap Laps
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:24.453 39
2 2 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:25.076 0.623 39
3 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:25.116 0.663 36
4 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:25.116 0.663 40
5 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:25.330 0.877 38
6 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:25.340 0.887 39
7 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:25.367 0.914 42
8 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:25.519 1.066 29
9 5 Jenson Button McLaren 1:25.532 1.079 42
10 6 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:25.627 1.174 39
11 14 Paul di Resta Force India 1:25.830 1.377 40
12 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:25.888 1.435 40
13 15 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:26.028 1.575 37
14 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:26.138 1.685 36
15 18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:26.224 1.771 32
16 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:26.385 1.932 43
17 19 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:26.599 2.146 39
18 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:27.198 2.745 44
19 23 Max Chilton Marussia 1:27.548 3.095 30
20 20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:27.696 3.243 37
21 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:27.771 3.318 38
22 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:28.057 3.604 32
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