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:
|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|
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:
|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|
|7||19||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso||1:24.655||1:24.290||1:24.209||24|
|10||18||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||1:24.630||1:24.575||1:28.050||20|
|14||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India||1:25.030||1:24.932||19|
|16||14||Paul di Resta||Force India||1:25.009||1:25.077||18|
|19||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham||1:26.406||9|
|Q1 107% Time||1:30.221|
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:
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||1:24.360||18|
|3||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull||1:24.677||0.317||22|
|6||19||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso||1:24.865||0.505||19|
|11||18||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||1:25.136||0.776||16|
|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|
|19||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham||1:27.172||2.812||20|
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:
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||1:24.453||39|
|2||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull||1:25.076||0.623||39|
|11||14||Paul di Resta||Force India||1:25.830||1.377||40|
|13||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India||1:26.028||1.575||37|
|15||18||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||1:26.224||1.771||32|
|17||19||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso||1:26.599||2.146||39|
|21||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham||1:27.771||3.318||38|