If you want to be loved by the Tifosi (Ferrari fans), you must win at Monza in a Ferrari. Schumacher did so at his first attempt, in the 1996 Italian Grand Prix. It was not a likely victory.
Throughout the 1996 season, Ferrari had struggled with unreliability. In the 13 races preceding the Italian Grand Prix, Schumacher had retired six times, five due to failures on the car. The most embarrassing of the retirements came in France, where Schumacher’s Ferrari engine failed on the warm-up lap, before the race had even begun.
Schumacher had won twice already in 1996. First in Spain in torrential rain, where he produced arguably one of the greatest drives in the history of Formula One. Then in Belgium, where tactics and a quick and unusually reliable Ferrari helped him to his second victory of the season.
Schumacher qualified third for the Italian Grand Prix, as usual just behind the Williams pair of Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve. A poor start from Schumacher put him down to sixth place by the end of the first lap, and gave him plenty of work to do if he wanted to achieve a good result at Ferrari’s home race.
David Coulthard, who was running fifth for McLaren, was soon out of Schumacher’s way and beached in the gravel trap at the Roggia chicane. Schumacher then set about attacking Jacques Villeneuve for fourth position. He swept by the Canadian’s Williams into the Ascari chicane and then chased after the leading trio of Hill, Alesi and Hakkinen.
On lap 3, Hakkinen clipped a heap of tyres that had been placed on the apex of one of the chicanes to prevent drivers from cutting the corners (an astoundingly dangerous strategy by the stewards) and damaged his front wing, making him vulnerable to Schumacher who was closing quickly. Schumacher looked for a way past during the fourth lap, but could not get close enough to the McLaren in a straight line and had to wait until Hakkinen peeled off into the pits at the end of the lap for a front wing change. Now in third place after four laps, Schumacher chased after Alesi in second and Hill in the lead.
Lap 6 saw the sudden and unexpected retirement of Damon Hill. In a momentary lapse of concentration, Hill hit the tyres on the right-hand part of the second Retiffilo chicane, breaking the front suspension of his Williams and spinning him into retirement. Hill’s accident gifted the lead to Alesi and promoted Schumacher to second place.
Within a few laps, Schumacher had inched his way up to the back of Jean Alesi‘s Benetton and was pressuring for the lead. But Alesi held his own well, keeping Schumacher behind until it was time for Alesi to peel off into the pits and take on a fresh set of tyres and fuel to last until the end of the race. Schumacher stayed out, taking over the lead at the end of the 31st lap to the delight of the Ferrari fans, and began to push, delivering the fastest lap of the race the next time round.
On lap 33, Schumacher pitted for his one and only fuel and tyre stop. He had been pushing hard to make up ground on Alesi, and it paid off. Schumacher emerged from the pit lane well clear of Alesi’s Benetton, and the Italian crowd rose to their feet with joy at having a Ferrari out in front at Monza.
From that point on, Schumacher had only to keep going to take his first Italian Grand Prix victory. He was comfortably faster than Alesi, even without pushing, which meant only a mistake or mechanical failure could come between him and victory. But the drama was not quite over yet. Several drivers had retired or had to pit for new front wings after clipping the tyres that were sitting at each apex of the chicanes. With just over 10 laps remaining in the race, Schumacher clipped the tyre stack with his left front tyre in the first Retiffilo chicane. Fortunately, there was no major damage, just a small vibration that disappeared as the race went on. But it was a close call for Schumacher, and he gave the tyres a wide berth for the rest of the race.
Schumacher held on to win the race by 18 seconds from Jean Alesi, and set the fastest lap of the race with 3 laps to go. Mika Hakkinen finished third for McLaren. It was the first Ferrari win at Monza since Gerhard Berger won in 1988, and was the first of five wins for Schumacher at the historic circuit.
After the race, Schumacher was visibly jubilant on the podium as he took in the scene of thousands of Ferrari fans crowding towards him on the main straight of Monza. Afterwards, he described the experience of standing on the Monza podium:
“I have never seen such emotion. It’s crazy. It is only possible in Italy. It’s fantastic. You get goose bumps everywhere. They have waited a long time for this and they deserve it.”
Michael Schumacher would experience the thrill of victory at Monza another four times in his career – in 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2006 – and would never win the Italian Grand Prix in any car other than a Ferrari.
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|
Lewis Hamilton may have won Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix from pole position, but the drive of the day undoubtedly came from Sauber’s Sergio Perez.
Perez started down in 12th position, after failing to make Q3 in qualifying. While his grid position was not ideal, the young Mexican made the most of circumstances by choosing to start on the hard tyres, while those ahead of him were on the softer (and therefore less durable) medium-compound tyres. The choice of tyres proved to be inspired, as it enabled Perez to run long in his first stint. Running the medium tyre in the latter part of the race gave him a distinct pace advantage, and having fresher tyres than everyone else (due to pitting later) allowed him to push all the way to the flag.
Perez’s careful tyre management saw him move from the middle of the pack at the start of the race to second by the end. He passed both Ferraris like they were standing still and would have needed only a handful more laps to catch and pass Lewis Hamilton for the lead. As it happened, Perez ran out of laps and Hamilton took a well-deserved victory, but Sauber and Perez showed once again that they are capable of challenging right at the front.
A crucial part of Perez’s performance was his own driving style. The car is clearly quick and kind to its tyres, but it required sublimely smooth and controlled driving to preserve tyre performance throughout the race. Perez is only in his second season of Formula One, but is already showing remarkable maturity behind the wheel.
This is the third such impressive performance from Perez this season, the previous two being in Malaysia and Canada, where he also featured on the podium after smooth, measured performances. As a result of his consistent season, Perez is ahead of Ferrari’s Felipe Massa in the championship, which is significant given that Sauber is a Ferrari engine custome. From very early in the season, there was speculation that Perez could replace Massa at Ferrari for next season, and after this performance (if not before), Ferrari must surely be looking at the possibility with interest.
Felipe Massa has been under pressure to deliver results, after spending some time in the shadow of his team-mate. And, finally, at Monza this past weekend, the Brazilian started to show what he can do.
From the first practice session on Friday, Massa was within a few hundredths of a second of Fernando Alonso in the other Ferrari. Saturday’s qualifying saw Massa ahead of Alonso for the first time this season, and although that was largely due to an issue with Alonso’s rear suspension, Massa’s third place on the grid was probably the maximum the car was capable of anyway.
A superb start saw Massa rocket past Jenson Button and challenge Lewis Hamilton for the lead into the first corner. Massa couldn’t quite make the move stick, but ran second until Alonso eventually passed him (Massa made no attempt to hinder his team-mate’s progress in the interests of Alonso’s title bid), and and fell back another position when Sergio Perez passed both Ferraris. Massa finished fourth, nine seconds behind his team-mate.
The result equals Massa’s best of the season (he was fourth at Silverstone) and is his third points finish in succession. He has been in desperate need of consistent results and they are beginning to materialise. If this trend continues, Ferrari will start to feel pressure to re-sign him for next season. However, considering that it is already September and Ferrari have likely been talking seriously to other drivers, it may already be too late.