Lewis Hamilton showed Mercedes’ true class at the Italian Grand Prix this weekend by putting Ferrari to bed on their home turf. From the outset, the Brit looked to be on top by taking FP1 and pole position by a staggering 1.148 seconds over the Dutchman Max Verstappen. However, both Red Bull’s received grid place penalties due to component changes on their cars. Lance Stroll was promoted to the front row and Esteban Ocon was promoted to 3rd place, both their best ever qualifying in Formula 1. There was a collective total of 9 grid penalties for the race which made things very confusing to say the least, much to the disapproval of the fans. The local heroes, Ferrari, struggled in the wet conditions during qualifying and could only manage 7th and 8th.
There was some minor concern surrounding Lewis Hamilton’s championship safety going into turn 1 due to him being alongside and in front of two rookie drivers. Not to mention, the first chicane at the legendary circuit is notorious for first lap incidents. All went smoothly though as Hamilton got off the line well followed by Stroll and Ocon down into turn 1. Ocon was able to take Stroll around the outside into Variante del Rettifilo (turn 1) to move into 2nd. The first lap of the race was fairly clean with some minor contact made between Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez exiting the first chicane. Kimi Raikkonen and Valterri Bottas had a great scrap going through Curva Biassono (turn 3) and down into the second chicane to which Raikkonen came out on top. There was also slight contact further back between Ricciardo and the Haas car of Romain Grosjean. The battle of the two Finns wasn’t done yet though, Bottas came back at Raikkonen as they came out of Curva Parabolica (final corner) side by side and nearly touched wheels down the pit straight. Bottas was able to hold on and keep 4th place, soon passing the rookie Canadian, Stroll for 3rd.
Both Mercedes were looking strong as Hamilton pulled away at the front whilst his team mate Bottas set good pace. Felipe Massa and Max Verstappen were having a heated battle close behind for 7th place and made contact coming out of the first chicane. Verstappen picked up a front right puncture from the contact and wasn’t happy about the way Massa defended by not giving him any room. Sebastian Vettel was eager to make up for lost ground and passed team mate Kimi Raikkonen on lap 3 to take 5th spot. Bottas was soon past Ocon to take 2nd from the Frenchman and started a hard charge to try and stop Lewis Hamilton from getting away further by setting the fastest lap of the race on lap 8. Daniel Ricciardo, who started 16th on the grid was up to 9th by lap 8, showing fantastic race craft to put himself well into the points paying positions. A scrap between Fernando Alonso and Jolyon Palmer was brewing as the two almost came together into the second chicane which was not to Alonso’s liking at all when the Brit cut the corner to take the position.
Raikkonen was the first of the Ferraris to pit in lap 16 for a set of Pirelli Soft tires. Daniel Ricciardo was still on the charge and put a great dummy move on Sergio Perez down into Variante della Roggia (turn 3) to move up to 6th. Perez tried to come back at the Aussie but he defended well and held the position. Stroll was the next of the leading group to pit on lap 18 and rejoined in 11th place behind Raikkonen and Ocon. Esteban Ocon was putting on a great performance in 6th but couldn’t hold off a hard charging Kimi Raikkonen who passed the Frenchman down the main straight and taking full advantage of the DRS zone. The first retirement of the race was Jolyon Palmer who pulled into the pit garage on lap 31 with mechanical issues which was referred to as ‘karma’ by Fernando Alonso after their coming together earlier in the race. Lewis Hamilton continued to show his dominance at the front by setting the fastest lap of the race on lap 41 as the race came into its final phase.
Daniel Ricciardo continued to show his driving skill by passing the Ferrari of Raikkonen into the first chicane with a super late move to take 4th position from the Finn. The Aussie was then instructed to keep pushing with the possibility of a podium rising with every lap that passed as Vettel seemed to struggle for pace. Yet more issues troubled the McLaren-Honda team as both cars retired with more mechanical related issues much to the disapproval of both drivers. Lewis Hamilton cruised home to take the win ahead of team mate Bottas which showed Mercedes were the dominant force of the weekend. Sebastian Vettel was able to hang onto 3rd from an almost unstoppable Ricciardo who ran out of laps in an attempt to take what would have been a sensational podium finish from 16th on the grid. His Red Bull stable mate Max Verstappen was able to recover to 10th and take a world championship point. A last lap scrap between both Williams cars was an entertaining end to a strong result for both cars who came home 7th and 8th respectively.
The race was set up to be entertaining from the start with both rookies in the form of Stroll and Ocon starting at the front of the grid after a somewhat messy qualifying on Saturday due to weather. It was a very straight forward race for Hamilton in the end as he pulled an early lead and maintained his advantage throughout. A collection of good drives from Stroll, Ocon and Bottas is worth mentioning as well. Certainly though, the driver of the day was Daniel Ricciardo who made a blinding effort to charge through the pack which he did to great effect by making up 12 positions from the start and putting on some very brave but well-calculated moves. Mercedes seem to have really found their feet after the summer break which raises plenty of questions for Ferrari who put on a very average performance by their high standards. Some fairly controversial comments from Hamilton didn’t please the home Ferrari fans by stating that “Mercedes power is better than Ferrari power…”. We look forward to what challenge Ferrari can muster up for the remainder of the season as Mercedes ride on cloud nine. See you in Singapore!
Written by Raoul Owens.