September 04, 2016

F1 Update!: Italy 2016

A beautiful day in Northern Italy greeted the huge throng of racing fans and truly rabid Ferrari supporters known as the tifosi as they did what tifosi do best: be enthusiastic.  The sight of anything red sent them into paroxysms of enthusiasm loud enough to drown out even the loudest of race engines.  The enthusiasm was contagious: with the only living son and heir to Enzo Ferrari, Piero Lardi Ferrari, and Sergio Marchionne, the Chairman and CEO of Ferrari and Fiat-Chrysler, watching from the VIP area of the pit box, Seb Vettel said that the spirit of the crowd alone could will the Red cars to victory.  Such enthusiasm, while admirable, also masked the unease that must have been present in the team's hearts, following Marchionne's pronunciation earlier this week that the 2016 season was "a failure".  When the Aermacchi MB-339s of the Frecce Tricolori swept low over the the Autodromo Nazionale Monza trailing their streams of red, white, and green smoke, clearly it was time.  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Italy!

*LIGHTS OUT:  When the Thundering Herd took the lights to start the race, it came as no surprise that a silver car was leading the field into the ridiculously tight first chicane.  What was a surprise was that it was Nico Rosberg, not polesitter Lewis Hamilton, doing the leading.  Hamilton, as he's done multiple times this season, borked the start and was swallowed by the field, falling all the way to sixth in the blink of an eye.  He was not alone in this: Embryo Verstappen saw his Red Bull slip into anti-stall and lose a handful of places, and Esteban!'s HaasF1 had the worst of the bunch, plummeting to dead last as the backmarkers scrambled to avoid him.  The upshot of all this was to give Ferrari a tiny opening that the tifosi could pour all their hopes and dreams into in an attempt to ring the church bells in Maranello.

*TIRE WAR:  After Quals, it was clear that the race had already been decided... the question was, which way would it go?  Mercedes had set their fastest time in Q2 on the Soft compound tires, while Ferrari's drivers were both on the Super-soft.  At least in theory, the Softs would be slower, but last longer, than the Super-soft tires.  With Monza being relatively easy on tires, if Mercedes was careful they could do the race with only one pitstop and a switch to the hardest tire available on the weekend, the Mediums.  Meanwhile, Ferrari would have to make two stops.  Any time disadvantage from making a second run down pit lane would nominally be erased by the faster laps the softer tires would provide.  In fact, the entire field other than Mercedes was on the two-stop strategy.  The problem was that the Silver Arrows were just as fast on the Softs as the rest of the field was on Super-softs, at least in Quals.  Which strategy would work best proved to be the only real drama in the race.

*KISS 'EM GOODBYE:  Hamilton's opening gaffe had handed Nico Rosberg, Hamilton's teammate and rival for the Driver's Championship, a gigantic present delicately wrapped and delivered by a squadron of cherubs on the wing.  He was in the lead and in clean air, while his teammate would have to fight his way past the Red Bull of Smiley Ricciardo, the Mercedes-powered Williams of Valtteri Bottas, and the two Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Seb Vettel before he could even think about attacking for the lead...and Rosberg wasn't one to turn from such a present.  While Hamilton got past the Red Bull in one lap, it took 10 more to put Bottas behind him.  In the process, he had fallen eleven seconds behind the leader and trashed his rear tires to boot.  A handful of laps later found him in second place as the two Ferraris each duly headed into the pits for their fresh rubber, but by now Rosberg was over 15 seconds ahead.  Nico pitted on Lap 24 and came back out still in the lead.  Hamilton pitted on Lap 25, and rejoined the race in fourth, behind the two Ferrari drivers.  While this meant that the Brit was functionally in second in the race since the Red cars would have to stop once more, in real life he still had them and their downforce-disturbing dirty air in front of him.  And he had to make up some 12 seconds of time to boot.

*IT WAS EVER THUS:  While Hamilton took fractions of a second off the leader each lap, aided by Rosberg catching up with, and working his way through, the backmarkers, he had to be careful with his tires.  If he pushed them too much too early, not only would he not catch his teammate, he could even lose the advantages of the one stop strategy if he damaged them enough, either by having to slow down or actually making a second stop.  And Rosberg kept on grinding away, free of disturbances or threats. 

*THE END: Ferrari's drivers made their stops, rejoining the festivities in third for Vettel and fourth for Raikkonen.  Even with the fresh rubber, it was clear that they couldn't catch Hamilton... and even more clear was that Hamilton would never catch Rosberg.  A lockup and jump over the curbs in the first chicane late in the race simply guaranteed the one-time polesitter couldn't work any magic.  Rosberg was some 15 seconds ahead of his teammate at the end of the day, while Vettel was only five seconds away in third.  Raikkonen came in fourth.  Smiley Riccardio pulled off the pass of the race late, taking fifth off Bottas in a daring move into the first chicane.  But during the podium ceremony, the tifosi only had eyes for the man in red, their cheers audible in Rome when he was handed the third-place trophy.

not pictured: the rest of Italy covering the front straight.
*THE SURPRISE:  Frustrated by an awful race and an extra pitstop, Fernando Alonso gave McLaren a shock fastest lap.  It was the team's first since 2013, and the first for a Honda-powered car in 24 years, when Ayrton Senna pulled the trick in Portugal, 1992.  It doesn't mean anything, of course, but it's quite the change from what we saw in 2015, when the team had problems even finishing a race.

So that's it from Monza and the European leg of the calendar.  Next up in two weeks, we'll be in Singapore.  See ya then!

Posted by: Wonderduck at 10:37 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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So it leaves Hamilton only two points ahead of Rosberg for the Driver's Championship, which is preposterously close.

Of course, they're both like Ninety points ahead of Ricciardo. And Mercedes is Two Hundred points ahead of Red Bull. This sure has been a frustrating season.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at September 05, 2016 01:08 AM (+rSRq)

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