September 04, 2018

F1 Update: Italy 2018

The tifosi were all a-twitter over the possibilities facing them as the Great F1 Circus pulled onto the grid.  Their beloved Ferrari drivers, Kimi Raikkonen and Seb Vettel, were perched on the front row, with the Finn having put in the fastest lap in F1 history to grab pole.  Further, everybody knew they had the best car, having slowly but surely moved past their rivals in silver, Mercedes.  Those two worthies held the second row, but Lewis Hamilton held the lead in the driver's championship.  Behind them, the rest of the field could only look on in disgust at the way this had become a two-tier sport: the big guys, and everybody else.  How did all this work out in the end?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2018 Grand Prix of Italy!


*START:  "You cannot win a race on the first lap, but you can lose it."  So it is written in the Gospel of St Fangio the Quick.  And lo, it did come to pass when Seb Vettel, trying to defend against Hamilton in the second chicane, banged into the side of the Mercedes.  The next thing we knew, there was a cloud of smoke and the Ferrari driver was back in 17th, for all intents and purposes out of contention.  Which left Raikonnen in the lead, Hamilton in second, DH Verstappen's Red Bull in third and unable to keep up with the first two, and Valterri Bottas in the other Merc in fourth.

*STRATEGERY:  On Lap 20, Raikonnen pitted from the lead.  Hamilton's pit wall informed him that it was now "Hammer Time."  The idea being that if Hamilton could hammer out a few quick laps, he could close the overall time gap to the actual leader, Raikkonen, enough that he could pit and return to the track in the lead.  This is basic strategy, and it usually succeeds when you're talking about a driver the quality of Lewis Hamilton.  Which of course means that it didn't work.  Mercedes left Hamilton out on track until Lap 28, by which time he had actually lost five seconds to the Ferrari driver.  The Ferrari driver who was in second place.  He was there instead of in the lead because Bottas had been promoted to 1st during the pitstop rotation, though he had yet to stop.  Which was all part of Merc's plan, probably ginned up on a napkin right then and there.

*AGONY:  For the next seven or eight laps, Raikkonen tried to get past his fellow Finn.  For seven or eight laps he failed, and burned his tires in the process.  All the while, the Finn fight had allowed Hamilton to close the gap to the Ferrari driver.  Bottas had obviously been told to slow things down, act as a rollling roadblock while sacrificing any chance to win the race himself.    This he did beautifully, driving a wide car while staying just far enough ahead that the Ferrari driver would almost have to push... it was just right there!  Nothing worked.  When Bottas finally peeled off into the pits on Lap 36, Hamilton had gotten close enough to be a threat.

*TOWARDS A NEW LEADER:  And yet, Hamilton didn't push matters.  He just stayed close, ready to jump if Raikkonen made a mistake, but holding a little bit in reserve.  His pit wall had told him that the race would be won or lost on tires, and his opponent had already savaged his.  So Hamilton bided his time, taking a tenth of a second off the lead here, a little bit more there, lap after lap just stalking the Red Car.  And then on Lap 45, Hamilton breezed by as neatly as you please, and the Finn had no tires left to counterattack with.

*THE END:  It was all a matter of formality then.  Raikkonen had so badly hurt his tires that he was losing over a second per lap to the new leader.  And in some small way, Mercedes' strategy of sacrificing Bottas on the altar of Hamilton actually turned out to be a benefit for Ferrari.  Once Bottas returned to the race after pitting, he was stuck in 4th place behind DH Verstappen's Red Bull.  Bottas of course tried to get past the Dutchman, and twice it looked like he would succeed.  On the first try, Verstappen cut a corner and got away with it.  The second time, he actually swerved stiffly towards the side of the Finn's Merc.  This, he did not get away with, and he was soon handed a five second penalty to be tacked on to his final time.  While Verstappen did cross the finish line third, the penalty meant that he was dropped back to fifth.  Bottas, of course, was in third, but there, within five seconds of Verstappen at the end, was Seb Vettel, who did take fourth.  But because Bottas had been stuck behind the Red Bull, that meant he couldn't take the fight to the gimpy Ferrari for second place.  Still, it seems likely that Mercedes was okay with trading second place for third when it got them the overall victory.

*TIFOSI PFUI:  During the post-race interviews/podium ceremony, the tifosi booed Hamilton, and not for the first time.  This time felt particularly egregious, however.  Indeed, no less a voice than ex-Ferrari chief Luca di Montezemolo went on record saying that he was "disgusted" by the tifosi's behavior.  Not the best way to end what was a rather exciting race.

Next time we'll be in Singapore!  See ya then.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 11:59 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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