F1 returned to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza for the 14th round of the 2016 season. The circuit, built in 1922 represents the oldest circuit on the F1 calendar and this weekend certainly added more to its history. The weekend saw a confirmed driver retirement, potential a second but is considered by some to be a sabbatical, the pole position record being equalled and the Driver’s Championship becoming ever more intense…
The Race Weekend
The big talking point coming into the weekend was the driving style of Max Verstappen after a controversial race in Belgium where it has to be said his driving at times was bordering on dangerous. Then, big news dropped as the teams prepared for the weekend was the announcement Felipe Massa would be retiring at the end of the season. However, as it came to business in Monza, Mercedes dominance continued. Nico Rosberg topped the timesheet in first practice session while Lewis Hamilton dominated the other two sessions. Maranello and the Tifosi hopes of some divine miracle did not seem apparent during practice as the nearest a Ferrari could get to the Mercedes was at best 0.453 seconds slower and it its worst; over a second. Interestingly though, the almost Ferrari ‘junior team’ that is Haas F1 (they have used an awful lost go Ferrari technology to be on the grid and employ their former reserve driver and a rumoured Ferrari driver elect in Grosjean) had at least one car in the top 10 in each of the three practice sessions.
Qualifying saw Hamilton’s dominance at the top of the time sheet continue while it never got going for Esteban Ocon whose Manor suffered a mechanical breakdown. Meanwhile, his teammate Pascal Werhlein got his car into Q2 for the second weekend in a row. The other drivers to drop out at Q1 with Ocon were the Renault and Sauber pair as well as the unfortunate Daniil Kvyat. Unlike the previous weekend, Werhlein would not finish Q2 bottom and in 16th; this dubious honour instead went to Carlos Sainz in the other Torro Rosso. Werhlein qualified in 14th while Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, Romain Grosjean and Felipe Massa were also eliminated in Q2. The line up for Q3 was a battle between Mercedes, Ferrari, red Bull, Force India, a Williams driver and a Haas! yes, you read that correct. A Haas car got into Q3 for the first time in the team’s history at the quickest circuit on the calendar and it was driver by Mexican Esteban Guttierez. Guttierez had finished Q2 in 7th but would finish bottom in Q3; it does not take away from the fact that he got the car there in the first place. With the exception of Valtteri Bottas who produced his best qualifying performance since Russia to qualify 5th; the rest of the top 10 was almost line astern between the other four teams. Ferrari could not claim a surprise pole position to delight the crowd as their drivers finished 3rd and 4th; pretty much where they had been during all the practice sessions. Ricciardo out-qualified Verstappen for 6th and 7th respectively while the Force India’s occupied the two places behind them meaning it was a Mercedes 1-2. Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position for the third Italian Grand Prix in a row; a record only matched by Ayrton Senna and his 5th pole position in Italy; a record he now holds joint with Senna and Juan Manuel Fangio.
After Qualifying, another bombshell announcement came from the paddock. McLaren announced that Jenson Button would not be racing for the team in 2017 despite signing a new two-year deal. Instead, Button would fill an ambassadorial role in 2017 and does have the option to return in 2018. The announcement has paved the way for Stoffel Vandoorne to partner Fernando Alonso. Esteban icon was allowed to race by the race stewards after failing to set a time in Q1 while Romain Grosjean served his 5 place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change after his incident in third practice and would start 18th.
Come lights out on Sunday and Lewis Hamilton had an awful start as he fell to 6th going into turn 1 with his teammate, the two Ferrari’s Bottas and Ricciardo getting past. He wasn’t the only one to have a bad start as Verstappen fell from 7th to 11th. The poor start for Hamilton, however, meant Nico Rosberg inherited the lead of the race with some sections of the crowd celebrating a Ferrari 2-3 after they had navigated past the slow-starting polesitter. Hamilton began his fightback on the second lap with a protracted move on Daniel Ricciardo through turns 1 and 2 before making it stick on the Arriva Grande! Further down the grid, Jolyon Palmer and Felipe Nasr had a coming together on the exit of turn 1 as the Sauber’s rear right tyre made contact with the front left tyre of the Renault. Both cars ultimately retired from the race a few laps later and Nasr could not serve the penalty given to him by the stewards. Valtteri Bottas was proving more difficult for Hamilton to pass but he eventually got the job done on the Williams driver along the start/finish straight of lap 10. Now, only the Ferrari’s remained between hamilton and his race leading team mate but Rosberg was already 14 seconds clear…
The big strategic call of the race came on laps 15 and 16 as Kimi Raikkonen pitted first and Sebastian Vettel the lap after for a new set of red super soft compound tyres. This was also the tyre compound tyre they started on meaning they would need to pit again. The Mercedes pair had started on the yellow marked soft compound tyres and were still on course for a one stop race. The team executed this strategy well pitting Rosberg on lap 24 and Hamilton the lap after with both drivers running the white marked medium tyres to the finish. As the lead cars started the 26th lap, Pascal Werhlein was instructed by his team to stop his car immediately and switch it off. This he did on the grass just after the exit from turn 2 and that was his race over. Hamilton had emerged behind the two Ferrari’s and despite gaining time on them, he could not get close enough to pass Raikkonen and consequently fell further behind his team mate. Any slim hopes he had of catching and overtaking Rosberg had faded and disappeared entirely after making an error under braking at turn 1 on lap 41. On lap 32, Daniil Kvyat locked up going into the pit lane and was consequently handed a 5 second time penalty by the stewards but oddly enough as it was announced by race control; Kvyat had retired from the race. At turn 1 on lap 47, Daniel Ricciardo made what had been regarded as the pass of the season by some coming from relatively far back under Drs to make a late move on Bottas stick in Rotofillio. Max Verstappen completed his recovery drive to 7th with a move on Sergio Perez the following lap.
However, out in front, it was Nico Rosberg who took the chequered flag having led all but one of the 53 laps to take his 21st career victory. Hamilton finished 2nd to complete a Mercedes 1-2 and his 98th podium finish; taking him above Fernando Alonso in the all-time rankings and into third. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel finished 3rd for his first podium finish in 5 races and was also Ferrari’s 66th podium at Monza, in it’s 66th running! Behind them, Kimi Raikkonen came home in 4th for a Ferrari 3-4 finish, Daniel Ricciardo’s late move on Bottas gave him 5th and the Williams driver 6ht. Sergio Perez finished in 8th behind Verstappen but only just keeping the Williams of Massa behind him and Nico Hulkenberg rounded off the points scoring positions in 10th. The scenes after the race were deafening. After Nico Rosberg celebrated his latest victory by crowd surfing in the Paddock and made his way to the podium, the atmosphere was incredible. The noise from the Tifosi was audible on TV coverage as the drivers were waiting in the driver’s room. Nico Rosberg endured himself more to the crowd by signing in some Italian but the biggest cheers of them all were for Vettel despite finishing 3rd. Image what those scenes would have been like if he had won the Grand Prix? No other place in Formula One has an atmosphere like that…
The result: points scorers
Drivers: 1st Nico Rosberg (25), 2nd Lewis Hamilton (18), 3rd Sebastian Vettel (15), 4th Kimi Raikkonen (12), 5th Daniel Ricciardo (10), 6th Valtteri Bottas (8), 7th max Verstappen (6), 8th Sergio Perez (4), 9th Felipe Massa (2), 10th Nico Hulkenberg (1)
Constructors: Mercedes (43), Ferrari (27), red Bull (16), Williams (10), Force India (5)
The rest of the results and 0 points
Drivers: 11th Romain Grosjean, 12th Jenson Button, 13th Esteban Guttierez, 14th Fernando Alonso, 15th Carlos Sainz, 16th Marcus Ericsson, 17th Kevin Magnusson, 18th Esteban Ocon
Did Not Finish: Jolyon palmer, Felipe Nasr, Pascal Werhlein, Daniil Kvyat
Constructors: Haas, McLaren, Torro Rosso, Sauber, Renault, Manor
Team by Team Analysis
Team Result: Nico Rosberg 1st, Lewis Hamilton 2nd
On paper, a 1-2 in qualifying and the race is what the team would have hoped for coming into Monza and they duly delivered. The only thing that could have denied the team the 1-2 was driver error or unreliability as Mercedes were convincingly in a ‘league of their own’ as put by Sebastian Vettel all weekend. However, the team still considered Ferrari a threat to their dominance during the race due to their two-stop strategy meant they would have fresher tyres nearer the end of the race. In the event, they need not have worried as it seemed relatively comfortable in the end.
Having qualified over 4 tenths of a second behind Hamilton in qualifying and not been faster than him since first practice session of the weekend, Nico Rosberg may quietly have been thinking he wouldn’t better his team mate this weekend. However, starting in 2nd meant he was in prime position to capitalise on any mistakes by his team mate and which he duly did at the start and led all but one lap thereafter in what was a performance of pure perfection from the German. He managed his tyres well with the benefit of clear air from being out in front and made a one-stop strategy work to perfection (only 4 drivers managed this strategy in the race). The win clearly meant a lot to Rosberg who decided to go crowd surfing after jumping out of his victorious car; not to mention the singing in Italian on the podium and why shouldn’t he? Rosberg surrendered a 43 point lead to be 19 points behind Hamilton in the driver’s championship during what I termed Hammer-July and he leaves Monza only 2 points adrift of Hamilton. There were only two things that went wrong for him on Sunday, his pit stop was much slower than Hamilton’s after he slightly missed his marks and the slip of the tongue from his race engineer at the end in calling him Nicole….
For Lewis Hamilton, the race must feel like a huge disappointment. Having qualified in pole position in dominating fashion, and having been about half a second quicker than Rosberg for most of the weekend, it seemed the race was Hamilton’s for the taking. A victory would have extended the 9 point championship lead he had coming into the race as well as equalling the record set by Juan Manuel Fangio in the 1950’s of three successive victories at Monza. It wasn’t to be however as the race was effectively lost and gift wrapped to his team mate at the start. Post-race Hamilton commented ‘I don’t know what happened, I did everything as normal’ in regards to the start procedure and his poor getaway from lights out. This was the 6th time this season a Mercedes starting on pole position failed to lead the race by the end of the first lap. From even before the cars got down to turn 1 the race was lost and all he could aim to do was finish 2nd which he did with some solid driving. By the time he had cleared Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton was already 15 seconds behind his teammate. Although he seemed to be closing the gap to his teammate and had a far better pit stop, he could not close it down having come out behind the two-stopping Ferrari’s. Unable to get close enough in the turbulent air of the Ferraris to pass meant the final nail was put into the coffin that contained any slim hopes of Hamilton salvaging victory. Having said that, Hamilton did deliver solid performance to salvage second from his awful start. From the team’s perspective, this will be slightly worrying and I will discuss this slightly later.
Team Result: Sebastian Vettel 3rd, Kimi Raikkonen 4th
Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne put a bit of a downer on the team’s proceedings at their home Grand Prix with a rather blunt assessment of their 2016 season. He told the media, ‘We failed the targets-I don’t think that their’s a doubt in my mind’. Marchionne also cited failure to develop the car enough during the season and effectively wrote off the remainder of this season. However, despite the comments Ferrari’s weekend was relatively successful given the circumstances of Mercedes dominance. It wasn’t the race victory the Tifosi and Maranello will have craved but the team secured its first podium finish since the Austrian Grand Prix and after weeks of lagging behind Red Bull they comfortably had the better of them all weekend. This upturn in fortunes was mostly due to the engine upgrades they brought with them to Monza which clearly proved effective. Before for the Summer break, Ferrari was struggling to be the second best team on the grid as Red Bull’s fortunes rose but in Monza Ferrari were able to accurately showcase their developments more so than in Spa.
For both Ferrari drivers, the race was relatively uneventful. Sebastian Vettel out0-qualified Kimi Raikkonen by 1 tenth of a second which is what he would have wanted after being out-qualified by Raikkonen in Belgium. During the race, Vettel extracted everything he could from the Ferrari to deliver the teams 66th Podium at Monza and his first podium since finishing 2nd in Baku. The podium certainly put Vettel in high spirits as he reaffirmed his belief that the Ferrari car this season is a good one but acknowledged there is still work that needs to be done. However, he did demonstrate the team’s progress at Monza. Due to both drivers races’ being ruined din Belgium by the chaos at turn 1 the most comparable result is Germany. In Germany, Vettel finished 5th and 32.570 seconds adrift of the winning Mercedes. In Monza, he finished 2 positions higher and 20.990 seconds behind. To me, the team’s ability to cut the deficit to Mercedes over a race distance by 12 seconds and 2 places is a testament to the development work put in at Maranello. It is also a testament to the team’s efforts that by the half way point the Ferrari’s were in a Mercedes sandwich in the top 4 which was 9.6 seconds between them; great improvement! It would certainly have been a more interesting race had Vettel been able to get a move on Rosberg to stick on the opening lap. On the podium itself, Vettel received, without doubt, the highest cheers of the three and he finished in 3rd; just imagine what the scenes would have been like had he secured a win?
For Kimi Raikkonen, Hamilton was the only driver he could race as he was comfortably ahead of the Williams and Red Bulls to not worry about them attacking from the rear. However, the two-stop strategy put an end to that battle. He must also be sick of the sight of his teammate’s car having followed it round Monza all Sunday afternoon as he just could not get close enough to Vettel at the temple of speed. Overall, though, it was a quiet and effective race for Raikkonen whose 12 points for finishing 4th continued to the Scuderia closing down to 11 points behind Red Bull in the Constructors Championship and perhaps gave another indication of why Ferrari maintained confidence in his services for 2017. The only question I’m left wondering about Ferrari is, could they have challenged Mercedes on a matching one-stop strategy as Mercedes clearly saw them as a threat and were surprised more teams did not attempt the one stop strategy…
Team result: Daniel Ricciardo 5th, Max Verstappen 7th
Monza is typically a power hungry circuit with its high speeds and fast corners so, therefore, a Red Bull team with Renault/Tag Heuer engines (i don’t know what their engine make actually is) were perhaps always going to struggle. Indeed, Team principal Christian Horner admitted the Italian Grand Prix weekend ‘was damage limitation’ after what he anticipated to be the toughest race of the season for his team.
That statement seemingly proved to be the case for Max Verstappen. Although in hindsight, Belgium could be argued to be his most difficult race weekend of the season due to the criticism of his driving style; Monza seemed to be a difficult weekend for him in general. Maybe it was due to the pressure piled on to him from Belgium of just a difficult weekend at the races; I don’t know but the teenager had no answers for Daniel Ricciardo when it mattered in Italy. Ricciardo out-qualified Verstappen by 0.022 seconds ad then comfortably out-raced him. The race defeat to Ricciardo was largely of his own making as a poor start dropped him fro 7th to 11th on the opening lap. However, he drove a clean recovery drive making overtaking manoeuvres on Nico Hulkenberg, Fernando Alonso, Romain Grosjean and lastly Sergio Perez to finish the race in the same position he started it; 7th. Yes, he was beaten by his teammate on race day for the fourth successive race but on the plus side, the Dutchman’s driving style was not a huge talking point in the aftermath of the race weekend suggesting Charlie Whitting’s gentle warning did some good.
Daniel Ricciardo may not have extended his podium finishing run to a third race but finishing the race 5th at a
circuit the team expected to be their toughest race of the season is still some achievement. Having missed out in 5th in qualifying to Valtteri Bottas by an agonising 0.001 seconds must have hurt Ricciardo but finishing 6 seconds ahead of the Williams in the race must have felt equally as satisfying. That doesn’t mean Ricciardo did it the easy way; he had to wait until lap 47 to get the job done and when he did, it was spectacular. With the aid of DRS along the start/finish straight, Ricciardo was still far back coming into the braking zone for turn The Australian broke late and did well to avoid locking his tyres under the heavy braking and made the move stick at Rotofillio. Understandably, the Australian was happy with the move which was undoubtedly the pass of the race and commented by Martin Brundle to be the ‘pass of the season’. He will be looking ahead to Singapore where the team expect to be much more competitive.
Team Result: Valtteri Bottas 6th, Felipe Massa 9th
After the previous weekend in Spa where Williams could only manage an 8th and 10th place finish, the 6th and 9th place finishes the team achieved in Monza represents a solid improvement. To make the result eve sweater, it lifts the team back above Force India into 4th in the Constructors Championship.
Valtteri Bottas I don’t think will complain too much about his Monza weekend, yes, it is disappointing to finish a race in a lower position than where he started it but the weekend as a whole represents an improvement for him. 5th in Qualifying was his best position since the Russian Grand Prix and is an improvement on the 8th place he managed in Spa just 7 days prior. The fact he managed it by just 0.001 seconds will be irrelevant to both Bottas and the team. He started the race well and held the Mercedes of Hamilton for 9 laps before conceding the position. His fight with Hamilton and personal ambitions of finishing on the podium when the Williams car just did not have the pace for it perhaps hurt him in his tyre strategy. The driver himself admitted he was struggling with grip nearer the end of his stints suggesting the tyre degradation issues suffered at Williams are not yet resolved and probably explains why he left the room he did for Ricciardo’s late pass. That said, you have to give credit to Bottas for his spacial awareness and alertness here as another driver may well have been caught out and resulting in contact. Overall, though, 6th represents his best finishing position since….
However, most of the attention was fixed on Betts’s teammate on what must have been an emotional weekend for the driver. 14 years in F1, 8 seasons at Ferrari and announcing his retirement at Monza; the home of the team he spent most of his F1 career with must have been emotional for Felipe Massa. However, the result may not have been as glamorous as he would have hoped for his final Tifosi bow. Out-qualified by Bottas as he failed to get out of Q2 was not the start he would have wanted. However, he used the free choice of starting tyres to his advantage to get ahead of the slow-starting Esteban Guttierez and Nico Hulkenberg to climb to 9th by the end of the opening lap and that is where he finished. After that, Massa suffered from similar issues as his teammate with lack of page limiting his progress to just a 9th place finish. He may not have wanted to make his final Tifosi bow being out qualified and out raced by his team-mate but at least he left Monza with some points which could prove important in the constructors battle with Force India.
Team Result: Sergio Perez 8th, Nico Hulkenberg 10th
Having been the surprise team result in Belgium just a week prior and gaining 4th place in the Constructors Championship; it was down to earth with a disappointing bang for Force India as their grip on 4th place did not last long. It is perhaps slightly ironic that in the change over of positions in the Constructors; Force India’s drivers finished in the same 8th and 10th positions that Williams managed in Spa. Having said that, though, Monza was somewhere the team expected to struggle and the double points finish they earned could prove vital in the long run.
Like many of the other drivers, the race was largely uneventful for Sergio Perez who finished the race in the position he started it in; 8th. The phrases Sergio Perez and high tyre wear are not normally two you would put together such is the Mexican’s renown ability to preserve his tyres well. However, despite his best efforts Perez had to two stop at Monza and by his own admission the second stop came too early leaving him exposed to Max Verstappen and Felipe Massa nearer the end. In the context of the Constructor’s Championship positions, at least he kept the Brazilian behind to finish 8th.
Nico Hulkenberg will be thankful to have finished in the points after what he felt was a disastrous opening lap. Starting immediately behind Max Verstappen, he felt he was impeded by the Dutchman getting bogged down at the start in anti-stall and also took contact from Felipe Massa later in the lap which allowed Fernando Alonso to pass him as well meaning he had dropped from 9th to 11th. Alonso did well to frustrate Hulkenberg on track until he pitted and Hulkenberg marched on from there into 10th place as the McLaren just lacked the pace. However, 10th represents his fifth consecutive points scoring finish; which may have been unthinkable after his first five races of ended with only one-point scoring finish (7th in Australia) and will certainly play a part in the teams battle with Williams for 4th in the Constructors if he can keep this consistency going.
Team Result: Romain Grosjean 11th, Esteban Guttierez 13th
If there was a trophy for the unluckiest team in F1 this season, I think that Haas team would probably have their name already half engraved on it. Monza represent the 4th time a Haas car has finished in 11th place (not 5 as Sky Sports would have you believe). Personally, I thought it was the 6th time Haas had a car finishing in 11th but having sifted through the race results in 2016, Haas still have the most 11th place finishes with 4 which is still 2 more than any other team.
This time, it was Romain Grosjean who would be the unlucky man. Starting slowly 18th place after his 5-second penalty was served for an unscheduled gearbox change, the weekend was always going to be an uphill battle for him from there on in. However, it could have possibly been points for Grosjean had the team opted to two-stop him. As the two stoppers finished the first round of pit stops, Grosjean was in 5th place but then tumbled down the grid to 12th before akin his sole pit stop on lap 28 After that, he put in a sturdy performance to finish just 12 seconds shy of a point in 11th.
Coming into the race, Esteban Guttierez would have been thinking this race represented his best chance yet of scoring points for the first time since Japan in 2013 after qualifying 1oth. However, Guttierez had an absolutely awful start falling from 10th to 20th and the prospect of points was gone. After his horrid start, though, Guttierez did produce a worthy recovery drive to finish 18th after making overtaking manoeuvres on Kevin Magnusson, Danil Kvyat, Esteban Ocon and Marcus Ericsson while also benefiting from pascal Werhlein’s retirement and Alonso’s cheer bid for the fastest lap. Although not the result he would have hoped for, Guttierez leaves Monza as the man who got the Haas team their first ever Q3 appearance and having done it at the ‘temple of speed’ is something certainly of note.
Team Result: Jenson Button 12th, Fernando Alonso 14th
A lot of the attention was naturally on McLaren after qualifying with Jenson Button announcing he would not be racing gin 2017. It is perhaps ironic then that Button then outraced his team-mate Fernando Alonso (who will be racing in 2017) despite ending the first lap in plum last. Button benefited from the collision involving Jolyon palmer and Felipe Nasr while also producing overtakes on Magnusson Guttierez, Ericsson and Kvyat before making his first pit stop on lap 15. After that, he overtook both Manor cars and 2 other drivers while they were in the pit lane before making a move stick on his teammate at turn 1 on lap 45. Although he made the move on the red marked super soft tyres while Alonso was on the yellow marked soft tyres, this move would surely have given Button some satisfaction. However, all of that was worth 12th place, no points after finishing 0.5 seconds behind Romain Grosjean. In his announcement the previous day, there were hints Jenson Button is becoming disillusioned from F1 ‘Bernie’s schedule’ and needed a break to look at other options in life. he also made it clear he would like to return if the car looks competitive citing his frustration at what has been a difficult few years for McLaren in this turbo era of F1.
If Button is frustrated with recent years at McLaren then I find it hard to imagine Fernando Alonso not having similar feelings after he went to McLaren from Ferrari who have since improved and McLaren struggled.After a strong start from Alonso in 12th to avoid the slow starting Guttierez then flick right again to avoid Felipe Massa making a move on Hulkenberg could easily have resulted in disaster; he then took 9th from Huldenberg at the kink of turns 4 and 5. Alonso did well to keep the Force India behind him until he pitted on lap 13 but that was the highest position he would have all race as the car lacked the pace. After stopping twice and being passed by Button with points looking unlikely, Alonso pitted with 3 laps remaining for a fresh set of super-soft tyres. Amazingly, Alonso delivered the fastest lap of the race with a 1:25.340! Yes, you read that right. A McLaren with an underpowered Honda engine set the fastest lap of the race at the quickest circuit on the F1 calendar for the first fastest lap involving a Honda engine since 1992! Unbelievable! Alonso commented afterwards ‘It doesn’t make for much difference-it’s only good for the stats-as we were basal never in the running for points today’. This is something Alonso wanted to do as he liked the irony of it and surprisingly the team allowed it; after all, it only cost him 13th place.
Team Result: Carlos Sainz 15th, Daniil Kvyat DNF
Like at Spa, Torro Rosso had small expectations for their home race weekend due to the high-speed nature of Monza and the fact they have 2015 Ferrari engines in their cars. There isn’t that much to say about Carlos Sainz’s race apart from at least he finished the race compared to Spa 7 days previously. Saint attempted to make a 1 stop strategy work when he made his first pit stop on lap 23 but could not make it work as he was losing too much time before pitting for a second time on lap 39. After the race saint commented, ‘…we tried everything we could today to make it into the points, but when you just don’t have the pace, it’s impossible’ as well as proclaiming, ‘we extracted the maximum from the car today and in the end, a P15 was the most we could achieve’. Saint is another driver who’ll be hoping for better in Singapore.
If speculation was to be believed then Daniil Kvyat would not have made it to Singapore. Red Bull reserve driver Sebastian gassy had to deny speculation he was to replace the Russian for the next race. It seems pretty harsh that after a disappointing race back from the summer break; remember he actually finished at Spa in an underpowered and under performing car having extracted everything he could he would then be axed the next time he has a disappointing result. Kvyat failed to finish the race due to his engine battery overheating which is beyond his control. However, Kvyat had been given a 5 second time penalty for speeding in the pit lane after locking up his brakes on the pit entry on lap 32 shortly before retiring and whether or not be served the penalty before retiring or will have to serve it in Singapore remains to be seen….
Team Result: Marcus Ericsson 16th, Felipe Nasr DNF
Monza was yet another disappointing race weekend of pointless Sauber as they could only muster 1 16th place finish and a DNF. Marcus Ericsson will have done his hopes of remaining on the grid in 2017 no harm in pushing as hard as he could during the race in the car which just seemed to lack pace; something which was acknowledged by team principal Monisha Kaltenborn. From starting in 19th, Ericsson improved to finish 16th after benefiting from 3 retirements in front of him. Notably, he seemed to have made a 1 stop strategy work but could not keep the two-stopping Carlos Sainz behind him in the closing stages.
Kaltenborn also defended her other driver; Felipe Nasr insisting the incident with Jolyon palmer ‘was not his fault, so we do not understand why he was penalised’’. Starting in 18th, Nasr improved a couple of pistons before the incident which ultimately ended ruined his race. The stewards did not agree with Kaltenborn and in my opinion rightly penalised him with a 10 second time penalty. Sauber only realised Nasr had been penalised after the driver had pitted for medium compound tyres and still complained the car was undrivable. Consequently, they brought him in to do his 10-second penalty before sending hm back out to do another circuit before retiring the car. Whether or not the FIA feel they have taken liberties with the rules remains to be seen but he technically has served the penalty.
Team Result: Kevin Magnusson 17th, Jolyon palmer DNF
After having their best qualifying of the season in Spa, Monza proved to be a more difficult weekend for the Renault team. In Spa, they qualified in 12th and 14th respectively while in Monza just 1 week later, both drivers failed to get out of Q1. Jolyon palmer;s race was effectively ruined by Felipe Nasr at Rotofillio on lap 2. Personally, I don’t know what else palmer could have done in this incident other than taking his car into the gravel trap as on the exit from turn 2; Nasr just did not leave enough space on the outside. Palmer did get the car back to the pits ad after a longer than expected pit stop to change the front nose of the car he rejoined the track. However, Palmer’s brake duct was broken in the contact with Nasr and his race was over. Although Renault bosses are not overlooking Palmer to stay in the team for 2017, it would be a real shame if such bad luck would rob him of staying in F1 after taking so long to get there.
There were slightly different fortunes for Kevin Magnusson but it was not much better for him. Thankfully there was no big incident like the one he had at the top of Eau Rouge the previous weekend. The fact he finished a Grand Prix just a week after such a heavy impact crash is something his commitment to racing should be commended for. It would have been certainly understandable for him to feel he wasn’t 100% ready to race just 1 week on but he did and finished the race! However, like may others on the grid, Magnusson just did no gave the pace to get higher up the grid and finished in17th with a two stop strategy and thinly not last having spent a significant part of the race in that position with Esteban con in the Manor one stopping.
Team Result: Esteban Ocon 18th, Pascal Werhlein DNF
The Monza weekend was a tale of two halves for Manor. One driver suffered unreliability issues on Saturday for qualifying while the other suffered mechanical issues during the race on Sunday and failed to finish. Esteban Ocon was the unlucky man on Saturday after a mechanical breakdown prevented him from participating in qualifying. During the race, it was the turn of Pascal werhlein who retired on lap 28 after the team told him to switch off. The team had detected an oil leak on Werhlein’s car and sensibly told the driver to stop in order to prevent an engine blowout. Con meanwhile, was the 5th and lowest place man to do a one stop strategy but finished 18th and the only man to be lapped twice. However, it is still early days for the Frenchman and finishing his first two Grand Prix’s is a positive sign.
The Big Talking Point: McLaren and Jenson Button
Although the race itself was not the greatest of spectacles there were a few talking points to consider. First, just what is the issue with Mercedes and getting their starts nailed on. Monza represents the 6th time in 2016 that a pole-sitting Mercedes has not led by the end of the first lap. While at present I am not knowledgeable enough to comment on just why that is I will look into this niggling issue Mercedes have between now and Singapore to know more. However, it has come to light that it was not driver error but some form of inconsistency with the clutch in the car which has occurred at different stages of the season. Second, the collision between Jolyon Palmer and Felipe Nasr. I feel confident that in my team by team analysis I have covered that in as much detail as it warrants and that you know my opinion is that it was Nasr’s fault. Third, I have covered the announcement that Felipe Massa would be retiring at the end of this season; bringing an end to his 14-year career in F1 in my preview to the race weekend. This leaves only one big talking point to discuss; the agreement between McLaren and Jenson Button.
So, what is the deal….
Jenson Button signed a new two-year deal with McLaren Honda over the past week and was announced after Qualifying in Monza. Oddly enough, though, he will not race in 2017. Instead, the agreement allows Stoffel Vandoorne to partner Fernando Alonso next season while Jenson Button takes on an ambassadorial role at the tea, but will also effectively be the team’s reserve driver. There is also a clause in the deal that allows Jenson Button to return to racing in 2018 so on paper it appears this is, at least on paper a one-year sabbatical from F1 racing and not a retirement.
What was said?
Jenson Button told the media that ‘I definitely need a break’. Jenson Button has been an ever present in F1 since his debut for Williams all the way back in 2000. 2016 is his 17th straight F1 season and he is quite easily the most experienced driver in terms of Grand Prix starts on the current grid. It is perhaps because of these 17 years he was prepared to do something different; something that he wants to do as in his comments to Sky Sports Ted Kravitz he mentioned ‘I’ve lived my whole life on Bernie’s schedule basically’. Listening to the comments, it is Jenson that sparked this agreement by starting discussions with Team principal Ron Dennis in Spa after having a nice summer break with friends and family. By sounds of it, it was an easy discussion as Dennis felt it was the best solution as Button can go away for a year and come back refreshed or still be an ambassador for the team.
The summer break does seem to be the turning point for Jenson Button in making his decision. Listening to his comments it sounds like Button just wants to spend time with the family and have a chance to recharge his batteries as 17 years of constant F1 has probably had its toll on him. He could probably have spoken to a former teammate, in the shape of Rubens Barrichello about that who was an ever present on the F1 grid from 1993 until 2011 to help formulate his decision who knows. Button commented, ‘I will also be doing stuff that I haven’t done for 17 years – spending time with my friends and, more importantly, my family’. He seems excited at the prospect of just doing something different which I think anyone could understand. He does like triathlons and may even want to try and qualify for the world championships. The arrangement gives him time to do a few more of those, spend more time with his wife and family. Personally, although it’s harsh to mention it in this light but maybe the death of his dad (papa smurf; John Button) in 2014 may still be over his mind; especially as McLaren have been nowhere near competitive enough for his ambitions ever since. I’m not saying that’s the definite pinpoint factor in his decision but maybe a contributing factor; only the man himself will know the answer though Jenson did not refuse to rule out racing in rallycross in 2017 (the racing discipline of his late father). However, thus is something Ron Dennis referred to when he commented ‘he was hankering for a break’.
Dennis insisted that this agreement with Button represents an ‘innovative three driver strategy’. That much can be true of the agreement. At present, McLaren has two world champions on their books as well as the talented reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne. Granted Vandoorne is relatively inexperienced in F1 compared to the other two drivers but he has already impressed in an F1 car. It was Vandoorne and not Alonso or Button who scored the team’s first points of 2016 as he finished 10th in Bahrain just this season in what is his only Grand Prix entry to date. Factor in that he was only drafted in from Japan with a days notice and had to piece everything together with the injury sustained to Alonso then it makes that result look all the more promising. Vandoorne in recent months has been speaking of his desire to be on the grid in 2017 and insisted he would leave McLaren if he had to in order to get there so you can see how this been a headache for McLaren.
Does this constitute a retirement?
In one word; no! Button himself refutes the suggestion this is a retirement from F1 insisting retirement is ‘a terrible word and I definitely won’t be doing that’. This has been reiterated by Ron Dennis insisting ‘Jenson will be in the simulator, he will attend some races and he is contracted to race if needed’.
With the flexibility this deal gives McLaren could it be, though?
There has been some speculation the option for Button to race in 2018 is also an insurance policy for the team in the event that Fernando Alonso no longer has the desire for F1 when his deal ends at the end of next season. While it is known Alonso has stated he would consider his longer term future in F1 after he has experienced the cars with the incoming new regulations in 2017. If he doesn’t like the cars or where the team are going then if he stands by his word; then Alonso may well say goodbye to racing in F1. It is easy to see why it’s been considered an insurance policy but personally I would want to keep the reasons for the deal on the personal reasons for a break desired by Button.
If Alonso does like the 2017 cars and wants to commit to saying another year or two in F1 then it will become interesting. That would mean McLaren would only exercise the option on Jenson Button racing in 2018 if Belgian Vandoorne struggles. At first thought you may think it seems harsh to suggest McLaren would unceremoniously dump a driver they’ve held such promising hopes for on the basis of their first season in F1. Unfortunately, history does suggest it could happen if Vandoorne struggles. After Lewis hamilton departed for Mercedes at the end of 2012, McLaren recruited Sergio Perez as his replacement for the 2013 season. However, 12 months later they released the Mexican from his contract in order to promote Kevin Magnussen who had promised through their driver development academy. However, after just one full season the team recruited Fernando Alonso to partner Jenson Button and Magnusson was relegated back to his reserve driver role. As much as Vandoorne may have promise and potential; whether or not McLaren remains loyal and stand by that potential remains to be seen.
Alternatively, what if Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne flourish as a partnership and both were to be retained by McLaren? In that possible scenario then this agreement does look like a retirement as much as Button may not want to admit it. After all, that’s all the agreement regarding him being back on the grid in 2018 is; an option. Crucially, that’s all it is. Button acknowledges the team has that option for him to drive in 2018 meaning he could be doing the same ambassadorial role in 2018 that he is scheduled to do in 2017.
In case this does in the end signal his retirement, let’s have quick look at Jenson Button’s F1 career in stats:
Jenson Button’s F1 career in stats
Date of Birth (age): 19th January 1980 (36 years old)
Place of Birth: Frome, Somerset, UK
Grand Prix starts (by end of the season): 298 (305)
Teams raced for: Williams (2000), Bennetton/Renault (2001-02), BAR (2003-2005), Honda (2006-2008), Brawn GP (2009), McLaren (2010-present)
F1 debut: 2000 Austrialian Grand Prix
Age at F1 debut: 20 years old
First F1 Grand Prix win: 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix
Number of races before the win: 113
Race wins in total: 15 (18th in the all time record list)
Last Grand Prix win: 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix
Pole Positions: 8 (Joint 34th in the all time list)
First Pole Position: 2004 San Marino Grand Prix
Last pole Position: 2012 Belgian Grand Prix
First Podium: 2004 Malaysian Grand Prix
Last Podium: 2014 Australian Grand Prix
World Championships: 1 (2009)
Low Points: Criticism from Flavio Briatore during his Renault/Bennetton days, the last two years racing for Honda and surely
never making it onto the British Grand Prix Podium despite 17 attempts at it
High Points: Getting that first Grand prix win after 113 attempts in Hungary, the 2011 victory in Canada in what is the longest ever F1 race on record and his Championship year in 2009
The Championship Tables
In a race weekend where only the top 5 teams in the constructors and top 10 in the driver’s championships scored points, there is not bound to be that much difference. The bottom 24 now in the driver’s championship remains as it was coming into the Monza weekend while the same can be said for the bottom 6 teams in the Constructors. However, there has been some developments in the championships.
Lewis Hamilton may now be on a mighty 250 points in the driver’s championship, Nico Rosberg has now closed this gap down to just 2 points! Rosberg has now won more races than he has done in 2014 and 2015 meaning he has potentially put himself up for more of a fighting chance in the closing stages of this season though it must be noted there is only one race Mercedes have not won this year (Spain) while there were multiple in the past two seasons. Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas outscored their respective teammates this weekend and built up more of a lead over them in the championship standings. Meanwhile, in the constructors, Ferrari closed down to within 11 points of Red Bull in the battle for 2nd while Williams moved back ahead of Force India into 4th position
Next time out…
Well, that’s the end of the European part of the F1 season for 2016. Whether or not this is the final race weekend for Monza on the calendar remains to be seen as I have as yet not seen anything near confirmation a deal was signed for Monza to host the race next year. here’s hoping it remains on the calendar. Next up, in two weeks time is a trip from the oldest circuit on the calendar to one of the relative babies for a rather special race on the F1 calendar. It’s the night race in Singapore!