The Autodromo Nazionale di Monza was abuzz this weekend with the silly season in full swing. The most talked about driver was Lewis Hamilton who was part of a McLaren front row lockout, for the start of Sunday’s race. The McLarens continued their pace from Spa last weekend and were the quickest cars on track. But this being the Italian Grand Prix, all eyes were on the Scuderia.
Fernando Alonso led most of Friday’s practice but succumbed to a broken sway bar during Q3. Unable to better his time, he qualified 10th. Another surprise in Q3 saw his teammate Felipe Massa starting from 3rd, his best qualifying of the season and a much needed bargaining chip in his fight for a drive at Ferrari next year.
A Downbeat Victory
The talk since Spa has been over rumors of a Lewis Hamilton move to Mercedes in 2013. As of right now, it’s all still speculation but Hamilton’s actions over the last 7 days would lead many to believe he’s on his way out from McLaren. Spending most of the Monza weekend in a complete fog, a downbeat Hamilton brushed off rumors he was indeed leaving the team.
A good start and a 2.7 second pit stop saw him leading most of the race, eventually winning by 4 seconds. It wasn’t the most exciting Hamilton drive, but consistency paid off. Frankly I’ve never seen a driver so uninterested to start in pole and eventually win at Monza. Controversy seems to be following Hamilton again. After a horrendous 2011 season, everyone expected the driver to bounce back and contend for a World Championship. He is, but the fashion in which he’s doing so leaves many perplexed.
XIX Entertainment, the agency that represents Hamilton, are keen to turn the McLaren driver into a global marketing icon. They’re the same agency who orchestrated David Beckham’s move across the pond and have tried to take a similar approach with Hamilton. That combined with his pop star girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger and it’s no wonder Hamilton sees a future in the entertainment business. His desire to for greater sponsorship freedom and a potential music career beyond racing has put an obvious strain on his relationship with McLaren.
Ron Dennis was in the paddock this weekend and seemed visibly uninterested in Hamilton’s performance. If I were to offer an opinion on the situation, I’d say that McLaren have had enough. Hamilton’s Twitter fiasco last weekend at Spa couldn’t have come at a worse time, amidst contract negotiations which were already on the verge of heading south. It’ll be very interesting to see how the next week’s events unfold and at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hamilton in a Silver Arrow next season. Whether that’s the right move is a different matter entirely.
The Black Cloud
There was a black cloud hanging over the struggling Red Bull paddock this weekend.
Neither Sebastian Vettel or Mark Webber finished the race due to alternator problems. It was a tough blow to the team who needed valuable points to maintain their lead in the Constructors Championship. Vettel also served a drive through penalty for sending Fernando Alonso off the track earlier in the race. There was no doubt the drivers would all be under the stewards microscope at Monza.
Jenson Button, Nico Hülkenberg and Jean-Éric Vergne were more casualties due to mechanical issues on Sunday. Hülkenberg retired after just 8 laps with brake problems and Button just after the half way point with a fuel pressure issue. McLaren have yet to see both their drivers finish well in the same race.
It’s a shame because Button was easily in a position for a podium finish as he outpaced Felipe Massa in the Ferrari.
Alonso Commands Monza
After a tough qualifying, it was classic Alonso who made up 4 spots in the first lap of the race. Ferrari team orders were eventually called upon for the driver to get a podium finish. Massa is clearly making a case for himself as a “team player” putting up no resistance on the matter. Unfortunately for Alonso, it was Sauber’s Sergio Perez who had the quicker car and passed the Ferrari driver for a 2nd place finish. Perez and Alonso exhibited some awkwardness in the minutes following the race, leading many to question the Sauber driver’s relationship with Ferrari. It’s no secret that he’s been rumored to take over for Massa in 2013.
In classic Monza fashion, the tifosi were allowed to enter the paddock following the race. The podium finishers were greeted to a sea of Ferrari flags (and boos) from the Italian fans. Hamilton in an awkward attempt to sway the crowd spoke a bit of Italian upon accepting his trophy. The gesture was met with boos from the fans, with Hamilton ducking off the podium following his interview with Niki Lauda.
Alonso unsurprisingly owned the crowd. Only in Italy will you see that kind of passion for the home team.
Back To Asia
The Italian Grand Prix concludes the European leg of the 2012 season. It’s bitter sweet that the circus is once again leaving its perennial home turf, but what an event to end on.
The Singapore Grand Prix is less than 2 weeks away and it’ll be very interesting to see how some of these story lines play out leading up to the race. Expect more details to surface on the Lewis Hamilton situation. The front runners should also show up to Singapore with a host of new upgrades. You can be sure Red Bull are already hard at work on their alternator issues. Formula 1 is headed back to Asia as the 2012 season continues to fly by.
Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.