Just like that, the European leg of the 2014 Formula 1 season was over…
The lead up for today’s Italian Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza was almost completely overshadowed by F1’s rumor mill. Between the talk of Luca di Montezemolo leaving Ferrari, the contract extensions of both Williams drivers and the ongoing melodrama at Mercedes, everyone seems to have forgotten there was a race to be held.
At this point the situation at Mercedes has created a 50-50 divide amongst fans and the media. The British tabloids are out for Rosberg’s head while the Germans would love to see Hamilton’s championship hopes extinguished. Ultimately it’s a useless debate and something the F1 media will look back on and wonder what the hell they were thinking, blowing this up to the degree they have. BBC’s 5 Live F1 broadcast has become a biweekly gossip column with Jeanie Gow and James Allen foaming at the mouth over the Mercedes driver updates. The whole thing is absurd and a commentary on how uninteresting (or in-comprehensive) the technical side of the sport has become in 2014. Ultimately one of the Mercedes drivers will take the WDC and the other (likely Hamilton) will be the odd man out.
News has surfaced that Hamilton would have to take a pay cut to stay with Mercedes beyond his current contract. It’s a very good possibility he’ll look for a drive elsewhere in 2015 and have no trouble finding one as he’ll still be in the prime of his career. McLaren will certainly want him back and depending on Vettel’s status, Red Bull could be another option. That’s very far in the future and all speculative, but Mercedes has always felt like a layover for Hamilton, much the way McLaren was for Fernando Alonso. All of that being said, today’s victory at Monza was one that will surely give him a confidence boost heading into Singapore.
After suffering his share of bad luck this season, it was a throwback drive from Felipe Massa to clinch 3rd overall. The pace of the Mercedes-powered FW36 was strong all weekend and Massa was able to make to most of a very good start.
The Red Bull’s weren’t ideally suited for the long, fast straights of Monza, but improvements in this second half of the season have kept both Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettle on the pace. Ricciardo continues to be the best part of the show every weekend with some brilliant driving through the field. Some excellent wheel-to-wheel battles with his teammate resulted in the advantage going to Ricciardo through the end of the race. Vettel has struggled with the RB10 all season long, although his pace has been improving. Ricciardo has the innate ability to save his best driving for the end of the race and it’s something that continues to set him apart this season. There’s still the very real possibility that he could make a run for the WDC, especially with all of the infighting going on at Mercedes.
Further back McLaren showed signs of life. Jenson Button did some of his best driving of the season throughout the weekend and his teammate Kevin Magnussen fought at the front of the pack for a majority of the race. For the second Grand Prix in a row, Magnussen was given a 5 second time penalty for allegedly “forcing” the Williams of Valtteri Bottas off track in turn 1. This is just another part of a much larger argument that the stewards are no longer letting the drivers race. The penalty was unreasonably harsh and feels more like the FIA making an example than anything else – Bottas’s race wasn’t affected, nothing was damaged, let the show go on. With the uncertainty of what’s to happen at McLaren next season, Magnussen feels compelled to prove his value to the team and rightfully so. For as good as Button has been in the past, he’s largely been shown up by his younger teammates the last 2 seasons.
If McLaren do indeed decide to make a driver change, Magnussen may be the unfortunate casualty for no other reasons than age and experience. Honda will be keen to have a veteran driver on the team to help develop and test their new V6 turbo power units. Button, who already has a great relationship with auto maker will likely be kept around at McLaren if it comes down to one or the other. Granted, all of this is mere speculation.
Elsewhere it was an embarrassing showing for the Scuderia at their home race. Kimi Raikkonen’s return to Ferrari hasn’t worked out the way he or the team had hoped it would. It’s been a trying season for both parties as Raikkonen has struggled with the new car and the team have missed out on valuable points in the Constructor’s Championship.
Fernando Alonso looked promising heading into today’s battle and there was that ever present thought (as there always is) that he might be able to pull off a big finish despite the hurdles. Those hopes were quickly dismissed when in lap 28 an ERS failure prematurely ended Alonso’s race. To add insult to injury, talk around the paddock is that Fiat want Luca di Montezemolo out as President of Ferrari. This weekend’s lackluster performance at home surely won’t help di Montezemolo’s chances but it would be an extremely unwise move on John Elkann’s part. In recent years, the Ferrari President has been one of the few remaining voices of reason in F1. Critics are also quick to forget that it was di Montezemolo who saved the Scuderia from similar circumstances in the 90’s when he brought in Ross Brawn and Michael Schumacher.
All-in-all a decent race and probably helped by the stunning surroundings in which it was held. Monza is the kind of track that should have a permanent foundation on the Formula 1 calendar. The best leg of the season continues as the teams head to Singapore and then onto Japan. The next month should be fun.
Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.