Nico Rosberg has now won back to back races since the summer break, scoring his seventh win of the season and his first win at Monza. Just as he lost the Hungarian Grand Prix last July within the first fifty or so meters, Rosberg won the Italian Grand Prix yesterday right off the start line. With a Mercedes front-row lockout, teammate Lewis Hamilton started from pole but bogged down on his initial getaway, allowing not only Rosberg to pass but also the two Ferraris, Valtteri Bottas in the Williams, and Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull. The rest of the field got through the first chicane safely and bar one incident between the Sauber of Felipe Nasr and the Renault of Jolyon Palmer on the second lap, the race was uneventful and fast at “The Temple of Speed.”
Once he got past Hamilton at the start, Rosberg was untouchable up front, building a lead over the Ferraris while managing his soft-compound tires. Due to the sheer pace of the Mercedes during Qualifying, both Rosberg and Hamilton were able to start the race on soft tires while the rest of the top ten started on supersofts. It took Hamilton quite a while to regain positions from Ricciardo and Bottas but once he did, he had to settle behind the two Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. However, since Vettel and Raikkonen employed a two-stop strategy like the rest of the field, Rosberg and Hamilton cruised to a Mercedes one-two finish as they were the only drivers to do a one-stop race.
In front of the roaring Tifosi at Monza, Vettel and Raikkonen ran second and third throughout the first portion of the race. They were easily the best of the rest behind the dominant Silver Arrows as Vettel took third place in the end, receiving a raucous welcome on the podium from the passionate crowd. Ferrari raced on the faster tire compounds, using a supersoft-supersoft-soft strategy across three stints, which was unfortunately still not quicker than Mercedes’ theoretically slower soft-medium tire strategy. Again, the pace of the two Silver Arrows was astounding and there wasn’t much that Ferrari could do to send two drivers on the podium.
Aside from the pit strategy game played by the front-running teams, the only other real battle was between Bottas and Ricciardo, which lasted the whole race. On their respective final stints, Ricciardo was on faster tires than Bottas and culminated their battle with a brilliant overtaking move down the Turn One chicane. Just like how he normally pulls it off, Ricciardo made a dive down the inside of the Williams of Bottas from quite a long way back. Ricciardo pulled the move off cleanly without locking tires or any contact—a masterful move that Martin Brundle called the “overtake of the year.” Both drivers judged the maneuver very well, giving each other enough fair racing room on the tight chicane. As it stood, Ricciardo finished fifth, Bottas sixth.
The Italian Grand Prix was one of the easiest races to review this season because of the lack of action (except of course, for Ricciardo’s spectacular move). However, two groundbreaking stories developed before the race, starting with Felipe Massa’s announcement on Thursday that he will retire at the end of the season to cap off a lengthy F1 career. Following that, on Saturday, Jenson Button announced his intention to take a sabbatical next year but might come back to race in 2018. Button signed an interesting two-year contract that makes him McLaren’s ambassador and reserve driver for next season, with an option for a full-time race seat on the second year. This paves the way for much-hyped rookie Stoffel Vandoorne as Fernando Alonso’s McLaren teammate next season. So while Massa is set to completely retire from F1, Button will only be taking at least a one-year break from racing.
The next grand prix will be the iconic F1 Night Race in Singapore, a place very dear to me. Last year’s race in the streets of the Lion City was the first F1 grand prix that I ever attended and the atmosphere was electric. This year, I’ll only be watching from home and I will surely miss being so close to the cars hurtling through Raffles Avenue. What I will not miss is sweating buckets in the Singapore heat!
One thing that will definitely be as hot as the weather in Singapore is the title battle between Rosberg and Hamilton, who are only separated by two points now. Rosberg has scored seven wins to Hamilton’s six but still trails the defending champion in the standings. Considering how Mercedes struggled in last year’s Singapore Grand Prix, it will be interesting to see if Ferrari or Red Bull can mount a legitimate threat for a win, especially since the nature of the Marina Bay circuit makes the playing field more level, where battles are set to hinge more on a car’s chassis and aerodynamics rather than power unit. Red Bull is likely to have a strong chance but Ferrari should not be counted out either after a respectable performance in front of their home crowd. We’ll see if anyone will encroach on the Mercedes-exclusive championship battle as the season moves back to Asia for a series of races over the next few weeks.