F1: Monza dramas came before and after 53 laps of boredom
THE race itself was damned boring. But an outbreak of crazy grid penalties before the race, and then a post-race inquiry into the winning car, gave the Italian Grand Prix some talking points.
Ultimately though, after stewards ruled no action was necessary against Mercedes over a potential tyre pressure infringement, Lewis Hamilton could keep his crushing Italian Grand Prix victory at Monza – the seventh win of 2015 for the Brit.
The newly blond Hamilton was supreme, again taking pole and then romping away to a faultless 25 second victory over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, ahead of the duelling Williams pair Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas.
“This weekend has been just fantastic,” said Hamilton. “A perfect weekend for me - I can't remember one like it.
“This race is so special for every driver. When you stand up on that podium it's so emotional. It's a really proud moment to be up there in front of that sea of fans and to walk in the footsteps of so many great drivers who have won here,” Hamilton said.
Title challenger Nico Rosberg's race ended disastrously two laps from the end with a smoky engine failure, soon after Mercedes cranked up the power on his old engine in a late attempt to catch Vettel's Ferrari.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo was a fighting eighth, charging from the last row of the grid.
“It was a great result for the team considering where we started and the characteristics of this track. It was sweet taking that eighth place on the last lap from Ericsson,” the Red Bull star said.
“I am very happy with the chassis - the car was handling really well - and we were able to fight with a Ferrari and a Mercedes-powered car on a track where we lost out a lot on the straights. It wasn’t an easy weekend for us, but I think the race was positive and the energy in the team is good. I will probably celebrate with one more pizza,” said an upbeat Ricciardo.
Hamilton again dominated qualifying, claiming his fourth Italian Grand Prix pole, the 49th of his career. Mercedes team-mate Rosberg qualified fourth despite being forced to change engines following a problem with his planned race unit. The replacement hybrid power unit was previously used in Spa and was tackling its sixth race weekend.
The Mercs were split on the grid by the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel. This was always going to be a race between the silver and red teams.
Qualifying dictated the fortunes of most of the drivers after a record (and ludicrous) total of 168 grid place penalties were imposed to punish component changes and drivers.
Ricciardo copped it hardest, belted with a 50-place penalty for a double engine change.
Earlier, Red Bull Racing had elected to take their penalty grid spots (for using more than their engine allocation) at Monza, a track where they were likely to be outgunned anyway. Then Ricciardo had a significant failure on the new engine, forcing Red Bull to slot the old, well-used V8 back in for qualifying (15th fastest) and the race. The Aussie started 19th after grid penalties were applied.
Daniil Kvyat also suffered, his 14th in qualifying adjusted to 18th after the officials a got busy applying a 35-spot penalty for two power unit component changes plus a gearbox penalty.
(If anyone remotely understands all this penalty stuff, go to the top of the class.)
Toro Rosso's Max Verstappen was also sent to the rear of the grid following a 20-place penalty for using his seventh and fifth power unit elements – plus an extra 10 places for broken engine seals (counting as him using his eighth engine).
If this wasn’t enough, Verstappen also had to serve a drive-through penalty because his car shed bodywork bits when heading out to qualify.
Similarly, after also taking grid penalties, the McLaren Honda pair and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr started a long way from the pointy end.
Other than the two Lotus-Mercs going out after first lap contretemps, the race was 53 laps of Hamilton perfection. At least until a mysterious and guarded radio message from the Mercedes pit to Hamilton in the closing stages of the race. “We need to pull a gap. Don’t ask questions. We’ll explain at the end,” came the instruction to Hamilton, who was already way out in the lead. Conjecture raged in the commentary box and among viewers around the world.
Hamilton stretched his gap to 25.0 seconds at the chequer and celebrated with delight on the podium. Soon afterwards, it was revealed that a check of tyre pressures on the grid before the race had shown that both Mercedes’ left rears were under Pirelli’s recommended minimum of 19.5psi. Hamilton’s tyre was 0.3psi underinflated; Rosberg’s a more significant 1.1psi.
These discrepancies might not be much on your Corolla or Commodore, but in the pedantic world of F1, where performance is extracted using the barest margins, rival teams seemed to opine that there were gains to be made from the lower pressures. There was also a safety issue (after Vettel suffered a blowout at Spa), which is the reason the minimum pressures were mandated.
Williams chief technical officer Pat Symonds equated the under-inflation to the FIA discovering a rear wing on a car was a few millimetres too wide. It would result in automatic disqualification, he said.
In the inquiry into the underinflated tyres on the Mercedes cars, stewards gave some leniency due to the absence of a defined time for checking the pressures.
Merc’s Toto Wolff said later that the precise time the pressures are checked by the FIA – on Sunday this was after the five-minute signal before the race – needed to be specified.
Wolff said the Mercedes tyres were checked when they were put on the car.
He denied emphatically that Mercedes had deliberately inflated the Pirellis so that they would meet the rules at the time of testing but drop lower by the start of the race.
WRC: Rally Australia could be champagne time for VW
WRC Standings leader Sebastien Ogier (above).
AFTER Volkswagen’s breakthrough triumph in its home event last time out, the German brand has a golden opportunity to wrap up three championships at Rally Australia next weekend – titles for drivers, co-drivers and manufacturers…
History could be made on the gravel around Coffs harbour: never before would the championship have been decided at such an early point in the season.
There is reason for VW to be confident. A year ago, Australia was the scene of Volkswagen’s first ever one-two-three with the Polo R WRC. The three Polo crews will be familiar with roughly three quarters of the challenging gravel routes from last year’s event. In total, they must complete 311.36 kilometres against the clock, spread over 17 special stages.
The what-ifs are simple…
French pair Sebastien Ogier/Julian Ingrassia lead by 93 points. Their destiny is in their own hands as they aim for their third WRC title in a row.
WRC contender Jari-Matti Latvala (above).
To pull this off, they must maintain a margin of at least 84 points over Finns Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila and Norwegians Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene. Only the three Volkswagen driver/co-driver combos can still mathematically be crowned champions in 2015.
The title leaders can afford to lose no more than nine points to Latvala/Anttila – should Latvala win, second place and a bonus point from the Power Stage would suffice for Ogier. Should they finish ahead of Latvala/Anttila, the title is theirs.
The chances of Mikkelsen/Fløene winning the title are more mathematical than realistic, given that they trail the leaders by 109 points,
Ogier is raring to go: “I love the Rally Australia. It is a very special event. As it is an overseas rally, there is a little less hustle and bustle than at Volkswagen’s home race in Germany, for example. It is a bit more intimate, and I like that. Furthermore, the special stages in Australia are very nice to drive. Always have a lot of fun in the car. Last year it was a great duel between Jari-Matti and me, and we were ultimately separated by just 6.8 seconds.”
F1: Gossip and innuendo
AFTER yet another uncompetitive grand prix with Honda power at Monza, former world champion Jenson Button looked like a man struggling with the idea of enduring another season at McLaren, scrapping with the rats and mice at the wrong end of the F1 grid.
Button did at least finish the Italian Grand Prix. His team-mate Fernando Alonso went out with yet another power unit failure.
McLaren racing director Eric Boullier had declared before the race that the team intended to retain its current driver line-up, but Button’s body language was that of someone wary of being bitten again.
Asked by Sky News about his future after finishing 14th at Monza, Button said: "I think that's something we need to discuss away from the circuit over the next few weeks.”
Button has shown plenty of speed and fight in his intra-team battles with Alonso, but he is also clearly keen to put his bum into a car capable of running faster than the current McLaren Honda.
There is an option in his contract with McLaren, which also has a couple of young goers in its stable, Stoffel Vandoorne and Kevin Magnussen.
Still on under-performing engines, the Red Bull team will not run Renault power units next season, according to a report from Autosport.
The website suggests that the relationship between the engine supplier and Red Bull management has become irretrievably untenable after a succession of reliability and performance problems.
While Red Bull’s deal with Renault runs until the end of 2016, Autosport is convinced the partnership will not continue next year.
Attributing its report to unnamed sources, Autosport said Red Bull had formally requested a termination of the partnership, and that this would be accepted by Renault, which has been linked to a buyout of the struggling Lotus team.
Mercedes and Ferrari are the only engine options open to Red Bull.