The Italian GP was a real eye opener and yet another illustration as to why I keep repeating we are in the aerodynamic era of Formula 1. Monza with it’s very long straights and high-speed kinks combined with stop-start chicanes had traditionally always favoured the teams with horsepower and straight line efficiency and I’m fairly sure an engine purist such as Enzo Ferrari would not have been impressed at the sight of a Red Bull using all its downforce to light up the 3rd sector at the infamous Autodromo and destroy the field.
I loved driving at Monza this year for the first time in a Formula 1 car. For a change the sun was shining for my session and the buzz of driving a car in low downforce at the theatre of speed was fantastic. Trying to get the car stopped for the chicanes from 330 kmh to 50 is quite a tricky thing. The legendary Lesmos are a challenge to get right as you have a strange camber in the road that has to be attacked precisely and then there’s the charge into the Parabolica where you have to pick up the throttle with the back end of the car desperate to break away. But my favourite part is the Ascari chicane – in fact, it’s one that will make it onto my dream circuit map. The left-right-left at over 200kmh where you’re balancing throttle and steering right on the edge of grip is just incredible, especially this year as you try to get the DRS opened earlier and earlier with every lap.
The Renault engines have made a lot of quiet progress over the last two years but even so, expectations for this weekend were that the Mclaren’s and Ferrari’s would be right in the hunt for a race victory. As the weekend panned out however, it became more and more apparent that this time Seb Vettel and RBR team had other ideas. His qualifying lap was yet again mighty impressive. A really committed effort with controlled aggression put him half a second up the road from anyone else and left the field stunned. I have to admit that watching the on board of Sebastian’s pole was truly amazing – yes, the car’s got a lot of grip but equally, he is driving superbly and using every inch of the road and every last little bit of grip available to perfection. Watching him through the Ascari chicane, where the racing line is literally like threading the eye of the needle at 200 kmh, was a sure sign of a driver carrying a great deal of confidence along with him when he sets off to qualify.
In the race, once he got ahead of Fernando in yet another display of confidence, with two wheels on the grass, there really was no stopping the reigning world champion. The fact that once again Mark wasn’t really close to him on pace shows that it isn’t just the car but also the man pedalling it.
Mclaren had a frustrating race. Jenson plummeted backwards off the line and took a while to recover while Lewis also lost out to Michael Schumacher and then spent half the race trying to get past. Certainly the Michael vs Mclarens battle was the big talking point of the race. The 7 time world champion, was in good form once again and used all his experience and the impressive straight line advantage that the Mercedes GP cars had to keep the charging Lewis at bay. Mclaren had opted for a slightly shorter top gear, much like Sebastian Vettel but while car #1 was in the lead and pulling away in free air, the Woking squad’s cars were stuck in traffic and struggling to get past. It must have been galling for Lewis to see Jenson sneak ahead of him after Michael squeezed him onto the grass and then promptly pull off a super move around the outside of the Mercedes 4 corners later but it came at a time that Michael was struggling for grip and Jenson’s tyres were in better shape.
That laid down foundation for a charge to second for the 2009 World Champion while the 2008 World Champion spent another frustrating few laps stuck behind Michael. There were a few interesting warnings from the pitwall to the Mercedes star about moving in the braking areas and certainly there were many in the paddock who felt that Michael’s moves were a bit marginal. In the end, Lewis managed to get ahead quite easily and close up to Fernando but ran out of time to get onto the podium. All in all, a frustrating afternoon for the man who started on the front row.
Fernando himself yet again showed off his star quality. First he dragged the Ferrari onto the second row of the grid with a great qualifying lap and then produced another super start – probably as good as his own from Barcelona earlier this year – to lead into the first corner and send the tifosi wild. It didn’t last long and it was never going to ; the Ferrari not quite a match for RBR or Mclaren at this stage of the season but the double World Champion charged hard all through to register the Scuderia’s 650th podium finish in Formula 1. Fernando clearly benefitted from Michael holding up the Mclarens early on but even so, he got himself in that position with that super start and therefore you could argue he deserved to be ahead.
The world championship is pretty much signed, sealed and delivered to Seb’s trophy case as I write this but there are still 6 rounds to go with plenty of pride to battle for. Singapore presents a unique challenge with a bumpy street circuit under lights. It’s a great place to watch the cars up close and is one of the few races where I venture out to the side of the track to watch the cars in action. The circuit should still play into Red Bull’s hands but Fernando and Lewis are both ace on a street circuit and could be right in the hunt. With safety cars and the unpredictable results that a street races produce, it should be a good weekend !