Going into the Italian Grand Prix, it was hard to believe that Ferrari had not won at Monza since 2010. It’s even more difficult after they locked out the front row on Sunday and failed to convert it.
That was bad news for the Tifosi but good for the rest of us since it laid the foundations for a great race; one that was as tense as Spa had been tedious seven days before. The Italian Grand Prix went against most expectations since two Ferraris on the front row had indicated the sort of high-speed procession that has marked Monza in the past.
You could also say the spectacle on Sunday was as unexpected as seeing Sebastian Vettel leaving the door open for Lewis Hamilton to take a run at him going into the Della Roggia chicane on lap 1. Given the mood Vettel’s rival was in – stoked, said Hamilton, by the traditionally hostile Monza reception delivered to anyone daring to challenge Ferrari – Seb must surely have known Lewis would go for the gap, particularly one as inviting as this.
It was as if Vettel was still unsettled by events 24 hours before. The Ferrari pit wall mistimed his pit exit for the final Q3 run to such an extent that not only Carlos Sainz managed to get himself between the Ferrari and Hamilton (from whom Vettel hoped to get a tow), but poor track positioning also gave Kimi Räikkönen the chance to slipstream his team-mate and grab his first pole since Monaco last year (and France 2008 before that).
There was much speculation over how Räikkönen would run this race – or be allowed to run it, given the anticipated favouring of Ferrari’s de facto Number 1. The only problem here is that Räikkönen doesn’t have a contract in place for 2019 and the paddock rumours on Sunday morning seemed to favour Charles Leclerc being dressed in red next year.
Whatever; Räikkönen held his ground in no uncertain manner through the first chicane, to such an extent that Vettel didn’t seem to know which way to go as Kimi took a comparatively cautious approach to the second chicane.
Understeering into Hamilton was one thing; taking out both Ferraris on lap 1 at Monza would have been Singapore 2017, times 10. It was Vettel’s continuing bad luck (and perhaps, judgement) that the momentum didn’t cause the car on the outside to spin, as is usually the case in contact such as this.
As racing incidents go, this was a typical first lap skirmish. But in the grand scheme of things (i.e. the championship) it was another incident to add to the previous three (Baku, France and, more seriously, Germany) that has put Vettel 30 points behind rather than at least half that number ahead.
While Seb may not have invoked much sympathy (nothing personal; it’s just the way these things go in the heat of such a wonderfully unpredictable season), commiserations went out to Räikkönen, particularly after he had retaken the lead so convincingly after losing it briefly to Hamilton after the restart. Kimi ultimately lost out to a highly motivated Lewis, driving superbly and making the most of the Ferrari’s tyres being shot.
Räikkönen had pushed too hard for too long after his pit stop. Whose fault that was will be discussed at Maranello this week. If it was due to another piece of poor communication from the pit wall, then don’t be surprised if Vettel is seen to carry this and the weight of Italian expectation on his shoulders next week when he returns to the race that contributed a great deal to losing the championship last year.