If Ferrari win this World Championship by the narrowest of margins, they can thank Red Bull for doing them a favour.
Ferrari came to Monza believing they might be in for a hammering, fifth and sixth being the best finish they could hope for. Red Bull didn’t know this, of course. Otherwise they might have thought twice – even allowing for being in a stronger power unit situation in the forthcoming Singapore Grand Prix – about taking the engine penalties that moved Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo from the front to near the back of the grid.
You can begin to understand why Sebastian Vettel was happy to finish on the podium for reasons other than savouring the unique atmosphere generated by the Monza faithful. The brilliantly agressive drive by Ricciardo into fourth showed Ferrari’s original pessimism to have been correct.
Third place may have been damage limitation but Ferrari did not use that excuse to sugar coat a shocking 30-second deficit to Mercedes that came as a surprise to everyone except, it seems, Ferrari.
There was a hint a couple of hours before the start when the team rehearsed their wheel changes to split-second perfection and yet Maurizio Arrivabene cut a miserable figure as he stood on his own in the pit lane. Hands deep in his pockets and absent-mindedly scuffing the concrete with the toe of his red trainer, he hardly looked the boss of a team that was about to take the fight to Mercedes. Anticipation of a great battle at home was there none.
For reasons that one day might become clear, Arrivabene feared that Monza – of all places! – would be their worst circuit this season. My understanding is that he hinted as much in private, even before rain on Saturday washed out the last chance to sort the car. His premonition was accurate and led to arguably the dullest race so far. It was a reminder of how Ferrari has saved us from another season of Mercedes procession.
The mistake would be to see Lewis Hamilton’s back-to-back – the first by any driver this year – as the turning point in 2017 as he moves into the lead of the championship (as opposed to brief joint leadership after Round 2 in China). For all the predictable and theatrical ranting post-race by Sergio Marchionne, the Ferrari chairman knows this fight is far from over.
Based on what we have seen in Monaco and Hungary, Singapore is Ferrari territory, the proliferation of slow corners suiting the SF70H more than the Mercedes W08. COTA and Yas Marina also promise to favour red rather than silver.
Saying that, Mercedes keep raising the bar, Valtteri Bottas (not a man to exaggerate) saying his car on Sunday had reached a new level. As we speak, the chassis and engine specialists in Brackley and Brixworth will be throwing everything at finding an answer for the challenge of Singapore.
For Ferrari, the past weekend will be consigned to history in one sense and revisited in another as Maranello is turned upside down to discover why their cars, more than any other, suffered such a massive percentage drop-off in performance compared with Mercedes.
Next weekend, Ferrari celebrate their 70th anniversary. Sunday’s race was hardly the perfect prelude but they should quietly raise a blue can of a certain energy drink and toast its maker for unintentionally ensuring Monza was not a total catastrophe.