After the Italian Grand Prix at Monza this weekend, here at five things that we learnt on the track and off it.
Blondes really do have more fun
We now have the answer to the age old question about whether blondes really do have more fun. World Champion Lewis Hamilton provided the answer.
On the Thursday of the Italian Grand Prix weekend, Hamilton appeared with a new hairdo. Bright Blonde. According to the man himself he is in “an experimental stage” of his life and is “living the life he couldn’t have” when he was younger. Many respected figures in the paddock, however have said it “doesn’t matter what he gets up to away from track as long as he is fast on it”.
On Friday morning in the early stages of an initially damp first practice both the Mercedes' were, as expected, quickly on the pace, with Hamilton on top. He eventually topped the session with a time of 01:24.670 – 0.463 ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg in second.
He continued to set the pace in second practice, where teams run race simulations, although his advantage was reduced to just 0.021 over Rosberg. Third practice Hamilton topped the session again lapping the Autodromo Nazionale Monza in 01.24.544.
In Qualifying Hamilton was supreme and topped every session, eventually claiming his 11th pole of the season and seventh in succession. After not being overly troubled the Brit was in a good place to extend his 28 point lead over Rosberg.
When it came to it he went largely untroubled on the Sunday and led from lights-to-flag, posting fastest lap on the way to beat Sebastian Vettel by 25 seconds, to complete his second career Grand Slam
Despite a disqualification threat for illegal tyre pressures, it was perhaps the best weekend of Hamilton’s career, as nobody came close to him and many now feel the sport is entering the ‘Hamilton era’ akin to the recent ‘Vettel’ and ‘Schumacher’ eras.
Thanks to the dominance of the weekend, Hamilton, has for now, provided an answer to the age old question of whether being blonde makes you have more fun. That answer being an emphatic YES.
Tyre Pressure recommendations will be enforced
In response to the two high profile tyre blowouts in August’s Belgian GP, tyre supplier Pirelli introduced new minimum tyre pressures (PSI) to ensure that the Medium and Soft compounds were slightly stronger and less likely to blowout. Both front and rear tyre PSI was increased by one PSI, with crucially the rears having to be at 19.5PSI for safe operation.
In the run up to the weekend FOM, no doubt with the commercial rights holder looking over their shoulder released a statement clearing Pirelli of any wrongdoing- despite a second series of high-profile blowouts in just over two years (2013 British GP was the other) and offered full support to the beleaguered Italian company saying they were confident in the “Quality and safety of the product” being provided.
It must be said that Pirelli often find themselves in an impossible situation as many complain that the tyres degrade too fast- which is what Pirelli were asked to do when they became tyre supplier in 2011. Whereas they are often criticised for the tyre choices being too conservative and lead to one stop races. Furthermore with Michelin bidding for the tyre tender contract from 2017, it is a difficult balancing act.
Boss Paul Hembrey has said that the company will do “whatever is requested of them”, with Bernie Ecclestone a high profile supporter. For the most part Pirelli have done an excellent job and couldn’t have done anymore to shake strategy up in contrast to the Bridgestone days.
With five laps left in the race with a 20 second lead, Lewis Hamilton was instructed to go to ‘Hammertime’ and extend his lead. His Mercedes team kept him in the dark as to why. However it was soon revealed that on the grid tyre pressure indicators indicated that the PSI in the left rear of “Car 44 (Hamilton) was 0.3 below the minimum and Car 6 (Rosberg) was 1.1 PSI below."
The reason for the increase of pace was Mercedes expected a time penalty of possibly 25 seconds for Hamilton. Rosberg had retired.
As seen in Australia 2014 with Daniel Ricciardo and Belgium 1994 with Michael Schumacher, breaking technical regulations normally leads to disqualification and fine for the driver and team. It was widely expected that Hamilton would be excluded and Sebastian Vettel declared winner. Earlier on in the GP2 support race Mitch Evans had been excluded for the same offence.
Mercedes bosses Paddy Lowe and Toto Wolff were confident however that they had done nothing wrong and would be cleared of any wrong doing, which they eventually were.
Despite nothing being done to Hamilton and Mercedes the fact they were investigated shows the stewards and Pirelli will police the new tyre recommendations harshly.
After all safety of drivers and fans is of paramount importance and if random checks, as was the case in Monza, indicate PSI’s below the legal limit on other cars in future disqualification can be expected as now every team has been warned and know the consequences of breaking the rules.
Mercedes' new engine advantage
Mercedes introduced their upgraded 2016 spec Power Unit for the weekend, but only for the works team, whilst the customers, Williams, Lotus and Force India had the old spec. Using four of their permitted ‘development tokens’, the competiveness of the unit would show what sort of pace the Mercedes powered cars could show next season.
Remaining tight lipped about specific parameters, such as brake horsepower output, the results at the end of first practice were ominous for the field. Hamilton went one and a half seconds faster than third placed man Vettel. Even with Ferrari development, to close a gap of that size is going to prove an extremely hard task.
However the weekend wasn’t all plain sailing for Rosberg in the sister works Mercedes. A problem on Saturday morning meant he would have to revert to the old speck unit which had been used since Canada, and used at some of the most power hungry tracks between Canada and Belgium.
In the final part of qualifying, when everything is turned up to the max, Hamilton was around three tenths quicker than Rosberg, which shows that the unit has improved by at least that much. In the race whilst Hamilton sailed off, Rosberg struggled and with two laps left at the second chicane his engine blew, whilst in third place.
Of course, the newest most powerful engine at the most power hungry track, the dominance of the new speck could be expected. In Singapore next time out, a better understanding of the drivability and traction of the new unit will be revealed.
Mercedes, though, judging by what we saw in Italy, seem all set to repeat the dominance they have shown in 2016.
Formula One is more popular in Italy than in a long time
There has been a lot of talk in recent times that, at the end of its contract, Monza will be dropped from the Formula One calendar as it can’t meet the hosting fee Bernie Ecclestone is demanding. Ferrari’s struggles in 2013 and 2014 have led to lower TV audiences and race weekend attendances, which means profits are down and the fee is too high.
Many figures including Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivebene have said that Monza is part of the spiritual home of Formula One and "losing it would be a travesty" Along with the British GP, the Italian GP is the only race to have been on every calendar, since the championship began in 1950 and Monza has held every single Italian GP, 1980 excepted.
However an upturn in Ferrari performance, with Vettel winning in Malaysia and Hungary and Kimi Raikkonen scoring solid points, the passionate ‘Tifosi’ to come out in record numbers to see their beloved Red cars race at the ‘Cathedral of speed’. They were not to be disappointed.
From the start of the on-track action it was apparent that Ferrari seemed to be the second fastest car on track with Vettel and Raikkonen high up in the timing screens. After a strong Friday and Saturday morning in qualifying the team sprang a shock.
In the pole position shootout, Ferrari managed to split the Mercedes with Raikkonen second and Vettel third ahead of Rosberg in fourth. For the overjoyed Tiffosi a podium finish or better seemed possible.
Despite Raikkonen stalling on the grid, eventually finishing fifth – providing a ‘what if’ moment – Vettel delivered on the Tiffosi’s dreams and finished second, leading to delirious scenes on the track during the podium ceremony.
With new fan favourite Hamilton, Vettel and Ferrari old-boy Felipe Massa third, the fans were extremely overjoyed. All three drivers received massive cheers whilst raising their trophy, and the celebrations that followed were a sight to behold.
Flags, confetti, noise, outright passion were all on show and everyone there was enjoying themselves. What it should be like. Some of the places Formula One is headed to in future times have no racing pedigree whatsoever whilst the idea of dropping Monza has just become even more ridiculous.
If they had fallen out of love with the sport, on Sunday at Monza, the Italian fans showed they are well and truly back in love with it. Here’s hoping Bernie was watching and comes to realise what a terrible mistake it would be to drop the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
McLaren – Honda relations hit new low
Cracks are starting to appear in the McLaren-Honda partnership. Where they could once deny, and say “we are one team. McLaren-Honda and not McLaren and Honda”, the previously once dominant partnership in the late 1980’s early 1990’s, is starting to eek murmurs of discontent.
Most of the troubles can be directed at the Honda power unit. It is estimated to be around 150bhp down on the Mercedes and the Internal Combustion engine (ICE) and hybrid technology just doesn’t work well enough. And it seems McLaren have had enough.
Honda boss Yasuhisa Arai made the bold claim at Spa that the Honda unit would be only around 30bhp behind the Ferrari, due to use of some development tokens, whilst claiming in Monza that it was 25bhp ahead of the Renault. Many scoffed at the claim and didn’t believe him, leading to what was called by Sky Sports’ Ted Kravitz “a brutal interrogation” on Saturday night. Jenson Button, with slipand DRS couldn’t pass the Renault powered Max Verstappen, due to a lack of outright grunt.
Scoring only 17 points in 12 races, this season is on course to be one of McLaren’s worst. According to driver Fernando Alonso all but 0.3 seconds of the deficit can be attributed to the power – or lack of it- unit. Things seem to be so bad, that Jenson Button, ever smiling and nice guy is in recent times cutting a depressed figure.
Relations between Arai seem to have broken down with Eric Bouiller, (Racing Director) and Ron Dennis. Rumours are that McLaren have written to Honda HQ asking for Arai to be sacked. Honda, and more to the point Arai, have refused to bring in outside help from Mercedes, Renault and or Ferrari. It is commendable that they want to do everything themselves but its time Arai admitted he needs help- sometimes even the best need help.
Martin Brundle, McLaren racer turned commentator said that “even if it blows itself to bits on the way as long as it went faster, reliability could be solved”. Instead both McLaren-Honda’s took their 10th Power Units of the season, double the permitted five, although the team are stockpiling some to reduce penalties later on at less power hungry tracks.
It is difficult times for McLaren with no title sponsor and poor performance in recent seasons being a drain on finances. They and Honda will get there, but when is the question. Button said in Australia “we might have a car capable of winning in November”, two months from that deadline, McLaren are struggling to get out of the first part of qualifying.
The rest of 2015 is a test for McLaren and the off season development in 2015/2016 will be crucial. If in 2016 they are struggling like now, Honda bosses may reassess their positon in the sport, potentially leaving McLaren engineless and one of the great names to have fallen out of Formula One, in a worst case scenario.