The Italian Grand Prix might have been a slow burner, but the weekend contained a lot of story lines that set us up for the rest of the season as we enter the fly away races.
One of them is of course Nico Rosberg getting within two points of championship leader Lewis Hamilton, which effectively gives the battling Mercedes duo a fresh start. To say Rosberg has come back to form recently would be to overlook the foibles that Hamilton has had to endure in the past week between start problems and engine penalties.
As evidenced by qualifying on Saturday where he went faster than Rosberg by nearly half a second on a circuit made up mostly of straight lines, Lewis is still firmly ahead of his rival. But you don’t get points for Saturday.
Singapore will be a pivotal moment in the championship. As we seen in Belgium where Hamilton was able to recover to third, it will make all the difference when the points get totted up towards the end of the season. With the Ultra Soft and Super Soft being the favoured race tyre – the ones Mercedes have historically not shown pace on – it will be a race to see who can finish ahead of who between the two drivers, and I think I know who will come out on top barring any sort of force majeure.
The next race should be a much better showing for most of the teams including Red Bull and McLaren. Despite good showings in Belgium where the track conditions suited them much more, last weekend was always one they anticipated was going to be difficult because of the conditions and emphasis on power.
On the one hand it calmed down Max Verstappen, who despite being the hot topic of the weekend didn’t have any cars to weave in front of once the race settled into a rhythm. But it didn’t didn’t stop Daniel Ricciardo from pulling what was one of the gutsiest overtaking manoeuvres I’ve ever seen in a Formula 1 car. I’ve said before how I admire his ability to just have a go, even if it looks impossible. Admittedly I was fully expecting a crash between him and Bottas when they entered the first chicane, but the Williams driver was wise to it and gave him just enough room to pull the move off.
It was a shame Bottas conceded the place after Williams – for once – pulled off an aggressive strategy by covering a potential under cut and pitting him before Ricciardo came in, effectively forcing an on-track overtake. It just seems the car doesn’t have the pace yet to hold on to track position, which is perhaps the root of their lapse in performance which has allowed Force India to overtake them in the constructors championship.
Clearly change is needed at Grove, and it seems they are getting it next year when Felipe Massa retires after 15 years in the sport at Abu Dhabi. Massa’s form has been woeful – to put it bluntly – the past two years, with some notable races such as Monza last year and his pole position in Austria 2014. I don’t think this generation of car has suited his driving style, which can be very scrappy at times.
But you can’t take away what has been an honourable career for him in this sport. Many point towards 2008 and his dignity shown on the podium in Brazil when his lost the world championship as his finest hour. But I think it was his determination to get back on the grid after his life-threatening accident in Hungary during qualifying in 2009.
Many in the UK will know it wasn’t long after former Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond came back to TV, after suffering a similar accident when he crashed a high-speed dragster on a runway in a feature he was doing for the show. If you’ve ever read his book you will have an idea what Massa’s family went through in the agonising preliminary stages of recovery, so to see him back in a racing car six months later was a remarkable achievement.
Massa won’t be the only driver missing from the grid next year, as on Saturday Jenson Button also announced that he will be taking a sabbatical in 2017, with the option to return to racing in 2018.
Question’s over Jenson Button’s future have been thrown around ever since we entered this new turbo era. I was convinced he would be leaving at the end of last year because at that stage McHonda didn’t look to be making too much progress. But even though they have started to find some pace with Fernando Alonso setting the fastest lap on Sunday, having contemplated it over the summer break Jenson was swift to start talks with Ron Dennis in Spa before finalising it in the week running up to Monza.
Both parties have been keen to avoid the word ‘retirement’ as Jenson isn’t actually retiring from Formula 1. But it all really depends on where we are at the end of next year and whether Fernando Alonso jumps ship for a potential drive elsewhere.
This does mean Stoffel Vandoorne can finally compete in a full-season, in what has been eagerly anticipated since 2013 for those who watched him duke it out with Kevin Magnussen for the Formula Renault 3.5 title. I firmly believe those two are the future along with Verstappen of this sport.
It’s strange to see drivers I’ve grown up with (in Jenson’s case I’ve seen every race since 1999) finally bow out of the sport having set records and won multiple races and championships. But it seems we’re finally getting that change-agent I’m sure fans who started watching 15 years before I did experienced in the late nineties/mid naughties.
Who knows where we’ll be in 15 years time… Probably still arguing about costs.
Photo Credit: XPB Images