Sunday, 9 September 2012

2012 Italian Grand Prix Review

There has always been something a bit special and unique about the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. The history, the fans and the circuit itself.  Other ingredients all add to the mystique and the atmosphere. The race is usually blessed with beautiful late summer/early autumn sunshine.  Adding to all this is the tendency for the championship to be finely poised, and for there to be feverish speculation about "who goes where" for the following season.  Announcements are often made at Monza, or at the very least driver moves come to be regarded as a fait accompli.

Of course, one Lewis Hamilton was the subject of much of the speculation over the three days at Monza, but he put this to one side to do what he does best;that is, drive a Grand Prix car very quickly.  For the second weekend running, a McLaren proved capable of keeping the opposition at arm's length, even if the margin of victory was not ultimately that commanding on the clock.  As in qualifying, the gap between McLaren and the rest just somehow felt significant....

Although Hamilton comfortably held sway at the front, the race behind him was brimming with interest, incident and no little controversy, much of this connected at least tangentially with impending driver moves.

The home team achieved results which in the circumstances were probably as good as could be expected, given Fernando Alonso's grid position and Felipe Massa's difficulties with telemetry in the race.  Although Alonso actually extended his points lead, ironically he may feel less comfortable and secure tonight, keenly aware of the gathering challenge from a newly focussed and invigorated McLaren. 

Felipe Massa appeared positive and bullish before the race, and was positive during it, making a combative start, and driving in spirited fashion for much of the race, proving what he is capable of, before deferring to his team leader.  Cynics might mumble about "contracts time" but he will certainly have enhanced his prospects this afternoon. 

Jenson Button's retirement from the race will have come as a bitter blow to a man with undoubted momentum on his side.  Post-race, however, the Englishman was philosophical, pointing to the advances which McLaren have made in their performance in race trim.

Although it is misleading to describe Hamilton's victory as "routine", it has to be said that much of the spotlight after the race was on the startling and impressive ascent to second place of Sergio Perez.  Benefitting from a bold strategy, he executed some audacious but clean overtaking manoeuvres.  What amused me was that the young Mexican seemed a touch bemused after the race, as if he has not himself yet realised just how good he is!  He is now producing displays like this too regularly for it to be dismissed as "luck".  This kid could be something really special...

A miserable day for Red Bull, and the spectre of alternator maladies raised its head once again.  It has the potential to be an Achilles heel, but it is hard to believe that it won't be addressed swiftly in some form or other.  Sebastian Vettel raced vigorously prior to his drive-through penalty.  I thought that the sanction was warranted, but that it was not perhaps as clear-cut or egregious a transgression as some are making out.

The disappointment of the day may have been Lotus.  Their prospects were much talked up beforehand, the absence of Romain Grosjean notwithstanding.  Although Raikkonen ended up in fifth, we might have expected slightly more, and there were positive noises during practice about the car's pace on fullish tanks.  Mutterings may once again be heard about their strategic abilities and flexibility. With McLaren's renewed potency, has the Lotus "window of opportunity" for a victory passed, I wonder?  We shall see....

Mercedes salvaged something tangible from the day, with both cars in the points.  They were resigned to a two-stop strategy, and their straightline speed in the race was not sufficient to compensate for other shortcomings in the car.  Consequently, they did not have enough overall performance to make up for the time lost in pit-stops.  To their credit, the drivers never ceased in their efforts to recover the deficit. 

A quick word for Daniel Ricciardo, who was once again quietly impressive.  In no way over-awed, he seems perfectly comfortable in this lofty company, as evidenced by his driving when dicing with those making up ground following tyre stops.

One sour note was struck after the race, with allegations of abuse being directed towards Lewis Hamilton by some members of the crowd.

So can Hamilton make a late run for the championship?  He and McLaren certainly have some impetus now, although much may depend on how the car copes with some of the slower and bumpier circuits to come.  Vettel's ability, and the Red Bull's liking for some of those circuits, mean he is still very much in the hunt.  Alonso is still probably the marginal favourite, and can be counted on to accumulate points through his racer's nous and savvy, and the reliability of his vehicle.  The arithmetic is frankly too complex and speculative to bother with at this stage!

Above all, today it was glorious to watch Formula 1 cars going flat-out, and racing, at such a fast and historic circuit.

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