In a first this season there will be both two DRS zones (which we saw in Montreal and Valencia) but also two detection zones. The thinking is that this will aid overtaking, of course, but also that it will make up for a lesser DRS effect, presumably due to the generally high speed nature of Monza.
Tyre allocations for the weekend are the same as for Spa (soft yellows and medium whites). This is bad news for Ferrari, who suffered greatly when trying to get heat into the white tyres at Spa. They’re also more adversely affected by the cold, for the same reason.
The first practice session was handy as all times were set on white tyres, enabling an approximate comparison. McLaren were fastest, followed by Red Bull, with Ferrari some way back.
Second practice had Vettel, Hamilton and Schumacher at the top, followed by the two Ferraris, Webber, Button and Perez. However, the commentary chaps reckoned that the McLarens were relatively slow on heavy fuel. That could prove handy for Red Bull and Mercedes.
Third practice had Vettel ahead of everyone by a few tenths, and on that basis I tipped him for pole at evens.
To my surprise and delight, Vettel not only got pole, he slaughtered his opposition. Hamilton and Button were 2nd and 3rd, but Hamilton was almost half second behind the Weltmeister.
Even more oddly, Webber (who had just one run rather than two) was down by seven-tenths on his team mate, and managed only 5th, directly behind Alonso and ahead of Massa. The top 10 were rounded out by Petrov, Schumacher, Rosberg and Senna, but it’s worth mentioning that Rosberg did Q3 on the prime tyre (the slower white compound) and Senna did not set a time at all.
I found the race even harder to predict than qualifying. In the end, I opted for a Vettel win tip at 2.3 and a Webber podium tip at 2.75 (although this did later lengthen to 3.25). A gentleman from Putney suggested, pre-P3, backing Schumacher for a top 6 place at 3.05, which I also put a little on.
The start was very exciting. Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton entered turn 1 abreast, and left it in the above order. Meanwhile, Webber and Button continued their habit of starting poorly, and Schumacher continued his of taking off like a rocket. However, the midfield was torn to shreds by a HRT car which decided to go for some off-track rally action and rammed its way through half the midfield runners.
A safety car appeared, a few cars (especially those that had slyly begun the race on medium white tyres) dove into the pits, and the numerous cars, including Rosberg’s and Petrov’s, destroyed by the incident were removed from the circuit.
At the sharp end, Schumacher’s ultra-fast Mercedes had gotten past Hamilton, and was holding him up. This continued for many laps, and the wily old fox was rather robust with his defensive moves at times.
Still before lap 10, Webber (who had fallen back, due to his bad start), tried passing Massa but unfortunately forgot that two objects possessing the same co-ordinates in time and space contravenes the laws of physics. He whacked the Ferrari, lost his front wing and spun Massa around. Shortly thereafter, Webber’s car, angry at his mistake, refused to turn at a corner (possibly due to nearly zero front downforce resulting from no front wing) and he thumped nose-first into a barrier and out of the race.
Vettel, meanwhile, completed a staggeringly good pass on Alonso, going around him in a sweeping, high speed corner. Pass done, he then drove off into the sunset and divided the rest of his time between growing and maintaining a healthy lead and doing the Financial Times crossword.
Schumacher put Hamilton onto the grass slightly (still, better than a concrete wall at 200mph), allowing Button to sneak past his team mate and then immediately past the German. Many laps later Schumacher yielded to Hamilton, perhaps reasoning the pass was only a matter of time and such defensive driving was damaging his tyres.
As predicted the Ferrari was poor on white tyres and this enabled cunning Button to pass him and reach second place. Briefly it appeared as though Alonso might yet retake the place, but by the final lap he was just ahead of Hamilton. Another lap and he would’ve finished in fourth.
Schumacher got a very solid fifth, for the second race running, making Mr. Putney’s tip nice and profitable (and better than mine). I got one right and one wrong for the race making it very slightly profitable, and got my solitary qualifying tip correct. After the woes of Spa I’m happy enough with two from three, and a small profit augmented by the wisdom of Mr. Putney.
Webber crashing out was irksome, both as it meant that bet failed and I have no idea if it would have come off. I think it had a reasonable chance, but we’ll never know.
Yet again, both Ferraris and Schumacher had electric starts, Red Bull varied between a big sluggish (Vettel) and nodding off (Webber) and Button was also a little slow. I did consider the First Lap leader bet briefly but decided against it.
There is a silver lining to Webber’s failure to finish (the first time since Korea last year a Red Bull has failed to win points at a race), which is that Alonso now becomes second in the title race, a more profitable place for my Winner Without Vettel market bets (Alonso or Hamilton winning gives more than anyone else). However, still a bit irked that he crashed out, but that’s racing.
So, why did the car that is substantially slower than its rivals in a straight line manage to win at a circuit which is all about top speed?
Because, as I’ve said before, Vettel is clever. He and Webber opted for differing gear ratios at the top end (gears 6 and 7). Vettel went for short ratios, reducing top end speed but, I believe, enabling the car to be quicker through the sweeping corners. In practice and qualifying the McLaren was much faster in sector 1 but was losing about half a second in sector 3 to the Red Bull.
This is also why Hamilton had such difficulty, even with DRS, passing Schumacher. The Mercedes was cheerfully set up to be fast as hell in a straight line, but McLaren had copied the Red Bull path. The problem is, overtaking in a straight line is bloody hard when the bloke in front is about the same speed as you, and passing elsewhere, even if you have speed in hand, is also tough.
Unfortunately, after the epic old European circuits, we’re off to the tedium of Singapore in a fortnight. Hopefully it won’t be like Valencia, presently the only boring race of the year.