Italian Snippets (Belated)

(Sorry this is so late. Firstly, up until last week I have been much, much busier than I am used to, secondly, this week they keep showing snooker on the TV plus I am still have not fully caught up on the Tour of Britain on ITV-Player, and thirdly, I am lazy.)

The general feedback on the Italian Grand Prix seemed to be that it was a dullish race but I enjoyed it. The battle between Alonso and Button was tense for much of the race, Webber’s recovery past a few cars was exciting, with other things of interest. There was some debate on how McLaren and Jenson might have otherwise approached pit-strategy to avoid losing the win to the Spaniard’s Ferrari, but Fernando was just that bit quicker so was going to get past at the stops whatever McLaren did, with the prime tyres too slow to warm up to give the advantage usually provided on the first lap over used option-tyres.

Fernando Alonso’s win at Monza was his 24th victory, the 213th for Ferrari. Jenson Button’s second-place was his thirtieth podium. It was the sixtieth Formula One WC event at Monza, being host to the Italian GP every year of the World Championship except 1980. Ferrari have won eighteen times at Monza.

It is obviously not in any way Michael Schumacher’s fault he failed to reach Q3, as he explained that the position he achieved was the maximum possible for the car. It brings Nico Rosberg’s teamsmanship into question that he contradicted this by qualifying five places higher in seventh, also stating it was the maximum achievable.

With the ups and downs of the title-contenders in the last two races, I decided to work out how many points they respectively garnered.

  Driver       Bel   Ita    Total  
  Massa      12   15   27 
  Webber      18   8   26 
  Hamilton      25   0   25 
  Alonso      0   25   25 
  Button      0   18   18 
  Vettel      0   12   12 

Four drivers across both races scored about a win’s-worth of points, with Button and especially Vettel losing valuable ground. Massa has had a very consistent season, but unfortunately, as in Italy (but not Germany), it has been a case of being often just not consistently competitive enough. Mark Webber lost the opportunity to do more damage to his rivals with another difficult start and undistinguished first lap. He showed us a fine recovery drive, but involving risks that might not have paid off, and ideally should have been unnecessary.

It was a terrible weekend for Lewis Hamilton. In the same car as Button, Hamilton tends to be that bit faster, so, had he chosen the F-duct route, could have expected to have been contesting for the win with Alonso for 25 or 18 points. It is reliably reported that LH was furious after qualification, having realised he had made the wrong decision to go low-downforce. It is not a huge leap to conclude he took too much of that frustration into the first lap. The mark of his season up to then had been ultra-consistently getting the results and points that the car and circumstances would give, except for being bested by Button on tyre-calls in a couple of wet-dry races. His F1 record is of overtaking moves that are committed and assertive, not of making half-hearted moves that are asking for trouble. The two Ferrari’s were still scrabbling for position, there was simply not an overtaking move on, so Lewis was right to be disappointed in himself for trying to push alongside Massa at that point. The outcome was harsh, plus it would have been easy for him to call it a racing accident, but after the distress of qualifying, Hamilton undoubtedly should have reset his sights on a good points finish. 12 points for fourth, or 15 if he could mug Massa for third, with Webber pushed down to 6 points for seventh, could have made Lewis’s ‘Championship. He said after that he would try even harder for the rest of the season, but it was trying too hard that blew it for him in Italy, and possibly the title.

(I was prompted to make calculations of what this season is the average result needed to lead the title-chase. Before Italy, Hamilton led with 182 points after 13 races at a mean average of exactly 14 points, and after Monza, Webber leads with 187 from 14 rounds giving an average of 13·4. Under 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 scoring, this suggests podiums are good title-results but fourth is not quite good enough.)

During the race, there was speculation that seemed far-fetched that Vettel’s very temporary problem enabling Webber to pass him was heavily disguised team-orders with the question raised of if the team had decided to favour Mark towards the title with his better points-position than Sebastian. I found this very difficult to believe, because past events suggest that perhaps not Horner himself but his bosses only need half-an-excuse to favour Vettel, and Webber would only be grudgingly favoured if Vettel was mathematically out of it. Vettel’s distress over the radio sounded very genuine, but firstly the sticking brake explanation was an exceedingly unusual issue to have, and if genuine would have been unlikely to mysteriously fix itself without any further repercussions, whilst secondly the TV pictures cut to the RBR bods behind the pits, monitoring the flow of telemetry from the cars on computer screens, who looked utterly un-bothered, which surely would not have been the case if one of their drivers was protesting so dramatically about the engine.

I rarely subscribe to conspiracy theories, but this is going to be the exception. Ferrari’s cardinal sin in Germany was not executing team-orders, FIA have always known the ban is unenforceable, the transgression was Ferrari making it undeniably blindingly obvious it was team-orders as to who won. Utterly sick of the then ongoing-for-weeks controversies about RBR favouring Vettel over Webber, and over the tensions with and between the drivers, Christian Horner repeatedly attacked Ferrari on the team-orders issue, and must have been delighted to do what he could to fuel the new focus of the press-pack thus away from his direction. In Italy, Vettel’s unusual strategy of running almost to the end of the race on the option-tyres, enabling him to climb to fourth-place without having to overtake anyone, might, and indeed did, conflict with Webber’s approach to the race. So obviously they had to plan for Vettel letting Webber past, not for the ‘Championship but for the drivers to both achieve their best possible results in the race (with Vettel at the end back ahead of Webber), but in a way they could as convincingly as possible deny any suggestion of team-orders. So the scheme was to make sure Vettel utterly understood that he had to make it sound genuine, and then throw in the sticking brake-issue as an explanation after the race to muddy the waters. Whatever he has said however often, Horner will use team-orders, like any other team in the pitlane, when circumstances demand.

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