Free Practice, FP1/FP2/FP3:
It was usual proceedings during the practice sessions, Mercedes headed the time sheets, but both drivers suffered issues in FP2 (Hamilton) and FP3 (Rosberg) respectively. Williams had another good outing and looked settled being the second best team; Ferrari were much better in these sessions but they rarely manage to carry out the same performance on Sunday. Red Bull, McLaren and Sahara Force India followed this pack closely, while the others were way off the pace of the top 6.
SFI had their reserve driver Juncadella, for the first 30 minutes of the FP1, after which Perez took over. The team hoped for a better weekend than what they had in Spa. They had a good run during the practice sessions, apart from the one glitch to Perez’s car in FP3. If the drivers had to be compared, Perez was looking far more comfortable than Hulkenberg. They were in the P6-P13 range, throughout the Friday and Saturday sessions; one car in Q3 was achievable for the team, although they were pushing for both the cars inside top 10.
The Monza weather couldn’t have been better for the qualifying session, a bright sunny afternoon. It was a straightforward session as the big fight for top 10 and pole, was largely among the top 6 teams. Finally, Hamilton managed to qualify on pole and alongside him was Rosberg. The Williams duo of Bottas and Massa outpaced the McLaren duo of Magnussen and Button, behind the Mercedes. Although, Ferrari looked competitive during FP’s, Alonso just managed P7 and Raikkonen was out in Q2 itself. Even the Red Bull duo of Vettel and Ricciardo just managed P8 and P9, respectively. Lotus suffered yet another poor session, as they were out in Q1 along with Marussia and Caterham.
For the first time in few races, everyone in SFI were, upbeat about the qualifying session. Both the drivers were confident of a much better grid position in Monza. They comfortably managed to get through to Q2 and expectedly the team got one car in Q3. Perez’s great lap got him comfortably into the top 10, and he qualified a good P10. His teammate had poor two laps and so Hulkenberg, just managed P14 (started P13 due to Kvyat’s penalty); he admitted that he had a poor first lap and on his final run, he encountered some traffic before the start of the lap. It was indeed a better performance from the team in qualifying; it was the case that others around them had a bit more one lap pace.
Four start well, four lose positions
The eyeballs were on the start of the race; all it required was one hit, for everyone to go berserk. Even after a clean race from Hamilton and Rosberg, the conspiracy theories keep coming in. The teammates did not hit each other, but still Hamilton managed to lose places, due to a slow start. Rosberg led the race as Magnussen and Massa were right behind him. It was a poor start from Bottas and Ricciardo which pushed them way down the order. Both SFI drivers made steady start as Perez was up at P8 and Hulkenberg was into points at P9, right behind his teammate.
One-stop from everyone, tricky timing for the stop
The one stop strategy was the only thing common, among all the teams. Hamilton quickly slotted himself behind his teammate and midway into the race, he took the lead. The lead was handed to him by Rosberg, when the German made the error of braking late going into turn 1, for the second time in the race. The real fight was for places, from P4 down to P10, the pit stop was crucial which gave many drivers the grid position. Both Bottas and Ricciardo started making up places and they were quick to do so; they were also helped by Alonso suffering his first DNF this season. Outside, the top 10, it was a battle among Toro Rosso, Sauber and Lotus.
Having made a good start, both SFI drivers were involved in a fight for grid positions. Their pace wasn’t quick enough to match the leaders, but it was good enough to fight for P5-P10 positions. Perez, after his pit stop, slotted himself behind Vettel and Magnussen but crucially ahead of Button; he couldn’t battle to defend his position against Bottas and Ricciardo, their pace was too strong for Perez. Meanwhile, Hulkenberg was not enjoying his race, after having started on hard tyres presumably for a long stint; he was forced to make an early stop, because he was not gaining anything. A damage on his car meant, he was out of points after his stop and since then, he was hovering just outside points at P11.
Easy win, close fights in bottom half
Hamilton was too quick for Rosberg to catch; he went on to win the race comfortably. Rosberg was still smiling with a P2 finish, as he still leads the championship. Williams continued their podium run, Massa getting his podium of the season; both Bottas and Ricciardo made up for the poor start, finishing P4 and P5, respectively. It was a superb battle between Perez and Button as both enjoyed the clean back and forth duel. Because of Magnussen’s penalty, Perez was able to finish P7, Button at P8 and Raikkonen at P9. Hulkenberg was overtaken by Kvyat in the end, as he finished just P12; Kvyat had a scary moment in turn 1 but escaped without any significant damage.
Singapore next, the final fly away races
The drivers’ championship intensifies, as Hamilton closed the gap with seven points. The fight is on course for a last race finish; though the constructors’ championship is in the bags for Mercedes pretty much. Another podium for Williams moved them ahead of Ferrari, as the fight for P3 in the championship continued. SFI managed to close the gap to one point with McLaren; the Indian team has equaled their best haul of points (there previous season best was 109 points). The interesting thing to note here, the gap between the sixth and seventh place is a massive 90 points. And, Sauber are yet to score this season, it could well be that Marussia manage to beat both Sauber and Caterham.
With Monza, the European leg of the championship came to an end. The remaining six fly away races covers both Asia and America, including the brand new (and controversial) Russian Grand Prix. For now, the next race is in two weeks time as everyone head to the streets of Singapore.