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Italian GP 2016


Race Report - Victory platter

Nico Rosberg, Italian GP 2016
© The Cahier Archive


By Dan Knutson in Monza

Lewis Hamilton handed victory on a platter to his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg after make a slow getaway from pole position and falling back to sixth place. Rosberg went on to lead all but one lap to win the Italian Grand Prix for the first time. Hamilton recovered to finish second. Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the top four.

"The start was the big opportunity and that worked out fantastically," Rosberg said. "I got a great start, because of course we had the soft (tires) and Ferrari had the super soft and that worked out great and that gave me the race win in the end, because from then on I was able to control the pace and we had good speed."

After the red lights went out to start the 53-lap race, Hamilton, who had qualified comfortably on pole, had wheel spin and dropped back to sixth place.

"I don't really know what happened at the start, though obviously I will try to understand it later," Hamilton said. "I did everything normal. But it's hard to overtake here."

Max Verstappen, who had lined up seventh in his Red Bull, faded back to 11th.

"I went into anti-stall at the start. I don't know what happened there so I have to analyze that," he said. "After that it was just very difficult, because you have to push harder on the tires to get past people and that compromises your strategy, but in the end our last stint was very positive."

The order at the end of lap 1 was: Rosberg, Vettel, Raikkonen, Valtteri Bottas (Williams), Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull), Hamilton, Sergio Perez (Force India), Felipe Massa (Williams), Fernando Alonso (McLaren), Nico Hulkenberg (Force India) and Verstappen.

Hamilton got by Ricciardo and now chased after Bottas, but he could not get close enough to pass. But Verstappen was able to overtake, and he took ninth from Alonso on lap 8.

On lap 10, Rosberg had a 4.4 second lead over Vettel and an 11.0 second lead over Hamilton. Going down the straight to begin lap 11, Hamilton drafted by Bottas to take fourth place.

Hamilton and teammate Rosberg had the soft compound Pirelli tires on their cars for the opening stint. The Ferrari duo had the super soft, as did the rest of the top 10 on the grid, and so they would have to pit for tires before the Mercedes drivers.

Bottas, Verstappen and several others made their first pit stop at the end of lap 13.

Raikkonen came in at the end of lap 15 for another set of the super soft slicks. By this time Rosberg was 10.3 seconds ahead of Vettel.

Vettel and Ricciardo stopped a lap later, for super softs and softs respectively, so now Hamilton was in second place and 14.8 seconds behind Rosberg.

"So that's a flat-out two-stop strategy for Scuderia Ferrari, on the super soft for the two opening stints," Pirelli tweeted.

On lap 20 the order was: Rosberg by 13.4 seconds over Hamilton, Vettel, Raikkonen, Bottas, Ricciardo, Romain Grosjean (Haas), who had yet to pit, Perez, Verstappen and Massa.

Rosberg pitted at the end of lap 24 and got a set of the medium Pirellis. Clearly, therefore he was on a two-stop strategy. Hamilton led lap 25 but pitted for the mediums and came out in fourth behind Vettel and Raikkonen, both of whom would have to pit once more. That information was passed on to Hamilton.

Hamilton was pushing hard, and cutting fractions of a seconds into Rosberg's advantage on every lap, and to make it worse, Rosberg was now encountering traffic. But Hamilton didn't have the life in his tires to keep pushing, and soon he was more worried about protecting himself from the cars behind than chasing after Rosberg.

Grosjean finally pitted at the end of lap 28. He would end up finishing 11th after starting 17th because of a gearbox penalty.

"We were just lacking a little bit of speed in the race to make the points," he said. "We tried a very aggressive one-stop strategy. I had a bit of graining on the softs in the first stint through those last few laps. That cost us a few seconds, but I don't think I could have gotten the 12 seconds needed to get to P10 in the end. That was about the maximum today."

By contrast, his Haas teammate Esteban Gutierrez went from 10th to 13th.

"It was a very disappointing start to the race losing a lot of positions," he said. "It was very tough to recover, but I did my best. I struggled in the first stint with the overall pace, starting with the scrubbed tires from qualifying and fighting with people which were on new tires. It wasn't very easy, but we kept ourselves together and pushed really hard to recover everything we could, but what we lost in the beginning was too much to get back to where we started."

At the end of lap 30, Rosberg was 4.1 seconds ahead of Vettel and 7.1 seconds in front of Raikkonen. Hamilton trailed Rosberg by 9.5 seconds. Bottas pitted for the softs, handing fifth to Ricciardo. Verstappen was now up to sixth.

Vettel pitted at the end of lap 33, and got a set of the soft compound Pirellis for the last 20 laps of the Italian Grand Prix. He knew that there really wasn't a realistic chance of catching Hamilton even though the latter had had a poor start.

"He did one stop less, so obviously it was clear after our second stop he would be ahead of us," Vettel said of Hamilton. "The problem was that he was too far ahead of us. Simple as that. I think we were slightly quicker, we were on a fresher set of tires but not quick enough to really catch up."

Raikkonen stopped the next lap and also got the soft slicks. He had a lonely race on his way to fourth.

"We were closer to our rivals than we expected after qualifying," he said. "We had a pretty good speed but we were not fast enough for gaining a better position. Fourth position is not exactly what we were looking for, but this is not the easiest circuit for us against the Mercedes, and we did our maximum.

"With Sebastian we were more or less driving behind each other and when you race against your teammate there's not much that you can do, we both know what the other guy is going to do. After the start it was a bit tricky, I got close after the first pit stop, but then he was able to pull away."

Verstappen then took on a set of the soft slicks as well. Ricciardo made his stop at the end of lap 37 for some super soft Pirellis.

So now on lap 40, Rosberg and Hamilton, who were on one stop strategies, were first and second, and Rosberg had a 10.5 second lead. Vettel, Raikkonen, Bottas, Ricciardo, Perez, Verstappen, Massa and Hulkenberg, who were all two stoppers, rounded out the top 10.

That gap went out to 12.1 seconds after Hamilton bounced across the first chicane. Rather redundantly, his engineer told him to "be careful with the lockups."

Ricciardo was lapping nearly a second quicker than Bottas and focusing in on the Williams driver. Ricciardo set the fastest lap of the race on lap 46, and then slipped by Bottas into the chicane at the start of the next tour.

"Coming here, we thought Ferrari would have an edge on us," Ricciardo said. "We also thought Williams and Force India would be strong and we targeted fifth place. I was pretty close to (Valtteri) Bottas in the middle of the race and knew I could race hard from that position. It was a really enjoyable overtake (on Bottas)."

Verstappen was now hounding Perez who was seventh. He got by Perez on lap 48 at the final chicane where Perez ran wide.

Both Williams and Force India brought their drivers home in the points. But with Bottas and Massa finishing sixth and ninth, Williams earned enough points to regain fourth place in the constructors' championship from Force India which had Perez eighth and Hulkenberg in tenth.

"I was personally expecting a bit more from today," Bottas said. "I set myself a target of finishing on the podium, but we didn't quite have the pace which meant that I had to push the tire a little bit more in every stint just to secure my position on track. This meant that towards the end of the stint I was struggling a bit. The pure pace wasn't there today."

Massa's view: "I think it was a good race apart from the fact that we didn't have the pace we expected to have with the option tires. My race started after I changed on to the super soft tires and my pace was really good. If I could have got a bit more out of my tires then it could have been better."

Perez didn't really enjoy the race.

"It was a fairly lonely race for most of it," he said, "but at least it gave me a chance to look after my tires. I think we got the maximum result we could hope for because we didn't have the pace to achieve more. We tried an aggressive strategy, with a very early second stop, to try and cover (Max) Verstappen, but it turned out to be too early and in the end we had a lot of pressure from (Felipe) Massa.

"It was very important to keep in front of him and bring home as many points as we possibly could. We always knew it would be a challenging race and it's shown that we need to keep working hard. I think we can fight back strongly in Singapore because it's a very different kind of circuit compared to Monza and we've performed well on street circuits so far this year."

Hulkenberg got bogged down behind Verstappen at the start of the race.

"I had to react and turn around him," Hulkenberg said. "That really hurt my traction and I lost all the drive going forward, which is why I lost a few positions. Later in the lap, I was side-by-side through Turn 4 with Felipe (Massa) and was on the outside line for turn five. Felipe jumped over the curb, gave me a little hit, and pushed me wide on the exit, allowing Fernando (Alonso) to get ahead. So it was not a great first lap.

"Then, in the first stint, it wasn't easy to overtake and I was stuck behind Fernando until the first pit stop. The second half of the race was actually quite lonely for me, but the damage was done by losing so much ground on lap one. So I'm slightly disappointed with the outcome because I believed we would be more competitive here. We need to learn the lessons, understand where we can improve and come out much stronger in Singapore."

The question now is: Will Mercedes be stronger on the Singapore streets where it really struggled last year.

"Singapore: we can't go there with too much confidence, because we were miles off last year," Rosberg said. "In qualifying I think it was 1.8 seconds if I'm not mistaken. That is huge. So it's our most difficult race, Singapore, in the past years, so it's going to be a very challenging weekend for us. We think we've made progress but 1.8 seconds that's not going to be easy to improve."

Will Mercedes hand victory on a platter to Ferrari or Red Bull in Singapore, or have the Mercedes engineers figured out what went wrong last year?

All will become clear in the steamy Singapore nights.