Martin Brundle: Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes show no mercy to Ferrari
Sky F1's Martin Brundle on where the Italian GP was won and lost, what went wrong for Seb Vettel, and what it means for Singapore...
Last Updated: 06/12/18 10:42am
Ferrari nearly humbled the mighty Mercs at the German GP and failed, but Mercedes didn't show any mercy in winning the Italian Grand Prix.
It was a great race with a very deserved winner as Ferrari failed to convert a front-row lock out, with probably the fastest car, to what would have been a rapturous reception by the largely partisan crowd.
A week ago in my post-Belgium column, I lauded Sebastian's driving and race-craft in Spa. It's different this time because in the race's most important moments he got it wrong.
Approaching the second chicane on the first lap the No 5 Ferrari was moving all over the track and, choosing the inside then mid line with his tyres dirty as a result, Lewis Hamilton didn't need a second invitation down and around the outside of the 90 degree turn with a risky but audacious move.
After the race, Vettel spoke about trying to take the lead ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, but he never looked anywhere near close enough to try that. I can only assume that he thought Kimi might have eased him through. Indeed, he may even have felt that might happen at the first chicane but that's hard to choreograph.
Lewis certainly pinched him a little but left racing room, then Sebastian slid gently wide and took a punch directly across his front axle from the middle of the Mercedes sidepod.
Probably getting out of the throttle and onto the brakes too, and with those cool and dirty tyres, it was the Ferrari which gyrated. Normally the car on the outside, especially when rear face of front tyre launches the front face of the rear tyre, gets spun around.
As he waited impatiently for the rest of the pack to go through, Seb lit up his tyres, which wasn't a smart thing either because all that achieves is melting the surface of your trusty race rears.
Ferrari threw it away on Saturday in reality. They could have so easily slipstreamed Vettel on to pole using Raikkonen's wake, and then with formation flying on lap one.
Mercedes made it very clear as long ago as Germany that they were playing the team game when they ordered Valtteri Bottas not to challenge Lewis for the win. Given their history of such tactics, ironically Ferrari haven't responded.
Vettel's "we talk later" radio message immediately after qualy suggests to me that he is mind-managing much better this year but probably still attacked those first two chicanes carrying frustrations.
There's an increasing but unconfirmed belief that Charles Leclerc is signed up as a Ferrari driver for next season. Was that a factor at play this weekend? Kimi was driving to win the Italian GP, of that there is no doubt, but both he and his car asked too much of the tyres.
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Having just three sets of soft tyres between the two Ferrari drivers for the entire event was another mistake. Seb's first lap on the soft compound Pirellis all weekend was in the race, and it was little wonder that he couldn't get them to work. Hamilton had three sets of the softs allocated by his team and Bottas four, and the difference showed.
Ferrari's problem is that Vettel is making too many mistakes too. Since the red-mist descended in Baku last season, Seb has crashed out at the start in Singapore, hit Bottas in France, been penalised in Austria for blocking Carlos Sainz in qualifying and thrown away victory in Germany. And now this.
It's a shame because his comeback drive was excellent, just 16 seconds behind Hamilton after so many dramas and passing a lot of cars.
The contrast is that we very rarely see mistakes from Lewis and he was faultless again this weekend. He won the race with a display of smart thinking and precision driving. He managed his tyres as required and played the long game as he waited for precisely the right moment to attack.
He took two risks, both around the outside of a Ferrari. While the first move ended with Vettel in a spin, the second was entirely clean. It would have been so easy for Kimi to have tapped him around but Kimi was totally fair. He's just not the sort of driver to have that on his record.
Bottas also played his part in Hamilton's victory by holding up Kimi on a weekend when Mercedes called all the big decisions just right.
Unfortunately for Valtteri, he then found out on the podium that holding up a leading Ferrari car doesn't make you particularly popular in Monza. Can't imagine some Finns were that pleased either but he did his job on Sunday, although Max Verstappen had him covered on pace.
The crowd's reaction to both Lewis and Valtteri was unpleasant and unsporting, but Monza is very much Ferrari territory and the sheer number of fans below the podium on race day is extraordinary. The vast majority of them want Ferrari to win and it's tribal and raw. They've watched Mercedes take every victory in the hybrid era and they finally thought their day of glory had come.
I couldn't help but wonder what Lewis was thinking when he stood atop the podium on Sunday with the sea of scarlet before him. I could be wrong but my suspicion is that every driver of his calibre must fancy winning the Italian GP as a Ferrari driver.
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Elsewhere, it was great to see Williams doing better and back in the points, and Sergey Sirotkin joined Lance Stroll in the top 10 late on Sunday night when the Haas car was ruled illegal. That was a real shame for Romain Grosjean who has been in fine form of late, drove a great race and didn't deserve to leave empty-handed because of a technicality.
Verstappen also drove a fast race, although his penalty for sending Bottas onto the grass was a fair cop. If a driver sails down the outside, they have to be given at least a car's width otherwise you can't go racing, and you can go flying.
As for Daniel Ricciardo, nothing has gone right for him since he announced he is leaving for Renault next year. In fact, nothing has gone right for him since he won at Monaco in May.
Back to the championship race, with my F1 cap on we really needed Ferrari to win in Monza. With seven races remaining, Lewis now leads by 30 points. It's a hefty advantage and means Singapore is a must-win for Ferrari. But if Mercedes can get through Singapore unscathed, Lewis will have one hand on the trophy.
As it stands, he heads there knowing he can afford to be punchy when necessary, and play the percentage game at other times. It's not done and dusted by any means, but that is a big comfort zone to be in.