Firstly, let’s address the elephant in the room – where are rounds 12 and 13?!
They’re not here because I did not enjoy either race. Belgium and the Netherlands feature two beautiful, historic tracks but I could not get to grips with either course, and finished well down the order in Belgium, whilst I retired from the Netherlands. I don’t have much more to say on either race, except that in terms of the title battle, Lewis Hamilton clawed back some of the deficit to his Mercedes teammate Bottas, winning both races, with Bottas managing 3rd and 7th. Hamilton still had a huge amount of work to do, but he had taken a bite out of Bottas’s lead. Could he do so again at Monza, home of the Italian Grand Prix?
Monza is the fastest circuit on the F1 calendar. This super-quick track dates back to the earliest days of motorsport, with a rich history in F1. Sebastian Vettel won the 2008 race for Toro Rosso (now Alpha Tauri), marking the first time a team with Ferrari engines other than Ferrari won here. In 1988 Gerhard Berger won an emotional race (being the first Italian Grand Prix since the death of Ferrari’s founder Enzo Ferrari), for Ferrari, and in doing so was the only non-McLaren driver to win a race that season. In 2020 Pierre Gasly took an unlikely win for Alpha Tauri in a chaotic race, and Daniel Ricciardo won the 2021 event in similar circumstances for McLaren.
Whatever the permutations of this fictional 2021 title battle, I needed to get my own season back on track. Two non-points-scoring races had put a sharp hold on my progress, and that of my team. Could Monza be a better venue?
The first thing I discovered was the need to brake early heading into the first corner. Variante del Rettifilo has seen a number of incidents in real life (some of them tragic) and the chicane commands respect. Della Roggia also deserves caution, for turn 4’s kerbs are quite capable of launching an F1 car into the air. It’s surprising how much speed you can carry through Lesmo, and also through the Variante Ascari. Finally, Curva Parabolica slows you down just a little bit, but you exit on the power and then you’re hurtling back toward turns 1 and 2.
I chose a setup based purely on speed, and made sure my engine parts were the freshest ones available. For the first time in what felt like ages I qualified on pole, with no part of the track proving especially scary. From pole, I lost out to both Mercedes cars at the start (Hamilton in particular got very racy on the outside of Curva Biassono), but I had the medium tyres on whilst they were on the softs, so it was a case of biding time and keeping close, and waiting for their tyres to drop off. Except…
After several laps I messed up on the Curva del Serraglio and nicked my front wing. I decided to pit for soft tyres and once on them my pace was electric. I had to make several passes but on the new, fresh softs it was easy fare, though I was quite proud of a couple of late-braking moves into turn 1. By the time the warring Mercedes duo stopped, I had regained the lead, and I would not relinquish it for the remainder of the race. In fact my margin grew enough that I could stop twice more for new softs, rather than risk anything untoward happen. In many respects the win was too easy, but I could live with that for the time being!
Title permutations slid in Bottas’ favour, after a race-long fight with Hamilton that saw the two swap places on several occasions. I had a front-row seat to begin with when I trailed them both, and it was clear neither was prepared to yield. The difference of three additional points might not seem like much now, but what impact would it have come the end?