Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix (or as it should be known, the Grid Penalty Grand Prix) will perhaps be best remembered for the chaotic qualifying, and for the host of penalties that saw the field shuffled to a near-farcical degree for race day. I understand that the FIA have to impose some kind of penalty for rule infractions, but the extent of it in Italy was insane.
Qualifying was equally insane, with torrential rain leading to a lengthy delay to the session, following an early crash from Grosjean in his Haas. When (after a couple of hours) qualifying did finally take place, it was the Mercedes of Hamilton who dominated, albeit not without a minor scare from an unlikely place – the Force India of Ocon was at one point running top of the standings in Q3, with the cars kicking up huge amounts of spray in the sodden conditions. In the end though, Lewis Hamilton took his 69th career pole and in doing so, claimed the record for the most poles in F1 (overhauling Michael Schumacher’s record of 68). Elsewhere, the craziness of the penalties meant young Williams driver Lance Stroll would start second and Ocon was third. Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes would start fourth, just ahead of the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.
The poor showing in qualifying from the Ferraris (at least, in relation to Hamilton, who was 2.5 seconds faster than his title rival Vettel) was at least in part due to the wet conditions in which Hamilton excels, so come the race itself there was a hope that they could turn things around, even if only a little. An early tussle between Raikkonen and Bottas saw the two get very close at one point, before Bottas, even before DRS was active, blew by the Ferrari. Stroll (who had started cautiously and let Ocon get ahead of him) was an easy target for Bottas, and soon the Finn was by Ocon as well. Hamilton was out in front, easing out a gap of around four seconds and content to control the pace from there.
Vettel would get by Raikkonen in short order, and soon he too was dispensing Stroll and Ocon, aided in part by Stroll trying to put pressure on the Force India man. Once Vettel was in clear air he would have hoped to exert some pressure of his own on the Mercedes duo, but he was powerless to get near them, and the two Silver Arrows streaked off into the distance.
The Red Bulls of Ricciardo and Verstappen had found themselves out of position near the back of the pack, thanks to the aforementioned grid penalties, but Ricciardo was charging up the order – despite a weaker Renault engine, the setup of the Red Bulls was near-perfect, allowing Ricciardo to pump in some very fast laps. Verstappen was not so lucky, suffering a puncture early on after a tangle with the second Williams of Felipe Massa, and fell down the order. He would work his way back up, eventually stealing a point for 10th, but it was Ricciardo who went on to earn the driver of the day tag, reaching fourth after a typically bold display of late braking into turn 1, diving down the inside of Raikkonen. He then chased after Vettel (by this point, Ricciardo was on supersoft tyres, whereas Vettel was on softs), but couldn’t quite catch him.
Hamilton would cruise to a comfortable victory and Mercedes would claim only their second one-two finish of the year, stretching their lead in the constructor’s championship, whilst Hamilton now leads the driver’s championship, albeit by only three points. It was his sixth win of the season, the first time anyone has won back-to-back races this year, and his 39th win from pole, along with the 59th of his career. It remains to be seen whether this is a tipping point in the title fight, with the next round in Singapore in theory favouring Ferrari.