By Bob Constanduros
Two classic circuits in eight days; after the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Two traditional, wonderful tracks, temples of speed but ones that can bite and bite hard as Kevin Magnussen found out last weekend.
But equally two tracks that bring out the fans and when packed to the rafters as Spa was last weekend, it showcases Formula One brilliantly. What a fantastic weekend with an enthusiastic, partisan crowd enjoying supporting their drivers. There were probably more Dutch than Belgians, Brits not far behind and then Germans and French. A fantastic crowd, only let down by the deplorable booing of the winner at the end.
Meanwhile teammate Lewis Hamilton is back on track. It was interesting to hear the report of his break. After listening to all the other drivers’ post-holiday ‘I’ve been with family and friends and went away for a week’ we heard that Lewis was partying within eight hours of the end of the German Grand Prix and had visited seven different countries during the break although he had stayed on the beach in the same country for the last week.
So he probably needed a race like Belgium just to get himself back in the zone, remind himself of what it’s all about. And Mercedes certainly didn’t seem to be dominant, at least in practice but then Lewis at least was on a different agenda and the team as a whole was probably re-adapting to the magnificent weather that we enjoyed. After all, every team had made its tyre choice based on traditional Spa weather and even if it was pretty good last year, that was no guarantee it would be the same again.
So there were some pretty radical tyre choices and some teams were lucky that there was the red flag to repair the circuit after Kevin Magnussen’s big one out of the Raidillon. That gave them a free tyre change and there’s absolutely no doubt that it also gave Lewis Hamilton a massive opportunity to make up places. After all, the stats read that he went from 21st to third but actually only overtook four people. The closing up of the field allowed the team to jump the others with pit stops. That wouldn’t have happened so easily in a conventional race.
It was a pretty lively first half to the race, enlivened by Max Verstappen, of course. We’re hearing lots of people wingeing about his on-track behaviour but I’ve got a couple of points to make about this. First of all, if the stewards were worried about it, they would have come down on him like a ton of bricks. But they didn’t.
The stewards in this instance were people who knew what they were talking about: Gerd Ennser, a German lawyer who has been a steward in DTM since 2006, as well as F1. Then there were virtually two driver stewards: Felipe Giaffone, former Indycar driver and national steward in Brazil, most recently steward in World Touring Cars and Danny Sullivan, Indy 500 winner, F1 driver and CART champion. They were fully qualified to penalise Max, but they didn’t.
My other point is that I’ve frequently praised Max for the positioning of his car. He’s really good at putting it in the wrong place for the following driver. He’s allowed to do that, Kimi. And if you can’t get round him, then that’s your problem. Yes, you might have to brake (it’s the pedal on the left) but you know the rules; he can’t make more than one move to block you, so you just have to be that little bit more clever than he is and get him to make that one move and then go for it.
So you can see that like several others, I’m with Max here. OK, I’m not in the car like Kimi or Sebastian and I’m not a former driver like Toto Wolff, all of whom have criticised the young Dutchman but in terms of racecraft he’s done a good job, and one that is frustrating others. They say we’re heading for a big accident, but only if someone causes it in their frustration and so far Max has stuck to the rules. He can’t be blamed for that.
If Spa was unconventional due to the weather, then Monza should be more predictable. According to my weather forecast, it’s going to be hot and sunny for all four days which is what anyone would expect. The tyre choices will reflect this, everyone knows what to expect.
But there are still questions to be answered. Ferrari needs to bounce back, but that’s not going to happen just because we are at Monza, which will be a shame because it will be reflected by the crowd. Mercedes will be there again of course, Red Bull might be hurting because it’s such a power circuit. Incidentally, Saturday was only the second time that Max Verstappen has outqualified Daniel Ricciardo.
Force India, now up to fourth in the championship ahead of Williams, will again be a force to be reckoned with and good luck to them. I think they’ve done a fantastic job and this track may favour them just as Spa did. Williams are still lost, sadly, unable to work out why parts that have worked in the wind tunnel and which should bring performance have not. Felipe Massa, as one friend charitably put it, is beginning to look like a gentleman driver, almost guaranteed to go backwards in a race.
Monza is going to be a short, sharp, fast race, the shortest of the year probably, and the victor will be able to enjoy the plaudits of a big, enthusiastic crowd on that wonderful rostrum. He will probably be a Mercedes driver, it could be the easiest of the year for one of them. But which?