Speed. That’s pretty much what it all boils down to in Monza. With a special low-downforce aerodynamic package to minimise drag on the long straights and the addition of KERS and DRS, Monza has “fast” written all over it, even more so then previous years.
Indeed, the quest for race pace started on Friday for the team, with both drivers focusing on race distance runs and covering 113 laps (655 km) during the two practice sessions, more than two race distances.
The same reasoning meant the team decided to run a “tactical” qualifying session on Saturday, with Michael completing a single quick lap on soft tyres in Q3 (although other drivers had shown two fast laps were better for lap time) and Nico qualifying on hard tyres, in an effort to save new tyre sets for the race. Michael and Nico qualified respectively in eighth and ninth places on their different strategies and both drivers were quite confident they could make their own strategy work during the race.
Sadly, Nico’s race came to an end in the first corner when Liuzzi lost control of his car and pushed Petrov into Nico. Sadly indeed, because after an “average” start, Nico still managed to stay close to the drivers in front – despite being the only driver in the top 10 to qualify and start on the medium compound – and had already gained a position going in the first corner before the accident.
Nico’s choice to start on the slower compound meant that he would have been able to run longer than the cars ahead of him, and to use the soft tyres towards the end of the race while other drivers, on a different strategy, would have been on the mediums. A missed opportunity for him, through no fault of his own, but no doubt he will bounce back in Singapore!
Michael once again had an excellent start, gaining four positions this time, taking his season total of places gained on the first lap to 35! When the safety car emerged on track after the chaos of the first corner, Michael was running fourth, just behind Lewis Hamilton.
When the restart occurred at the end of lap three, Michael had a better run than Lewis down the start/finish straight line and managed to overtake him before turn one. From then on, and until his first pitstop on lap 16, we witnessed some of Michael’s best defensive manoeuvres on the ever-attacking Lewis Hamilton and a thrilling fight between the two. Ross spoke to Michael twice during the race, reminding him to leave enough room at Ascari and to do the same when changing direction…
Some called it harsh, while others, including Lewis (who tends to share the same philosophy with Michael, meaning “if you’re going to try to pass me, you’ll need to mean business!”) felt those two offered us a very entertaining afternoon of racing! Michael’s use of his KERS against Hamilton’s DRS just went to prove that used smartly, the two systems really add an extra strategic element to the racing.
On lap 16, as Michael started to suffer from rear tyre drop-off, Jenson Button managed to find a way past him right before Michael came in for his first stop. The second stint felt like déjà-vu, with Michael and Lewis fighting for position until Michael hit the limiter for a bit too long out of the second Lesmo on lap 26, losing momentum and allowing Lewis to have a go and overtake him…
Michael stopped for a second time on lap 37 to switch to medium tyres, and rejoined in fifth place, 12 seconds in front of Felipe Massa. From there, Michael managed to hold the gap to the second Ferrari and came home with fifth place and the fastest first sector of the race.
All in all, it was a good effort from the team, and the gap to Lotus Renault continues to increase; it now stands at 38 points, and we have matched or out-scored them at every race since China. As Ross pointed out after the race, Sunday proved that when we do have the right car, we will be able to compete at the front, and that should be our inspiration for next year.
It will soon be time to pack again, and by the time the cars make it to the freight, it will be the last we see of them at the factory before the end of the season. How time flies… next stop, Singapore!