Analysis: How Mercedes embarrassed Ferrari at home

 Adam Cooper

After pushing Mercedes so hard on the long straights of Spa-Francorchamps, Ferrari had no answer for Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas when the high-speed party continued at Monza.

It was hard to believe that the Belgian and Italian GPs took place just a week apart, so different was the dynamic between Mercedes and Ferrari.

At the first event Sebastian Vettel chased Lewis Hamilton home, and the Briton suggested that his rival had the quicker car – and admitted that he had in effect secured the win only by getting pole.

Seven days later at Monza, a track with which Spa is twinned both in the calendar and in terms of their shared high-speed nature, Mercedes was utterly dominant.

Pole was the key once again, but this time it ensured that Hamilton beat his only real rival, teammate Valtteri Bottas.

This was a race which had more in common with the past three seasons than what we've become accustomed to in 2017, with the two silver cars way out ahead of the rest, a result that put Hamilton into the lead of the world championship.

Instead of beating, or at least making life hard for Mercedes, Ferrari was left breathless on the biggest weekend of the Italian team's season.

The fact that on this power circuit Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull could charge from 16th to fourth – passing one red car and very nearly catching the other – added insult to Maranello injury.

If pole went a long way to securing victory for Hamilton, then it was certainly well deserved. His brilliant lap in Saturday's soaking wet and much-delayed session was an appropriate way to move ahead of Michael Schumacher in the all-time rankings.

Q3 also saw the Ferraris stranded in seventh and eighth, although they were fortunate to gain two spots apiece when grid penalties were applied to the Red Bulls.

Another to move up was Bottas, who was only sixth initially. He was fastest in Q1 and second behind Hamilton in Q2 on intermediates despite a mistake, but he struggled with tyre temperature on full wets in Q3, which would prove very costly.

Even with the two-place gift from Red Bull, Bottas knew that he had to pass interlopers Lance Stroll and Esteban Ocon before he could get on terms with Hamilton, and that by the time he did, it might he too late.

"I think for me the main thing is to try and get past the Williams and Force India as quickly as possible. In a dry race there's reasonable pace difference between the cars, so it's going to be the main goal in the beginning of the race."

Slow start costs Bottas

In the end he didn't quite get there early enough. Wheelspin on the slippery grid contributed to him initially losing a place to Kimi Raikkonen, although he managed to slice back past his countryman at the end of the first lap, and in some style.

Bottas duly got Stroll, and then at the start of the fourth lap, he slipped by Ocon for second.

But by the time Bottas made it to second, Hamilton was 3.3s up the road, and that was always going to be a difficult margin to do anything about.

He had a go, and as they traded fastest laps in the early going he got it down to 2.7s on lap 8, before Hamilton began edging away again, a tenth here, a tenth there.

Their respective single pitstops – which took place relatively late, on laps 32 for Hamilton, and 33 for his teammate – were never going to make any difference.

Nevertheless, both men were still very much on the case around the stops, with Bottas banging in the fastest Sector 1, Hamilton responding with the fastest Sector 2 on the next lap, and the Finn replying in turn with the fastest Sector 3.

However, Hamilton was always very much in charge, and he stayed safely in front to the flag.

Hamilton in cruise control

For most of the last third of the race the gap stayed resolutely at around 3.5s, and Hamilton saw no reason to slacken his pace. He also felt he had the measure of his teammate, come what may.

"There's a comfortable region that you operate in," Hamilton explained. "If you back off, it gets to an uncomfortable space, that's generally when mistakes step in. I was comfortable generally from lap 1, I had could pace, and I was able to answer to whatever the people behind, the pace they put in. I think Valtteri did a solid job, he was very, very consistent every lap.

"I generally felt like I had a few tenths on him the majority of the time, but I don't know how much he was pushing all the time. What I did know is that if he had given me a time, I felt certain that I had the pace in the car to at least answer to it, if not improve on that.

"I just controlled the pace, I kept a gap around three seconds, it got to 3.9, and then I picked up the pace."

Hamilton did a few quick laps right at the end, seemingly just for fun. In fact he had an agenda. When he did it earlier this year he explained that he was conducting some extra R&D, and that was also the case this time.

Engineers can never have to much data of course, and no doubt they will be grateful for Hamilton's extra homework. Just as he was happy that his guys went off and worked out just why Ferrari was so close in Belgium, learning lessons that paid dividends in Belgium.

The man who really needed to learn from Spa was Bottas, who struggled badly. He was right on it at Monza, but was at a loss to explain why things had turned around so dramatically for him.

"Nothing changed," said the Finn. "I still don't know completely why Spa was so difficult, but I didn't change anything in terms of my operation or driving style or anything. I think most of the races this year have been competitive, and this was one of them. I think Spa, was for some reason, I don't know completely why, was a one-off, and that's history.

"So it was a good Sunday here, the pace was good all through the race, there was some good racing there. Obviously yesterday Q3 was a bit tricky, otherwise Friday and Saturday was good. It's good to have a strong result as a team, and it was just an amazing race for us today."

Monza was a tough weekend for Ferrari, and everyone in the Mercedes camp expects a strong response in Singapore.

However, Hamilton will be doing everything he can to extend his lead.

"To be leading, whilst it's only a couple of points, I'm grateful for it," he said. "By no means do I feel comfortable, and I will apply myself the same that I have these past three or four races and hope that I can reverse the picture, because earlier on in the year it was obviously 20 points gap or whatever between myself and him.

"So I'm going to see if we can have that feeling for a while..."

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Domain: Afterhours
Category: Motor Sports
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Adam Cooper
12 September, 2017
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