Silverstone F1 Testing 2014 SC 1

Italian GP 2016 Review ā€“ Foreseeably unforeseen

It says something about the importanceĀ of context. On the face of it, little changed between this Italian race and that in Belgium a week ago. Nico Rosberg won both, and did so by gettingĀ out front at the start and strokingĀ it home in that imperious way he does. But the feeling around could hardly be more different.

Then in Belgium it seemed still that Nicoā€™s team mate and chief rival Lewis Hamilton had effected a save, as laden with grid penalties he neverthelessĀ finished third to minimise theĀ points damage. This time ā€“ even though Lewis finishedĀ up a place higher than he did last week ā€“ no one could deny that Nico had effected theĀ strike.

Mercedes steps through the looking glass

Echoes of previous races seemed everywhere in this one, and not merely because the Mercedes for hardly the first occasionĀ were on another level to all opponents. The race was a lot like that in Germany a few weeks back, onlyĀ in reverse. Then Rosberg had dominated for much of the weekend and taken a fine pole position, but matters changed in the firstĀ split second of the race as he fluffed his start and lost several places.Ā ItĀ opened the way for Hamilton cruise to victory. This time, swap the namesĀ around and thatā€™s pretty much exactly what we got again.

Not that it was anticipated. For much of the weekend Lewis was a large strideĀ beyondĀ even his team mate. Gleefully throwing his car around Monzaā€™s chicanes and stretching his pace advantageĀ ever wider almost lap by lap. In qualifying Lewis stunned, his best effortĀ a full half second quicker than that ofĀ hisĀ Merc stable mate.

But still the avenue via which Nico couldĀ prevail was foreseen. The run to turn one at Monza is a very long one which punishes poor race starts; the Mercā€™s launches have been poor on occasion (for both drivers)Ā in 2016 due to an ā€˜inconsistentā€™ clutch; Lewis himself noted even amidĀ his qualifying afterglow that if he did get a poor start and lose places overtaking ainā€™t easy here, that you need aroundĀ a second per lap advantage to be able to pass. And in the event it all happened.

The start defines the end

Nico led at the first turn, Lewis sank to sixth and Nico indeed admitted afterwards that much of the battle was won in that moment. Lewis cleared Daniel Ricciardo quickly but then spent a wholeĀ ten laps behind Valtteri Bottas, it hardly helping that the Finnā€™sĀ Williams was one of theĀ quickest on the straights. By the time he was through Nico was 12 seconds up the road and the day was done.

Both drivers agreed on as much afterwards, but differed on the reasons for it. Nico said that despite the mammoth gap to Lewis in qualifying he was confident he could match him on race pace. Lewis said it was yet another manifestation of the sportā€™s delicate Pirelli tyres ā€“ that had he pushed to the extent needed to chase Nico down his grip would have run out long before the end.

Lewis did manage to clear the two Ferraris ā€“ who pitted twice to Lewisā€™s once ā€“ to bagĀ second but he never looked likely to get with Rosberg. Indeed by the end Nicoā€™s advantage had drifted out the way, to 15 seconds.

And his deficit to Lewis on points has drifted further in, to a scant two. To think just a week ago we thought Nico was done. But he does like to bounce back at precisely these moments. Itā€™s really another thing we should have foreseen.

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