2014 Italian Grand Prix: Saturday Analysis

Best Lap Of The Year For Lewis

Just when you thought that the Lewis Hamilton qualifying mojo had been driven away, the Brit has claimed his first Pole Position since the Spanish Grand Prix back in May. The deal was all but sealed after his first attempt in Q3, which was a spectacular time of 1:24.109 – quite possibly the best lap Lewis has put together this year. While a valiant effort from Nico Rosberg saw him come within 3 tenths, the German had no answer to the pace of his title rival. Meanwhile, a Williams lockout of the second row of the grid suggests that Mercedes may have competition in the form of Bottas and Massa tomorrow.

FP3

While Lewis Hamilton suffered electrical gremlins yesterday, it seems the cloud of misfortune has made its way across the garage overnight, with Nico Rosberg failing to post a time in what was a disastrous morning for the German.
After heading out on an installation lap, Nico complained of the gearbox failing to “learn”, essentially meaning that shifting was not synchronised correctly. While it seemed to be merely a small set-back, the team soon found themselves delving deep into the car and once the floor was removed, it became apparent that Rosberg’s session was over. While failing to complete a qualifying simulation run in FP3 is a disadvantage in itself, he could potentially have an even bigger headache heading into this afternoon if the issue necessitates a gearbox change, which would result in a five place grid-drop. Meanwhile, Hamilton’s morning may not have been perfect, as the Brit struggled to optimise braking. This is perhaps to be expected since he is supposedly running the Carbon Industrie disks, as oppose to his preferred Brembo’s. Regardless, it is advantage Hamilton heading into qualifying.
Elsewhere, Force India may also face a gearbox change, as Sergio Perez ground to a halt mid-way through the hour and Adrian Sutil’s programme was compromised by hydraulic issues. Today has so far proved that Monza is indeed, still a car-breaking circuit. 
With both Perez and Rosberg awaiting news on whether a grid drop will hamper their weekend, Daniil Kvyat has already been handed a penalty, with Toro Rosso becoming the first team to dip into their tenth powerunit of the campaign. The Russian required a sixth internal combustion engine overnight and so will carry a ten place grid-drop into qualifying. Kvyat’s enthusiasm was certainly not dashed, with a spectacular oversteer moment in the middle of the mighty Ascari Chicane, proving to be an early contender for “Catch of the Weekend”.
FP3 Timesheet

1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:25.519

2 Fernando Alonso Ferrari +0.412
3 Valtteri Bottas Williams +0.571
4 Felipe Massa Williams +0.595
5 Jenson Button McLaren +0.723 
6 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull +0.771 
7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari +0.808
8 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso +0.918
9 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull +0.963
10 Nico Hulkenberg Force India +1.089 
11 Kevin Magnussen McLaren +1.310 
12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber +1.688
13 Sergio Perez Force India +1.793
14 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso +1.960
15 Adrian Sutil Sauber +1.979
16 Jules Bianchi Marussia +2.506
17 Pastor Maldonado Lotus +2.618
18 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham +2.746
19 Romain Grosjean Lotus +2.940
20 Max Chilton Marussia +3.060
21 Marcus Ericsson Caterham +3.732

22 Nico Rosberg Mercedes

Qualifying 

Back In Business

The Lewis of old seems to have returned this weekend and ultimately, it is hardly a surprise. The costly qualifying mistakes which have placed him at a disadvantage in each and every race since Monaco have unquestionably been uncharacteristic. Ever since he exploded onto the Formula 1 scene in 2007, Lewis has been the master of the single lap pace, yet it seems that the relentless pressure of the title battle had affected his Saturday performances. However, with a deficit in the championship which some pundits may suggest is insurmountable, Hamilton has driven like a man who is free from pressure so far this weekend and it was a classic Pole Position for the Brit.
Meanwhile, Nico’s performance was far from mediocre considering the circumstances. After missing out on an hours running in FP3 and as such, failing to gain a reference of how the car behaves in qualifying trim, Rosberg pulled out an excellent lap in Q3, covering off the threat of the Williams duo and ensuring that he can at least be within touching distance of his rival heading into Turn One. While it may not have been a Pole Position, today’s performance was, at least in my opinion, the most impressive qualifying session from Nico all season. His greater experience of the car during race simulation runs, completed in FP2 when Lewis was sidelined, could pay dividend tomorrow.

Back In Form

Calling it a renaissance is massively overstating the matter, but P5 and P6 for McLaren will be welcomed with open arms by the team. Obviously, the MP4-29 has not become a competitive car overnight, with the redundancy of downforce at Monza playing to the team’s strengths. Kevin Magnussen may have out-qualified Jenson Button once again, but I doubt Jenson will lose to much sleep over the seven hundredths deficit to his teammate – it is a fantastic team result.
Ultimately, McLaren may struggle to retain these positions tomorrow, barring any dramas at the head of the pack, (dare I even mention the possibility.) Red Bull, who finished in P8 with Sebastian Vettel and P9 for Daniel Ricciardo, seem to have the measure of McLaren in terms of race pace, as does Fernando Alonso, who will start P7. It could be a case of battle resumed between Magnussen, Button, Alonso and Vettel in the opening stages, and if it is anything as physical as their battle in Spa two weeks ago, it will have us on the edge of our seats. 

Hassle For Hulkenberg

Nico Hulkenberg has been seemingly out of sorts recently and uncharacteristically average, particularly on Saturday’s. After falling out of qualifying at Spa in the Q1 stage, (albeit in wet conditions), the German suffered another day stuck in midfield obscurity, with a Q2 exit in P14 the best he could manage. On the king of the power tracks and with a Mercedes powertrain that is second-to-none, it is unquestionably another disappointing result. To put the performance into context, Sergio Perez managed to squeeze into Q3 and while he could only qualify in P10, he missed the FP3 qualifying simulation runs in a similar manner to Rosberg. 
Hulkenberg has always been regarded as a better racer than qualifier, but today seems to be somewhat of a missed opportunity. With the help of the slippery Mercedes powertrain, you would imagine that Vergne and Raikkonen could be dispatched with ease, assuming that Nico’s pace tomorrow is better than that of today.

Kobyashi Capitalises 

Andre Lotterer’s performance a fortnight ago may have turned heads, but Kamui Kobayashi’s qualifying heroics today should also have the desired effect. The Japanese driver may have had to play the hokey-cokey in recent weeks at Caterham but he has demonstrated that when his time comes, he can take the opportunity. For the first time since the Chinese Grand Prix, a Caterham has out-qualified both Marussia’s and Kamui was even within a tenth of edging Romain Grosjean out of P18.
Meanwhile, it was yet another day of disappointment for Marcus Ericsson. After being beaten comfortably by Formula 1 débutante Lotterer, in qualifying at Spa, the Swede could do no better than P22 today, with almost a full second splitting him from his teammate. To compound matters, he has since been handed a pit-lane start, due to failing to acknowledge the yellow flags for Perez’s stricken car in FP3.

Qualifying Result
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:24.109
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes +0.274
3 Valtteri Bottas Williams +0.588
4 Felipe Massa Williams +0.756
5 Kevin Magnussen McLaren +1.205
6 Jenson Button McLaren +1.270
7 Fernando Alonso Ferrari +1.321
8 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull +1.327
9 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull +1.600
10 Sergio Perez Force India +1.835
11 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:26.070*
12 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari +0.040
13 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso +0.087
14 Nico Hulkenberg Force India +0.209
15 Adrian Sutil Sauber +0.518
16 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber +0.562
17 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:27.520
18 Romain Grosjean Lotus +0.112
19 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham +0.151
20 Jules Bianchi Marussia +0.218
21 Max Chilton Marussia +0.727
22 Marcus Ericsson Caterham +1.042**

*Daniil Kvyat will start P21 following a ten place grid-drop for exceeding five powerunits for the season.
**Marcus Ericsson will start from the pit-lane for ignoring yellow flags during FP3.

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