In this instalment of RRT’s Defining 2018 series we take a look at one of the pivotal weekends in the 2018 F1 championship. Both the drivers, and constructors standings took a dent as Ferrari struggled to orchestrate a victory in their backyard.
Coming into the weekend at Monza, the title fight between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel was truly reaching boiling point. Vettel had taken a confident and convincing win at Spa, reducing the points deficit to 17 and Ferrari looked to have the upper hand.
It was to be his last win of 2018.
Monza is magical, and there is no doubting that. The unique circuit is the fastest on the F1 calendar, and sees two of the heaviest braking scenarios in the world.
The spirited tifosi find a way every year to match the noise of the cars, and produce some incredible sonic support for their beloved scarlet Scuderia.
It was no surprise that the Ferrari fans could be heard from every corner of Milan as the team secured a 1-2 on the grid; just not in the order they needed.
In order to beat Mercedes to pole, Ferrari elected to run their drivers in tandem, and hoped to gain some sort of slipstream advantage from tailing Lewis Hamilton in Q3.
Hamilton crossed the line in the dying seconds setting a 1m19.294s, provisional pole and a new track record.
Then Vettel clocks 1m19.280s, taking provisional pole and a new track record.
Then came the ‘Iceman’.
Benefitting from a close tow from Sebastian Vettel, he snatched pole with a 1m19.119s. Sending the tifosi wild and upsetting ‘number one’ Vettel who demanded the team “speak after.”
Would Ferrari take their first 1-2 at Monza since 2004? And would Vettel be able to close in on standings leader Hamilton?
The crowds would be silenced come Sunday.
The race looked to be a one-stopper with the need for some tyre conservation in the latter half. The top three of Raikkonen, Vettel and Hamilton being locked in to a Supersoft-Soft strategy.
Away from the line and Vettel was looking to challenge for the lead. Simply, he had to win this race to put pressure on the unstoppable Hamilton/Mercedes pairing.
In his attack, the German driver left himself vulnerable to the charging Silver Arrows.
Around the Curva Grande Hamilton had the slipstream, gaining on the squabbling red cars that filled the road in front. The opportunity presented itself as the number 44 car was moving on the outside of Vettel, and sent it late on the brakes into the Della Roggia chicane.
In this split moment Vettel’s championship was done. Facing backwards only a few seconds into a race he should have very much been able to win.
Hamilton was unaffected by the contact and was able to maintain the second place before battling for the lead only a couple of laps later.
As Vettel was left fighting through the field, Mercedes utilised Bottas to perfection as the Finn held up Raikkonen who damaged his tyres in attempting to retake the lead.
This left Hamilton in a position to assertively take the lead and keep it till the end of the race.
Mercedes scoring a 1-2 in Ferrari’s backyard was made only more insulting by the “Italian colleagues” comment made of the radio.
Ferrari arguably lost their level headed approach that had seen them benefit from mistakes made by Mercedes (particularly in Austria), and found themselves having to play catch up for the rest of the season.
Whether or not the team had a plan to favour Vettel that weekend, the team failed to execute the primary objective: beat Mercedes.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but you cannot help but think that the mistakes made after Monza were in an effort to claw a way back into the title.
The strange tyre call in Q3 at Suzuka followed by another spin in the race, and then Vettel again looping around at the American GP, all indicated that Ferrari were pushing too hard and throwing it all away.
Ferrari’s Monza meltdown makes it into our Defining 2018 moments as this was the point Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari lost their chance to challenge Mercedes for the title.
Monza was the first of four consecutive wins for Hamilton, the Brit putting one hand firmly on the title whilst his red-clad rivals fumbled in their attempts to catch him.
Header Image: RaceFans.net / XPB Images