Just a few days on from Spa, the engines were fired up again at Formula 1’s oldest and fastest track, the Autodromo Nazionale Monza.

The tifosi came in their thousands to support the flying Ferraris as Sebastian Vettel resumed his championship hunt after a dominant win in Belgium. Their package provided them with their best chance to claim back-to-back at Monza, however clumsy mistakes on and off the track cost the Maranello squad vital points on Sunday in the race for the World Championship.


Friday

FREE PRACTICE SESSION 1 FREE PRACTICE SESSION 2
Pos. Driver Time Laps Pos. Driver Time Laps
2. Kimi Räikkönen 1:34.550 28 1. Sebastian Vettel 1:21.105 27
17. Sebastian Vettel 1:37.867 4 2. Kimi Räikkönen 1:21.375 31
Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF71H - 2018 Italian Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel set the Friday practice pace at Monza, despite a clumsy spin into the barriers at the Parabolica in FP2.

Early morning rain tainted the opening practice session for the weekend with a damp Monza track affecting Ferrari’s practice program. Due to the traditional characteristics of the 5.783-kilometre circuit, the lack of drainage caused a slow transition to a dry surface where slick tyres only became an option in the dying minutes of the session.

Kimi Räikkönen set the second-best time of 1:34.550, running on Intermediate tyres while Sebastian Vettel did a 1:37.867. The German was held up by some checks from the team who ran limited laps to allow the team to fit a spare gearbox.

Come the afternoon, Ferrari bolted in the laps, showing off their dry race pace by posting the two fastest times of the session.

Vettel showed his comfort with the car by posting a 1:21.105 – despite a spin midway through the session at the Parabolica – while Räikkönen followed suit with a 1:21.375. Both drivers ran the Supersoft compound, taking extensive data into the weekend.

“Today it’s been a mixed day as the morning session didn’t go smoothly, but in the afternoon, it got better,” explained Vettel on Friday evening. “The balance of the car is not perfect yet, but I believe we can work on it for tomorrow as the car seems to be working well.

“Apart from that, the car was fine. I am not entirely happy yet, but I know we can still improve because our car has big potential. I think we can do better tomorrow as the package is good, so we’ll see. We’ll keep doing our homework.”

“The conditions were the same for everybody, we cannot change the weather; I think that in the end, we were quite lucky to have at least one session in the dry,” added Räikkönen. “Both compounds were OK, but obviously we did not do much mileage today.

“We are on yet another different track, so we obviously had some things to fine tune today, but it was not too bad for the first laps. Now we need to go through things and try to improve a bit for tomorrow.”


Saturday

FREE PRACTICE SESSION 3 QUALIFYING
Pos. Driver Time Laps Pos. Driver Time Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel 1:20.509 18 1. Kimi Räikkönen 1:19.119 21
3. Kimi Räikkönen 1:20.682 16 2. Sebastian Vettel 1:19.280 20
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF71H - 2018 Italian Grand Prix

Kimi Räikkönen posted the fastest ever lap in a Formula 1 car and claimed the 18th pole position of his career.

Overnight rain again affected the start of the morning session with a few damp patches around the circuit. Vettel resumed proceedings, racing to the top of the timesheets with a definitive lap of 1:20.509 in the final hour-long practice session. Räikkönen could only post a 1:20.682, good enough for third fastest – the pair was spliy by Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton – as both drivers ran the same tyre programme, using the Supersoft tyres in preparation for Qualifying in the afternoon.

By 3 o’clock, it was crunch time, and Ferrari had it all the prove that they were the real deal having topped both dry practice sessions of the weekend.

The cheering tifosi ramped up for the afternoon’s qualifying session as both Ferraris lead by Sebastian Vettel topped the timing towers holding a one-tenth of a second buffer to Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes at the end of the first eighteen minutes.

Q2 saw both Ferraris stick to the same strategy, much like their rivals Mercedes, as the duo qualified on the Supersoft compound in the middle session to start on the fastest compound for Sunday’s race. Hamilton crept into second spot at the end of the session still trailing by a 0.1-second gap to Vettel.

However, as Q3 arrived, the wick was turned up as the drivers were able to fit in two finals runs in the chase for pole position. The first laps propelled Hamilton to the top of the timing screens with the Ferraris following closely behind. The top three were only split by, once again, one-tenth of a second.

Crucially, it was all about positioning on track throughout qualifying as the fast circuit benefitted cars following behind in the slipstream of others. Valtteri Bottas led the field followed by Hamilton then Vettel then finally Räikkönen at the end of the train.

As the laps started, Räikkönen took first blood and held the fastest Sector 1 time of the quartet. Moments later, all four matched each others’ middle sector split times as they raced through the Ascari Chicane, down the back straight and into the final Parabolica turn.

Across the line, it was a domino effect as Hamilton improved his lead at the top before Vettel stole it off the Briton with a 0.014-second advantage. That was until Räikkönen cleared the table with a blistering 1:19.119 to set the new fastest ever recorded lap in Formula 1.

But Vettel wasn’t too pleased with the result revealing over the radio he was disappointed to be giving his teammate a tow in the close train of cars.

Riccardo Adami (Vettel’s Race Engineer): “[As Vettel crosses the line] Yes! [Räikkönen crosses the line] P2, P2, and Kimi on pole position. P1, P2! Nice job!”
Sebastian Vettel: “We speak after.”

Sebastian Vettel & Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF71H - 2018 Italian Grand Prix

Vettel was not happy at being beaten by teammate Räikkönen to pole position.

Räikkönen, therefore, secured his 18th career pole position at an average speed of 263.587 kph, beating Juan-Pablo Montoya’s previous speed of 262.242 kph in the mighty Williams FW26 at the same track back in 2004.

It was Ferrari’s first front-row lockout at Monza since 2000 when Michael Schumacher led Rubens Barrichello at the front of the pack.

“The car has been good all weekend and we knew it would have been a close battle,” pole-winner Räikkönen explained. “All three sectors were obviously crucial; so far the difference between the top three had been very small, so it was a question of who would get it right and today.

“It’s great to be on pole in our home Grand Prix in front of our Tifosi. As a team we did a very good job, we couldn’t have done any better today. I’m very happy for this result but unfortunately, this doesn’t guarantee anything for tomorrow.

“Half of the job has been done, but tomorrow is the most important day. For sure we have a good car and the best possible starting place. We need to do a perfect job and hopefully, tomorrow will be another good day.”

“I’m a bit disappointed as I couldn’t get pole today [through making] some mistakes,” added Vettel, “but locking out the front row with both cars is a great result for the whole team.

“For tomorrow I think we will have the right speed to race and hopefully, we can have a good start, which is always important, especially here. We’ll work hard and do our best. The car is strong, so we should be fine.”


Sunday

FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO HEINEKEN D’ITALIA 2018 – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (53 LAPS)
Driver Team / Entry Laps Result
2. Kimi Räikkönen Scuderia Ferrari SF71H 53 + 8.705
4. Sebastian Vettel Scuderia Ferrari SF71H 53 + 16.151
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF71H - 2018 Italian Grand Prix

Kimi Räikkönen had to pace to win the Italian Grand Prix, but Ferrari found itself outfoxed by Mercedes on strategy.

Ferrari had its greatest chance to win its home race in eight years and looked to write another chapter into their rich history. In 2010, Fernando Alonso gave Ferrari its last home success racing a brilliant strategy against Jenson Button in the Brawn GP machine to delight the tifosi.

The front-row pair maintained position off the line filing into place after negotiating the tight Rettifilo chicane. However, mid-way through the slow chicane, Hamilton and Vettel made small contact causing no damage to either front-runners.

One kilometre later, Hamilton starts to attack Vettel through the slipstream, lining up alongside the German to try and make a move around the outside of the Roggia chicane. Under pressure and still running with cold tyres, Vettel struggles to hold front-end grip and slid into the left-side of the Mercedes, sending him into a spin with damage to the front wing.

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF71H and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W09 - 2018 Italian Grand Prix

An over-eager Vettel spins after contact with Hamilton at the Roggia chicane on the opening lap, costing the German vital championship points.

The Safety Car is called out due a separate accident that left Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso stranded on the start/finish straight. The #5 Ferrari of Vettel entered pit lane from the back of the field for a new front wing. Strategists crucially switched Vettel onto his only set of Soft tyres they brought to the weekend hoping to run a long stint. Worryingly, the team hadn’t run the compound on Vettel’s car at all for the weekend.

The incident with Hamilton was investigated by the Stewards, however they deemed the mix-up as a racing incident.

The race resumed on Lap 4 with Räikkönen left alone at the front to fend off the chasing Silver Arrows behind. Hamilton got a tow off the Finn at the restart and gained the lead at the opening chicane, but the Ferrari veteran fought back immediately and retook the lead around the outside of Hamilton at the second Variante chicane where Vettel lost out.

He then began to pull away as himself and Vettel, at the other end of the field, began posting similar lap times.

DRS was enabled soon after, helping Vettel climb up the order to be fifteenth on Lap 7. Within eight laps, the German had Lance Stroll in his sights and passed the Williams driver into the Ascari chicane to enter the top-ten points-paying positions.

A handful of laps later on Lap 20, while Vettel passed Sainz for seventh, Räikkönen pitted to change to the yellow-walled Softs and departed the pit lane in fourth place. Spots of rain were reported on track but posed no threat to the race as Vettel’s tyres visibly started to look blistered due to aggressive driving through the field.

While Räikkönen attempted an undercut, Mercedes delayed their stop and forced the pole-sitter to pump in the lap times on his fresh set of rubber to defend from a possible overcut from Hamilton. He was able to extend his first stint to Lap 28 but exited the pit lane in third place with much fresher rubber than the Ferrari.

The other Ferrari man was pushing to the max, getting ready for a second stop. Another set of Supersofts went on and Vettel set off in pursuit of more points, re-joining the field in tenth behind both Williams drivers.

Out in front, the sister Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas receives the message to “keep Räikkönen behind”. He reduced his pace, slowing down allow teammate Hamilton to close on Räikkönen.

With 16 laps remaining, as Vettel passed Sergio Pérez for fifth, Bottas finally pitted from the front to gift Räikkönen the lead of the race. The 2007 champion now had severely blistered tyres from pushing earlier on his stint. He was clearly struggling with rear grip into the entry of the fast sweeping corners, losing precious time to Hamilton chasing behind.

With eight laps to go, Räikkönen offered little resistance and conceded the lead to Hamilton who used DRS down the front straight to position into the first chicane. Lap after lap, Räikkönen focussed on making it home to the podium, losing around one second per lap to fifth-placed Vettel who was pursuing a fierce scrap for third between Mx Verstappen and Bottas.

Vettel’s progress was helped by Verstappen being hit with a five-second time penalty for a clash with Bottas. Although he crossed the line fifth, he and Bottas were promoted to fourth and third respectively at Verstappen’s expense.

Up ahead, Räikkönen crossed the finish line to score his 100th podium in Formula 1, only the fifth driver in history – alongside Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost, Hamilton and teammate Vettel – to do so. Of that quintet, only Hamilton has never driven for Ferrari.

Our car was really good today. The first set of tyres was OK, while the second set didn’t last as long as we had expected,” a magnanimous Räikkönen explained post-race. “There wasn’t much we could do, we had to push all the time and there was no single moment in which we could take it easy and look after the tyres.

“For sure we wanted a better result, but this is what we’ve got; we did our best, but it was not enough. It’s easy to say what we should have done in an ideal world, but we did what we thought was right [at the time] and I think there was nothing wrong.

“Second position is not ideal, but we take it; I think that we were lucky to finish the race, on the rear left tyre there was no rubber left.”

“Unfortunately, our race was compromised, and it was a shame, but then I tried to do my best and had a decent recovery from the back,” continued Vettel.

“All in all, it could have been even worse. It’s disappointing of course because we had the pace and we definitely could have won. There are many points to win back now in the championship, but we still have time to improve and we have the margin to recover.”

“Definitely not the result we were looking for to give to our fans, who supported us in fine style all weekend, for which I thank them on behalf of the entire team,” added Ferrari Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene.

“We know we have a very strong car, which was clearly demonstrated by the fact we locked out the front row of the grid. Now, the important thing is to react as a team, in an orderly and determined fashion, without ever giving up.”

Are end of season mistakes coming back to haunt the Maranello team? With seven races to go, Lewis Hamilton leads the championship by a season-high margin of thirty points, and next weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix is one of Ferrari’s last opportunities to get the better of Mercedes who historically struggle in the high-temperature conditions of Singapore.

Crucially, regardless of the result next weekend in Marina Bay, Hamilton will still lead the Drivers’ Championship by a minimum of five points.

Another weekend with the Silver Arrows and Hamilton gapping to Vettel could see the championship fight being wrapped up before the end of the season.

Images via Formula1.com and Scuderia Ferrari

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Luke McCullough

Journalist at MotorsportM8
Melbourne based and Australian Grand Prix enthusiast with over 10+ years of attendance.
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