Will Hamilton retake points lead at ‘Mercedes track’? Italian GP talking points

2021 Italian Grand Prix

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Red Bull were quick to talk up Mercedes’ chances in the coming rounds after Max Verstappen reclaimed the championship lead in his home race last weekend.

Will Lewis Hamilton immediately regain the points advantage at a track which has been one of the strongest for Mercedes in recent seasons? Or will F1’s second sprint qualifying weekend serve up a surprise?

Here are the talking points for the Italian Grand Prix weekend.

Advantage Mercedes?

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner identified the next two venues – Monza and Sochi – as strong tracks for Mercedes. Verstappen took a three-point lead with his eighth win of the year last time out, but Hamilton will go into this weekend knowing he has a strong chance to return to the head of the table.

Monza has been a strong circuit for Mercedes since the V6 hybrid turbo era began. They’ve won five of the seven races in that time.

True, their two defeats came in the most recent races. However Charles Leclerc’s 2019 victory for Ferrari was aided by the team’s controversial power unit, the performance of which was soon reined in by rules clarifications. While last year Hamilton was on course for another victory until a Safety Car error earned him a penalty.

Start, Zandvoort, 2021
Wolff reckons there’s little in it between the top two teams
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff believes the team “would have had to pace to win the race” at Zandvoort had they not lost valuable practice time on Friday when Hamilton’s old power unit let him down.

“Lewis losing a lot of track time in in FP2, that made a difference,” said Wolff. “I think if he would have been out there properly planning the race, we would have fought for pole or possibly we could have had pole. And that obviously would have changed the outcome of the race.

“But ‘could have’, ‘would have’ doesn’t count in this sport. You can see between the teams, there’s just nothing in between. The first three cars lapped everybody else and that shows the level that is necessary to deploy in order to win these championships.”

Mercedes’ power unit catches rivals’ attention

Last weekend Horner indicated his team has raised a query over the design of Mercedes’ power unit. This is believed to revolve around whether Mercedes has found a novel method of improving its performance by reducing the temperature of its coolant for brief periods.

If Mercedes are gaining an advantage, it may prove particularly valuable at Monza, which is the most demanding circuit for power unit performance.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto confirmed he had spoken to Horner about the design of the Mercedes power unit but had not approached the FIA over it. “We had some question marks,” he said, “we discussed the point with Red Bull, I discussed it with Christian Horner but we have not as Ferrari raised any questions to FIA so far at least.”

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Sprint qualifying returns

Restart, Monza, 2020
Like last year, there’ll be two standing starts at Monza
Monza will witness the second of Formula 1’s three sprint qualifying race weekends this year. The series firmly believes it is onto a winner with the idea, which involves moving qualifying to Friday and using a short race on Saturday to set the starting grid for the grand prix.

Formula 1 motorsport director Ross Brawn said the first trial of the format at Silverstone prompted: “Massive feedback, positive feedback from our fans on social media, they love it.” CEO Stefano Domenicali boasted of “overwhelmingly positive feedback from the teams, drivers and fans”.

But the feedback from RaceFans’ readers has been mixed at best. Drivers have also expressed reservations, saying the qualifying race shouldn’t be used to set the grid. However Brawn is eager to see more points awarded for the format in future.

Kubica gets another chance

This time Kubica has a full weekend to show what he can do
After being parachuted into Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo at short notice, Robert Kubica will be back in the car this weekend. He wasn’t able to take part in Friday practice last time, but starting tomorrow he’ll have a full weekend in the car to show what he can do. This being a sprint qualifying event, that still means less practice than usual.

Kubica did a thoroughly decent job last time out given his lack of preparation. Following a largely wasted 2019 comeback season in the dire Williams, this could yield the most telling reflection of his abilities since the rally crash a decade ago which curtailed his F1 career.

The Tifosi return

This is Formula 1’s fifth race in Italy in a period of 12 months, but the first occasion during that time where a substantial audience of tifosi will be present, cheering on the home favourites Ferrari. Whether the atmosphere will measure up against the new standard set by Zandvoort last week is another matter.

Leclerc is eager to see the home fans back. “Monza is always extremely special for the drivers, for the team,” he said. “It’s the home of the team and we can always feel the support. And obviously what I lived in 2019 I will remember that for my whole life.

“This year might be a bit more difficult compared to 2019 but it will be good to feel the support. The craziness that we’ve seen for Max, I hope to see it for us in Monza, but it’s always very, very special to be racing as the home of Ferrari.”

How fast?

This will be Formula 1’s last visit to its fastest track before the cars are drastically revised next year.

Will we see the record for the fastest average lap speed broken again? Hamilton set the record last year when he screamed around the 5.7-kilometre course in 1’18.887, averaging 264.362kph on his way to pole position.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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48 comments on “Will Hamilton retake points lead at ‘Mercedes track’? Italian GP talking points”

  1. Of course advantage Mercedes. They could be just as fast as Red Bull on the twisty Zandvoort using much less wing (6 kph top speed), so at Monza that should be slam dunk.

    1. I don’t really understand why people think Mercedes will be favourites here. We’ve seen a low downforce race already this season in Baku and Mercedes were extremely disappointing. Yes, Hamilton started second, but he needed a big tow from Bottas to get there. The Redbulls were both in the top5 on raw pace.

      We didn’t get to see the final laps due to the red flag, but based on practice and Q2 I don’t doubt RedBull would have been extremely close or even grabbing pole. They also had the race well and truly wrapped up until the puncture.

      They’ve been quick everywhere this year. Austria, Silverstone, Baku, Spa. A big mix of circuit types, yet some people think it’s still 2014/15 and any track with a long straight is going to somehow be a Mercedes domination. It’s such a lazy opinion and not representative of this years cars at all.

      1. This, Mercedes tend to dominate Monza, but this year things are different.

        Besides Red Bull was often very fast with skinny rear wing.

      2. Oops, reported by mistake.
        Monza and Baku are same same but different. Baku has multiple 90 degree bends with barriers whereas monza has two slow chicanes but they’re not 90 degrees if on the racing line because you can straight line them over the kerbs. Baku also has a Mickey Mouse section through the castle – no such thing at Monza.
        I’m not saying that Merc will be faster than red bull this weekend, but form at Baku doesn’t indicate either way at Monza.

        1. Absolutely, baku is a mixed track, remember perez’s defense on hamilton when he complained hamilton was flying in the straight? He only managed to defend because of the higher downforce part of the track.

        2. Is there no confirmation when you click Report Comment? That seems like really poor design if so.

      3. This was before the car update at Silverstone. Before that, they needed a ‘barn door’ rear wing, now they need even less, so the floor issue was well and truly sorted.

        1. ..less wing than Red Bull I meant

    2. I don’t think Mercedes were as close to Verstappen as it seemed in Zandvoort, they certainly weren’t on similar pace. As Lewis himself remarked, Red Bull had pace in hand whenever they needed it.

      If anything this season, the best Mercedes can hope for it seems is to be equal to Red Bull, rather than ahead. Not for nothing, but Lewis has had two pole positions this season, and Bottas another one, to Max’s 7 so far, so it definitely seems that Red Bull are very much in the fight for fastest around this track.

      1. This stat is surprising, I think they should’ve had more based on pace but I wouldn’t hesitate to say red bull was slightly superior to merc in quali with things being closer in races so far.

      2. The issue at Zandvoort was very specific. The steep stepped banking caused more balance problems for Mercedes because it the longest wheelbase causing more torsion on the chassis. The lack of practice time meant Hamilton did not discover the high entry line needed to minimise the disadvantage until Q3. (Bottas then copied it in the race.)

        Even if the line had been discovered earlier Mercedes would only have done better by qualifying better. The last two race results have been decided by the time qualifying ended.

    3. @balue do you also think that Mick Schumacher is also going to be extremely competitive in Monza, given he topped the speed trap in qualifying for the Dutch GP (320.1kph)?

      Alternatively, do you think that Giovinazzi will be battling away at the front, given he was 5th fastest in qualifying for the Dutch GP (315.6kph) and then proceeded to top the speed trap in the race with a recorded top speed of 328.2kph?

      Maybe, instead, you’ll be wagering that Latifi must be aspiring for great success in Monza, given he was 2nd fastest in qualifying (319.1kph) and 3rd fastest in the race (326.6kph)?

  2. And the second of three qualifying sessions I’ll miss this year since it’s on a friday and I have a job… Good call F1 – how to continue to alienate a proportion of your long-term fans (30+ years)

    1. Just watch replay after the work.

  3. Record and watch later. That’s what i do. On whether this is a track that suites mercs is no more. Redbulls are clearly throwing everything for the drivers championship this year. They continue to bring updates to the car. Where as mercs are slower with upgrades. They were also “penalized” with the aero changes at the end of last year/beginning of this year. They. Would lime to win both championships this year. But their primary focus is next years championship because of the new regs. If Redbull lose this year when mercs are not at their best then they may never win when mercs are totally focussed.

    1. I wouldn’t know about 2022, there’s the chance to have more competitive teams since all is reset.

  4. Do Ferrari have their new upgraded Power Unit (with the reported 10bhp boost) for Monza?

    1. No, think Turkey is the plan.

    2. I think binotto clearly denied it would be ready for monza a while ago.

  5. I’d love to see published evidence of this massive positive feedback – even the F1 fan voice survey results were leaning very much to the negative before they mysteriously disappeared, and pretty much every other site including Race Fans returned a “mixed” at best result yet Brawn and co keep telling us that the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

    I’m also a bit doubtful about the so called advantage Mercedes may have – Honda PU’s have very definitely closed the gap and seem to be as powerful if not more powerful and given Monza is a power track, I just don’t see it being that cut and dried that it will suit Mercedes more than Red Bull.

    I’ve got major committees both Friday and Saturday so won’t be able to watch either of the “qualifyings” live so I guess I’ll just read about them – not expecting anything much from the sprint abomination but I guess we’ll see. No doubt we’ll have to put up with Brawn telling us how great it will be before it and how great it was after it even if it wasn’t, but I guess that’s his job now isn’t it.

    1. I gave it a 5\10 which I think was very fair for the first sprint quali, and let’s just say if this one doesn’t make it extremely interesting, for me sprint quali can be considered a failure, so it needs to be FAR better than silverstone one to get a pass.

  6. Concerning sprint format, I still wish Friday was solely a practice day, followed by both QLF and Sprint on Saturday.
    This way, FP2 wouldn’t be useless because of Parc Ferme.
    Alternatively, have FP1 as the sole practice session.

    Mercedes advantage, unlikely. Remember what people thought about Circuit Paul Ricard beforehand.
    This season is different from previous ones in this regard.

    I reckon slower like on every circuit thus far, although Monza predominantly features straight-line driving, so perhaps the floor change impact gets nullified.

    1. I think the Mercs were the faster car on Paul Ricard.
      Remembering how easy and close to Verstappen Hamilton was able to follow. Even Bottas could follow closely.
      I think in that stint (2nd stint?) Verstappen had to push much more than both Hamilton and Bottas, that’s why he was complaining, his tires wouldn’t last the whole race.
      Verstappen only won because of strategy..
      I think the gap is at least much smaller than previous years, but still advantage Mercedes on quicker tracks.

      1. I would give quali to red bull and race to mercedes in paul ricard, slightly. Indeed he closed up fast.

      2. Merc should have closed out the win at that race, at least after Max gave up the lead at the race start.

        In the first stint though, it seems RB were measuring their pace more than Merc – Max had a lot of type life left to run a hard in-lap, Lewis didn’t.

        In the end, neither Mercs tyres lasted, so the relative pace wasn’t representative. In Lewis’ case though, the tyres nearly made it, fewer (or no) laps following Max ought to have been enough

  7. I just feel like the sprint races neutralise the grid, so if you excel in one lap qualifying but your race pace isn’t as good, you will just slip back. What would have happened to George Russell if Spa had a (dry) sprint race?

    1. That would depend a lot on the top speed williams had, cause with mercedes engine you have a chance to keep people behind on the best overtaking place.

  8. I’m glad the sprint race is back. It might not as exiting as the previous one but I think everybody need to read the article about worked and what failed about it. It’s all a good thing for F1 except the event naming and a chance for media to interview the drivers after.

    All conservative F1 fans who defend old qualifying dogma need to read the room and embrace progress.

    1. @ruliemaulana Read the room? Is that why the F1 site took down the first survey , which I believe was heavily negative towards the Sprint races? Is that why they then hid a second more restrictive survey by tagging it on the end of the British GP survey?
      Progress is moving forward, Progress is improvement by building on the solid foundations established over decades. Not breaking up the original and replacing with a cheap copy.

      1. @johnrkh LoL, I didn’t know F1 site took down their first survey and hid a second more restrictive survey. That was funny indeed.

    2. And you speak for the room do you?

    3. Just because something is new @ruliemaulana, doesn’t mean that it is “progress”.

      1. Agree. I don’t like hybrid too, but the rejection of this three trial like it was violating something sacred is just hysterical in my opinion and I don’t understand that @john-h.

    4. The sprint race was boring, and whatever it might have contributed to the race weekend is still at best, murky.

      It was different, but being different doesn’t necessarily mean it was better. Awarding official pole position based on the sprint race results was an insult to the Q3 participants.

      Honestly, I’m not sure what the sprint race accomplished– it certainly didn’t mix up the rather predictable results of qualifying or the race.

  9. read what room? i don’t know a single person who liked it

    i’m not saying they don’t exist…

    i will still watch “fake qualifying” and the sprint race because i am a huge F1 fan but i know other people that will only watch the race. because the sprint race kind of neutralizes the excitement of Sunday’s race, that’s my biggest problem with it

    1. petebaldwin (@)
      9th September 2021, 11:10

      Having a short race on Saturday didn’t work at all for me last time – I didn’t really enjoy watching it and it made Sunday’s race feel less special as I’d already seen a start etc.

      I’m going to try recording it and watching it during the build-up to Sunday’s race to see if that’s any better.

      If not, I’ll just read the results for the 3rd attempt and will only watch the race.

      1. IfImnotverymuchmistaken
        9th September 2021, 12:40

        That’s exactly my beef with the sprint race, it somehow makes the Sunday race less special. Good idea about watching the sprint on Sunday before the race, I might also give that a try.

    2. I’m one of those who saw more positives than negatives.
      The Sprint (Q) Race gave us some extra action during the initial laps and the final laps. And having more of those action laps was an improvement to the weekend.
      Also the limited practice before quali (and the Sprint Race) helped a bit to create some excitement.

      But I would change it as follows:
      – Quali on Friday;
      – Reverse Grid Sprint race with some points on Saturday;
      – Full race with full points on Sunday (based on Friday’s quali results)

    3. Well, you know one now. I just glad there was three event that I and my son had to watch together instead of two.

  10. Ha ha Horner is doing a ‘Wolff” he playing down their chances so if they win they can claim an against the odds victory. If they lose will he point to the Merc PU and repeat his accusations.
    The Sprint races are here to stay unfortunately and as Brawn has said there will be more next year and probably with more points, making the GP less relevant, less special.
    As long as a company with money to burn is willing to sponsor the event, it will remain despite the feelings of the fans the drivers or anybody else.

  11. I liked the first sprint race as an isolated event. But together with fastest lap it just makes luck and circumstances more important. I would hate to see some accidents in the sprint for instance. it doesn’t really add something probably ment to sell more tickets on none race days.

    Also I would be surprised if Monza is a easy win for Mercedes

  12. Ugh, I’d forgotten that this weekend was sprint qualifying. If we HAVE to have it, I’m up for the idea of it not setting the grid and it just being an extra race.

    Max will have to hope he’s not taken out by a Mercedes in the first corner twice this weekend.

  13. Talking about the fastest lap ever, whatever happened to the plans to modify the track? Or are they coming for the 2022 GP?

  14. I only have one thing to say with regards to sprint qualifying “BOO HISS”

  15. Mercedes were in awe of red bull straight line speed a few races ago. How can Merc be so much quicker now?

    1. Both Ferrari and Red Bull think they are ‘circumventing the rules’ (cheating) with engine (super-cooled inlet), but also the floor upgrade worked and they don’t need so much wing any more.

      1. Even so to catch and completely overtake red bull seems a bit suspicious to me.

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