Rosberg revs-up title battle, as old heads hang up their helmets
NICO Rosberg made it two victories in two weekends at the Italian Grand Prix, leading every lap in Monza to claim his seventh victory of the season, moving him just two points behind his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton with only six races remaining. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel completed the podium, providing some excitement for the tifosi in what was a largely uneventful race, with the major talking points from the weekend concerning off-track action.
Monza is the fastest track on the calendar, with the long-straights suiting the strengths of the Mercedes, with Ferrari using up all of their remaining engine upgrade ‘tokens’ in an attempt to close the gap at their home race. Any hopes of a close fight between multiple teams at the front was extinguished in qualifying, with Hamilton taking his 56th career pole position, nearly half a second ahead of Rosberg and eight tenths ahead of Vettel. Any thoughts of a straightforward victory for the Brit were dashed before the first corner, with wheel spin off the line causing a slow start, similar to those he suffered earlier on in the season, leaving him sixth after the first lap. The other Brits also suffered bad starts, with Jenson Button being forced wide on the first lap, and Jolyon Palmer having to retire his Renault after contact on lap 2 with Felipe Nasr. Button later provided one of the few exciting moments of the afternoon, overtaking his McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso at the first chicane, a move that was only bettered by Daniel Ricciardo’s fantastic last-ditch overtake on Valtteri Bottas at the same corner to secure fifth place, ensuring his Red Bull team stayed ahead of Ferrari in the constructor’s championship moving to the fly-away races. Max Verstappen had a much calmer race after his Spa controversies, coming home in seventh, with the Force India’s of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg sandwiching Felipe Massa to complete the top ten.
Massa will have been reasonably happy to score points after an emotional weekend, with the former Ferrari driver announcing his retirement at the end of the season, with the Brazilian picking Monza as the place to do this, as it was where his ex-teammate Michael Schumacher told the world about his first retirement from the sport ten years ago. A firm favourite with the tifosi after his eight years with Ferrari, Massa will be remembered within the sport for his gracious attitude when faced with adversity, after losing the world championship to Hamilton on the final corner in 2008, and for Ferrari forcing him to give a win to Alonso in 2010, a year to the day after his life-threatening crash in Hungary. Saturday brought another driver announcing that he wouldn’t be racing in 2017, with Jenson Button taking a year out from driving after signing a two-year ambassadorial role with McLaren, with the possibility of a return to driving in 2018. This sabbatical allows the team to give a race seat to their highly rated rookie Stoffel Vandoorne for next season, when it will be interesting to see how he copes with the pressure of a former world champion waiting in the wings. Despite the possibility of this only being a 12 month break from racing, many believe that this season will be Button’s last, with it being unlikely that he will want to return to the sport at 38 years old if McLaren aren’t competitive. There are also rumours of a far more experienced figure leaving the sport shortly, with Formula One being close to a takeover by American company Liberty Media, possibly ending Bernie Ecclestone’s long period at the helm.
Many people would have predicted a Mercedes 1-2 before this weekend, even more so after qualifying. Not many would have expected Rosberg to come out as the victor on Sunday, with everyone hoping that the next race in Singapore contains more action on track than in the paddock.
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