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James Allen on F1: Big margin for Mercedes in Monza

Mercedes won this race by a good margin on a weekend when Ferrari strangely did not have the pace, having run them close at Spa last weekend.

James Allen on F1: Big margin for Mercedes in Monza
 Winner Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W08, second place Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG F1 W08
 Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W08, Esteban Ocon, Sahara Force India F1 VJM10, Lance Stroll, Williams FW40, Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF70H, the rest of the field at the start
 Race winner Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1, second place Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG F1
Ferrari Fans and flags at the podium celebrations
 Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF70H
Race winner Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 celebrates, the fans
Race winner Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 celebrates, the fans
Race winner Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 celebrates, the fans
Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF70H
Fernando Alonso, McLaren MCL32
Cars line up in the pitlane
 Third place Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, shows his trophy to the crowd
 Streamers fall during the podium ceremony as Third place Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, sprays Champagne
Esteban Ocon, Sahara Force India on the drivers parade
 Trophies
 Fernando Alonso, McLaren MCL32
Post-race press conference: winner Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1, second place Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG F1

I’m shocked in many ways that this was the first time this season that a driver has won back-to-back Grands Prix. It shows how competitive the season is.

It felt like an away win in football terms for Mercedes on Ferrari’s home turf, taking their third 1-2 finish of the season. And they will need a few more of those if Hamilton is going to win the title.

Bottas will now play the tail gunner and take every opportunity to choke off Vettel’s route to second place on tracks where Mercedes has an advantage.

The question is whether Raikkonen is fast enough to do the same for Vettel on Ferrari tracks, like Singapore. He did the job in Hungary, but there will be pressure on the older Finn to keep Hamilton under control on weekends where Ferrari has the edge and one wonders whether he will manage it unless the margin is big, as in Hungary.

This could prove the deciding factor in the championship.

Crowd plays its part in the spectacle

The official crowd figure for Sunday was 93,000 but it felt like far more than that; there was a great enthusiasm from the fans and they certainly made plenty of noise, even though Ferrari didn’t win.

The enthusiasm of the crowd was impressive under the Monza podium; it makes the drivers feel more like rock stars than sportsmen.

All weekend the crowd was up for it. On arrival each day the drivers passed by a long line of fans, as in Melbourne and it was noticeable how the Ferrari drivers took the time to sign for them.

Hamilton went one better, arriving on a souped-up MV Augusta and doing a burn out (spinning rear wheel while holding the front brake) whilst doing a V sign with his left hand.

McLaren poised to make its move

There were plenty of meetings going on this weekend as the engine saga around Honda, McLaren, Renault and Toro Rosso takes a more definitive shape.

Zak Brown and Eric Boullier visited the Red Bull energy station on Saturday morning, soon after Alain Prost, Jerome Stoll and Cyril Abiteboul from Renault went to the upstairs meeting rooms in the McLaren motorhome.

A delegation of five or six of Honda’s big brass were in Monza too and, although there could still be further twists and turns in the saga, the pathway now seems to be that Honda will switch to Toro Rosso in 2018. Renault’s condition for switching the other way is that Carlos Sainz is released from his contract to race for Renault.

The problem for McLaren is one can imagine a scenario where Toro Rosso races in 2018 with the new Honda engine and it makes significant progress (thanks to engine consultant and Red Bull ally Mario Ilien) and Red Bull swing in to take it for 2019 thereby becoming a works engine team again.

Imagine the long faces at McLaren if Red Bull fights for the 2019 or 2020 world championship with that package!  It would sum up Fernando Alonso’s luck of being in the right place at the wrong time for most of the second part of his career.

This would appear to leave Force India in a position to continue with its very exciting line up, unless Sergio Perez wants a change of scene and fancies trying his luck at somewhere like Williams. They have a large constraint in their driver choice for next season in that they have to have a driver over the age of 25 for marketing compliance reasons around Martini. With Lance Stroll being only 18 Martini cannot use him for any publicity events.

Force India want to keep the same pairing and they know how to give Perez a car the way he likes it. Meanwhile, from Esteban Ocon’s point of view, his best interests would be served by staying there and working with Tom McCullough, who is probably the best in the business at bringing on the young drivers.

Ocon’s consistency, confidence and feel have impressed everyone this year and although Valtteri Bottas will get his renewal soon, one wonders whether the delay may be over how many years they renew for. A single year might makes sense as at the end of 2018 there might be the chance to sign Daniel Ricciardo or Max Verstappen from Red Bull – but equally Ocon might be ready to go straight up to the Silver Arrows.

He looks like he could be more consistent that Bottas, who’s done a good job this season but has nevertheless struggled to hit the peaks every weekend. 

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