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Class of the Field
Adam Barton

A Formula One fan since he was six, back while Häkkinen and Schumacher were having many an epic battle, Adam has seen a great deal. From German domination (twice), to British determination (once) and a Spanish invasion. A near compulsive fan who one day hopes to write about the sport for a living, outside of F1 Adam also authors his own blog One Guy's Opinion.

Ricciardo feeds on the vulnerable - Mixed up grid forces big names to fight through the field


We had to wait for them, but there were some impressive performances in Italy. Mercedes romped away and twisted the knife on Ferrari's home ground – made all the more obvious by parading side by side throughout the cool down lap to maximise opportunity for PR shots. Meanwhile, a wet Saturday created good opportunities to surprise in qualifying and a mixed-up grid meant the need for a few recovery drives.

Ricciardo fends off engine penalty to harry Vettel

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing: Started 16th, Finished 4th

Ricciardo is building a driver-of-the-season calibre year
Credit: Mark Thompson/Getty

Slowly but surely Danny Ricciardo is building a driver-of-the-season calibre year. While he may not have the raw outright pace of teammate Max Verstappen especially in qualifying, it’s hard to think of any points that the Aussie has left on the table. He was one of nine drivers to take power unit penalties as all bar the Mercedes powered cars and Ferraris – stubbornly holding out for home pride – seemed to be writing off their hopes of big points in Italy.

Ricciardo started 16th but he was on good form in qualifying, setting the third fastest time in Q3, just over a tenth behind wet weather ace Verstappen, albeit nearly 1.3 seconds of Hamilton’s pole time. Come the race, Red Bull went off the book with their strategy, starting on the prime soft tyres, knowing that their pace would be bottled up in the first stint by traffic. Ricciardo was slightly more circumspect with the strategy as Verstappen tried a risky move around the outside of Massa into turn one on lap three. Running long on his first stint, Ricciardo was able to jump up as high as third, before finally pitting on lap 37. The stop dropped him behind Vettel but regardless the strategy had worked as it helped him jump from 16th to 5th, with the help of his incredible pace, especially on worn prime tyres.

The strategy had worked as it helped him jump from 16th to 5th

The Aussie made short work of a casual Räikkönen, surprising the Finn with a late dive down the inside of turn one on lap 41 with a move that epitomised the honey-badger spirit. Then the chase started, with Ricciardo on newer, softer tyres than Vettel. The Red Bull driver hounded his former teammate and reduced the gap from 17 seconds to 4 in just 16 laps but eventually he ran out of laps and, to an extent, tyres, forcing him to settle for fourth, just missing out on an unlikely podium.

Ocon cashes in with Pérez out of the way

Esteban Ocon, Sahara Force India F1 Team: Started 3rd, Finished 6th

It’s amazing what you can do when you aren’t colliding with your teammate. Esteban Ocon drove like a man unleashed in Monza as he was right in the pole fight, setting provisional pole at one point as the Mercedes gambled on the intermediate tyres. Eventually Ocon had to settle for fifth fastest as the Red Bulls and Lance Stroll raised their game, but beating the Ferraris and Valtteri Bottas was no mean feat. It also left him third on the grid once penalties were applied to the Red Bulls.

Ocon drove like a man unleashed in Monza
Credit: Sahara Force India

On Sunday, Ocon got the maximum out of his race. Having lost out to Valtteri Bottas early – with the Frenchman hampered by the convenient delay for Force India’s power unit upgrades – the question was whether the Force India had enough straight line speed to put up a fight to the Ferraris and stop them from getting by.

The answer: one was able to sail by in the hands of Sebastian Vettel, while it would take far longer for Kimi Räikkönen to get by.

Once the Finn did eventually get past, Ocon’s attention had to turn to the battle behind. Having lost out at the start to the Frenchman, Lance Stroll was keen to get back past to seal best of the rest behind the big teams. Stroll was followed by a charging Massa and Sergio Pérez, as the Force India team started to get nervous. This was arguably the most impressive part of Ocon’s race as he was unflustered, showing great maturity as he kept going without putting a foot wrong.

On Saturday evening, it looked like a bigger result was possible but as the gap between top teams and the midfield started to show, Ocon did well to stop the disappointment affecting him and maximised Force India’s points haul from Monza with sixth place.

Innocence of youth helps Stroll star

Lance Stroll, Williams Martini Racing: Started 2nd, Finished 7th

While Azerbaijan is likely to remain Lance Stroll’s best result of the year, Italy was his best performance and arguably his true coming out party as Williams’ future. The Canadian starred in qualifying as best of the rest, the only driver to be remotely close to the Red Bulls behind Lewis Hamilton.

Off the line, Stroll made a good start and got enough of Hamilton’s attention for the Brit to feel the need to cut across. Stroll backed out and was understandably cautious on the brakes, allowing Ocon to get past around the outside into second. That meant that Stroll was first prey for Bottas and Vettel as they came through from poor qualifying performances, with the Finn passing on lap 3 before the German demoted Stroll to fifth on lap five.

Stroll was determined to close the gap to his teammate in the championship and some fairly robust defence sealed seventh place

Even though he lost three spots in the first five laps, it was the start of a very composed drive. Stroll maintained fifth comfortably until his pitstop on lap 17. In fact, it took a smart strategy using the undercut for Ferrari to get Räikkönen past the teenager. From there, Stroll was now racing cars with a similar pace to him and maintained a gap to Massa of a few seconds, as well as staring at the back of the Force India, showing he can compete with F1’s brightest future stars. As Daniel Ricciardo made an alternate strategy work, it became a battle for sixth place, best of the rest behind the top teams.

That remained the case to the end, although it got rather feisty in the final laps, as Felipe Massa looked to get one over on his colleague. Stroll was determined to close the gap to his teammate in the championship and some fairly robust defence sealed seventh place after a strong drive.

Some fairly robust defence sealed seventh place for Stroll
Credit: Glenn Dunbar/Williams