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Sauber surprise as Red Bull reign at Monza - Italy 2013 // Another weekend dominated by Vettel, as the midfield make their move

Published by Christine

Christian Horner in the paddock after winning the Italian Formula One Grand Prix
Credit: Getty

For the second race weekend in a row, we were left wondering just what has gone wrong with our incredible season. Where the early racing has us on the edge of our seats, the last few events have been less impressive.

As ever, there are still things to take note of from the five sessions completed in Monza, and it was interesting to see which teams did well and which struggled.

But the competition at the top is not what it could be and the racing left a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, here's my team by team review of the Italian Grand Prix.

Red Bull

Driver positions - Red Bull
DriverQualifyingRace
S Vettel1st1st
M Webber2nd3rd

Red Bull weren’t expected to have the edge at the Italian Grand Prix, as although they clearly have a supreme advantage in terms of aerodynamics, the Renault engine isn’t famous for its speed. However, the team locked out the front row in qualifying, and got both their drivers onto the podium as well. Sebastian Vettel was untouchable at the front, whilst Mark Webber recovered from another slightly dodgy start, and thus the team went home with another three trophies to add to their collection.

There were some signs of reliability trouble, however, as both drivers started receiving panicked radio messages as the race wore on. Some gearbox components had been altered (within the regulations) ahead of the race, but those that had been left behind were starting to give way. Short-shifting was the order given to first Webber and then Vettel, but they still coasted to an easy double podium. They may have managed to get through this race successfully, but reliability could be an issue next weekend in Singapore.

Meanwhile, the body language between Vettel and Webber couldn’t have been more obvious before and during the podium. Webber is keen to get out and on with his career, and whilst giving his teammate a modicum of respect and the Monza fans a lot of love, it was clear that the end of the season can’t come too soon for him.

Ferrari

Driver positions - Ferrari
DriverQualifyingRace
F Alonso5th2nd
F Massa4th4th

The negative comments Fernando Alonso made about the Ferrari machinery after the Hungarian Grand Prix were supposed to be a blip in the otherwise rosy relationship between driver and team. However, during qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix, when the fabled slipstream strategy didn’t work and Felipe Massa qualified ahead, Alonso turned on his engineers once again. Whether the word was a sarcastic “geniuses” or a more stark “idiots”, the message was clear.

Felipe Massa gifted a position to his teammate during the race, either because he was asked or because he knew he eventually would be. Alonso would need some major luck to be in with a chance of the championship at this point, but Massa knows that the maths doesn’t matter to his bosses. It was a solid performance from Felipe, but he made no forward progress from his qualifying position.

Alonso scrabbled for places, and put in another storming overtake on Mark Webber, the pair of them having some really excellent battles this season. Without the car to catch the Red Bull in front, he had to hold station in second, and that’s where the frustrations will tell. There’s ongoing speculation over who will be in the Ferrari cars next year, but they’ll need the car to do the business and retain whoever joins or stays.

"There were four Ferrari engines in the top seven at the finish line, which is a very impressive result. Now we must maintain this current form and be ready to make the most of whatever opportunities arise, counting on reliability, which from now to the end of the season will play an important role, while also hoping for a bit of a good luck."

- Stefano Domenicali, Team Principal, Ferrari

Sauber

Driver positions - Sauber
DriverQualifyingRace
N Hülkenberg3rd5th
E Gutiérrez17th13th

Every now and again, a driver from one of the lower teams puts in a storming qualifying performance to brighten up our otherwise Vettel-dominated days. This time it was Nico Hülkenberg and his Sauber, scooping the third grid slot for Sunday’s race. As always with these things, and particularly without the intervention of some rain, it would have been supremely hard for Nico to retain third through the entire race, but to only drop down two places to fifth is a fantastic effort.

It’s also a great boost for the team, who also got to see Esteban running high up the order as he was one of the last to come into the pit lane for the first stop of the afternoon. Esteban’s poor qualifying let him down again, one of the six cars dropping out in Q1, and that left him with too much work to do. However, the Sauber looked particularly light on its tyres once again as the Mexican went more than halfway through the race on his first set, opting for a different strategy to those around him.

The good result for Nico has given the team a much-needed boost, particularly as the financial concerns haven’t completely gone away, and the future isn’t as bright as they might hope just yet. The track is unique in its characteristics, so Sauber need to look to repeat the feat at some of the other, and slower, upcoming circuits.

Mercedes

Driver positions - Mercedes
DriverQualifyingRace
N Rosberg6th6th
L Hamilton12th9th

Rosberg had one of the quieter weekends in Italy. The German driver admitted to not being happy with the setup of the car, which compromises the weekend particularly at Monza. He qualified sixth and finished the race sixth, so nothing lost, nothing gained, and time to look ahead to Singapore.

The attention at Mercedes was all focused on Hamilton and it went wrong right from the start. After his self-confessed idiot driving on Saturday left him out of the top ten, there was a lot of work to be done to pull back anything during the race. A lot of effort was clearly going into the car, he pushed hard to pass others on track, but was let down by a radio failure. The lack of communication meant he kept missing the opportune pit windows, and didn’t even know about the slow puncture he picked up.

The Brit has been fighting a rollercoaster of emotions all season, and was visibly distressed after both qualifying and the race. He says the right things towards the team, but I wonder if there is any concern at Mercedes about the image being portrayed. Regardless, with Ferrari getting a good result, the team need to buckle down and fix the small gremlins in the car to try and fight for second in the championship.

Toro Rosso

Driver positions - Toro Rosso
DriverQualifyingRace
JE Vergne10thDNF
D Ricciardo7th7th

Ricciardo’s signing to Red Bull next year lessened the attention on his shoulders a little, but the Austrlaian knew he still had to perform to prove his worth for the step up. In a race which saw a lot of drivers finish in the same position they started in, Ricciardo qualified inside the top ten, and retained his seventh place for a couple of points. Crucially, he moved ahead of his teammate in the championship.

Vergne scraped into the top ten, which is an impressive effort considering his previous qualifying performances. Unfortunately a good start on Sunday ended in retirement, as the car gave up beneath him and saw him slide off track and forced to watch the rest of the race from the sidelines.

For the team as a whole, this is another race of reasonably good performance – give or take the odd retirement. The pace has picked up and Ricciardo was going into the race realistically hoping for a fifth place or similar. In the end it wasn’t the star performance that we saw from Sauber, but as a home race for the Italian team, it was an impressive result.

An excellent performance from Daniel and the entire team resulted in us finishing a well deserved seventh at one of the most famous races on the calendar, which also happens to be our home grand prix. As for Jean-Éric, it was a real shame that he again had some bad luck. Having made a good start, he too was holding position but had to retire with a transmission problem, the cause of which we now need to investigate.

- Franz Tost, Team Principal, Toro Rosso

Lotus

Driver positions - Lotus
DriverQualifyingRace
K Räikkönen11th11th
R Grosjean13th8th

Romain Grosjean was involved in an incident during the Italian Grand Prix and it was investigated by the stewards, but for once, it wasn't his fault and the other party received the reprimand. It wasn't a bad race for Romain, really, especially if we remember that he wasn't on track at Monza last year because of his one-race ban. Qualifying could have gone a little better, but he made up places in the race and finished both in the points and ahead of his teammate, which is all you could ask for under the circumstances.

Meanwhile, all the attention was on Kimi Räikkönen, as the settlement of the second Red Bull seat puts the silly season focus firmly on him. For his current team's part, they've said they're trying to keep him on board, but they also managed to contradict him just a little bit over the weekend. After missing out on Q3 with both cars, Lotus found themselves qualifying 11th and 13th on the grid. Kimi simply said that was the speed the car was able to go, and it was the same last year. Monza just isn't a good track for them.

After the race, however, in which Kimi finished where he started after making an unexpected two-stop strategy work, team principal Éric Boullier had a different story. He provided the figures to prove that, ignoring the first two troubled laps, Kimi was as quick as Vettel over the remaining 51 tours of the circuit. This time, it was damage and not a lack of pace that kept the Finn down. Still, no points on that side of the garage aren't going to impress a driver you're hoping to keep.

McLaren

Driver positions - McLaren
DriverQualifyingRace
J Button9th10th
S Pérez8th12th

McLaren had one of their medium-strength weekends, showing a little bit of extra pace over their performances at the start of the season, but still nothing to particularly write home about. This weekend, they were far too busy concentrating on quaffing champagne and wearing dodgy flat caps to take that racing business too seriously, but they still got on with the job in hand.

Qualifying went pretty well, with both drivers getting into the top ten. Jenson Button did admit afterwards, however reluctantly, that they perhaps should not have bothered running in the final Saturday session, instead saving their rubber for the race instead. The Brit bemoaned a lack of pace in the Grand Prix, particularly as the fuel started to burn off and the weights came down. Blaming it on the gear ratios selected, Button thought they could have done better than the solitary point they came away with.

Pérez meanwhile was involved in a first lap altercation with Räikkönen which forced him off track at the first chicane and through that awful slalom. He had to hand back the places gained, and it put him off-kilter, although he spent most of the race battling with the Toro Rossos and his own teammate. Thankfully there were no inter-team clashes this weekend, as that would have been a particularly embarrassing way to celebrate the 50th anniversary.

Williams

Driver positions - Williams
DriverQualifyingRace
P Maldonado15th14th
V Bottas18th15th

Williams had a very quiet weekend. Pastor Maldonado had one of the thermo-cameras attached to his car during the early sessions but it had disappeared by race day. The Venezuelan was disappointed in his qualifying, particularly after being called to the weighbridge at an unfortunate moment. If Bottas' pace is anything to go by, though, there wasn't much more to wring out of the car over one lap.

On Sunday, both drivers made up a place or two but neither were particularly happy with the pace of the car during the race. They managed to complete the planned strategy and steered clear of any major incident, but there wasn't much in the way of forward progress, and they never really looked in danger of getting any points. It's fair to say the team weren't expecting the track to suit them, so they weren't particularly surprised when it didn't!

Our strategy and tyre management went as planned but we just didn't have enough pace to challenge the cars in front. We now go from a circuit with the lowest downforce level to one with the highest downforce level in Singapore, so it's a completely different challenge and we hope to perform better there.

- Xevi Pujolar, Chief Race Engineer, Williams

Force India

Driver positions - Force India
DriverQualifyingRace
P Di Resta16thDNF
A Sutil14th16th

Force India got our attention with the new thermo-cam focused on the tyres of Paul di Resta’s car. Unfortunately, he only managed to get one lap into the race before crashing out, limiting the use of such an interesting view of the rubber strategies. Di Resta held his hands up and took the blame for the incident, in which he braked too late and bashed into the back of Romain Grosjean. He was later reprimanded for the crash, but retirement without a front wing and one tyre hanging off was punishment enough.

The team seemed to feel the need to start and finish the race with a retirement, bringing Adrian Sutil in on the final lap with an apparent brake problem. He had completed enough of the event to classify, finishing 16th, but it’s no dignified ending – watching the chequered flag from the garage.

With only Sutil’s race and the duo’s qualifying performance as evidence, Force India looked to be on the back foot at Monza. They qualified outside the top ten, and although the grid was tight, they didn’t look to be challenging for much near the top. Sutil wasn’t gaining much in the race either, and points weren’t on the cards, so the retirement wasn’t too costly. Considering McLaren are starting to show glimpses of their more natural form, it’s a bad time for Force India to lose the plot – fifth in the championship could be slipping away and out of their grasp.

Caterham

Driver positions - Caterham
DriverQualifyingRace
C Pic20th17th
G Van der Garde19th18th

As the stars of qualifying in Belgium, Caterham had to settle for a return to normality at Monza, as they lined up near the back but ahead of the Marussias. They managed to stay ahead of their rivals in the race as well, although neither driver thought it a particularly good afternoon’s work.

Van der Garde finished behind his teammate, blaming a bad start off the line, and the slightly worse strategy. Communication troubles hit the team when Giedo came in for a pit stop only to find his mechanics scrabbling to be ready. For Pic, there was none of that, and he himself called it a “quiet race” after which he’s hoping for more of a fight in Singapore.

The team, along with their backmarker counterparts, are still far off reaching their own career best of 11th place, and can’t take the fight to those in front without a stroke of luck or an unusual turn of events. But they’ve got the battle with Marussia fired up again, and although we’ve long since stopped talking about when they might get their first point, tenth place in the championship could be up for grabs before the end of the season.

Marussia

Driver positions - Marussia
DriverQualifyingRace
J Bianchi21st19th
M Chilton22nd20th

As has already been mentioned, getting the setup right at Monza is crucial, and Jules Bianchi wasn’t happy with his car going into qualifying. He still managed to stay ahead of his teammate though, who in turn suffered a fuel problem that appeared to put too much in the car. The pair lined up last on the grid, firmly behind the two Caterhams.

It was a similar story in the race, although Bianchi managed to do battle with the green cars on occasion, he just didn’t have the pace to keep up the fight. Chilton had his sights on his teammate rather than the competition, and was happy enough when the gap between them was almost nothing, but it gradually stretched out as the race wore on.

Marussia seem to have lost their momentum – where Bianchi was the star of the show early in the season, the balance seems to have shifted over to Caterham in more recent races. It may only be a matter of time before they lose that tenth place in the standings again.

All content in the series Italy 2013