It’s debatable whether that was Formula One or Formula Mercedes on show this afternoon. But who cares? Wow. What. A. Race.
Luca de Montezemolo and Christian Horner had publicly ambushed the FIA today to tell them — and the world — that F1 had taken a wrong turn, but there was little or nothing wrong with that 90mins, except maybe the venue and that overwhelming sense that it was taking part in one of those vast American carparks way after the mall had closed. Just imagine all that happening at Monza.
Lewis Hamilton had to fight harder for the win than he’s fought for any in his career and you know what? He looked buzzed to have done so. Lewis wants that second title but he doesn’t expect it handed to him on a plate. In the view of recent events, that’s refreshing.
Frankly, ten laps from the end when the safety car pulled off the track Hamilton didn’t look like he had a chance. He had the fuel, and he had the track position, but Nico Rosberg had the faster and fresher tyres and the advantage of DRS. “Bring the car home safe…” was the message from Paddy Lowe to both drivers. Lowe sounded anxious.
Rightly so: Hamilton and Rosberg pushed as hard as they could inside the rules and just beyond them, Rosberg running right off the track at one point — as he had last year — as he made one of umpteen attempts to get by, all of them anticipated, countered and parried by Hamilton as he drove with one eye on the racetrack, the other on the mirrors. The Mercedes W05 is quite possibly one of the all-time great racing cars and we saw it ragged to the very edge of its performance this afternoon. It’s already hard to imagine the team won’t wrap up both titles this year, but it’s going to be a blast while they get there. Red Bull has never been this entertaining, and maybe that’s because Hamilton and Rosberg genuinely seem to respect and like each other. That was bromance there in the waiting room.
Behind them — yes, there was a race for third place and beyond — it was similarly all about team plays and the result threw up some interesting results. In third place, Sergio Perez took first podium blood for Force India, ahead of Nico Hulkenberg who was caught out by the gamble required to get him in to the top ten in the first place. Hulkenberg came home fifth, making Force India the second best team in Formula Mercedes right now. Impressive, considering they have the smallest resources of the three Mercedes customer teams.
Williams will be only too aware of that. Seventh and eighth was not what they were looking for today, what with a car third on the grid (Bottas) and another (Massa) third after the first lap following an amazing start. Maybe Williams wanted it too much so put both drivers on a ballsy three-stop strategy that very quickly looked to be the wrong one. Still, it was good to see Williams’ drivers actually racing after last week’s demotivational team talk . Massa looked mighty at times today, and there are results to come from Williams’ beautiful “Racing” branded cars.
Ferrari had two cars in the top ten, but they are not best of the non-Merc teams. Which is very clearly getting to both drivers in what should be the strongest team. No, best non-Merc is Red Bull right now, so hard not to come to the conclusion that Ferrari’s is the weediest V6 in F1 right now. Ouch, that’s not good for their racing brand. Red Bull’s drivers got to fight in and out across the race and in the ten-lap sprint after that safety car which at times looked like an elaborate promotion for Russell Crowe’s blockbuster Noah with the top five line up in pairs at the restart.
Remarkably — actually truly remarkably — it was Crowe’s countryman Daniel Ricciardo who caught, raced and passed Sebastian Vettel. The champ could only finish sixth, making a point of broadcasting his lack of straight line speed, the Aussie ingénue was fourth. Ooo-er! Fireworks there.
In fact fireworks everywhere today in a race in which these new F1 cars just never seemed to stop racing. F1 got almost everything right today — the show on the box was 100 per cent more exciting than last week’s race. There were new graphics that allowed us to make sense the 100kg/hour fuel flow rate and to spot drivers that were busy charging their batteries ready for an all-out assault on the guy in front. It felt at times like the best video game-play footage you ever saw. There was even a Call of Duty-style first person camera on one of the Williams’ crew.
The only downside was that smash that brought out the safety car. Pastor Maldonado likes to drive in to people, only up until now he’s not had a device mounted to the front of his car ideally suited to flipping another car over, as he did today to Esteban Gutierrez. “What happened there?” said the young Mexican. Quite.