Notoriously, you can’t measure individual team/car packages standing for qualifying, much less winning the race, by practice results.
But the information over two sessions at the track can be commented upon as supporting trends and theories, or refuting them. Please see previous entries for trends/predictions.
McLaren have steadied into consistent improvement, leading the pack, as the overall package to beat; the currently leading compromise between single lap speed, race speed and managing components designed to degrade over distance. At Buddapest, they were clearly slower than Lotus in the race, but qualified at the front on a track not facilitating passing. At Spa, they had a huge qualifying superiority, and were only really challenged in the race by Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull. Both drivers are going good, 1-2 in the second practice. It’s close, but it’s never too early to start winning.
From apparent best to apparent worst, what’s happening with Red Bull? Vettel’s race craft has not received the attention it deserves as the English language press, hopelessly over-reporting all things British, have focused sillily on the latest antics from Lewis Hamilton. Lewis is at his best driving, I hope he sticks to what he said, as reported at PlanetF1, when asked how it would feel to win at the home turf of the tifosi, “Rather than telling you what it would mean to me, I’ll try and work towards it. If that ever comes true then I can tell you what it means.” If he does that, it would definitely raise him in my estimation. Can Jenson keep the momentum, keep it together, and beat Hamilton?
On Vettel’s Spa drive: I mentioned it before, but I recommend anyone to review the race and really pay attention to Vettel’s drive; it was fantastic, not only one of his best, and he has quite a collection of trophy drives, but definitely the best drive, of any driver, this season, a HUM-dinger, for sure! By that race, he has revealed a new dimension of grit in his persona.
I think Red Bull are unintentionally sandbagging. It’s not that they are sandbagging, it’s just that they are working hard, prioritizing a. making the car better to win the race, over b. working the hardest to be the fastest in practice, over one lap.
So, okay, I mentioned the single lap pace versus race pace comparative with McLaren, because that mix is winning. Red Bull were the fastest during the race, with Vettel’s car, the most successful at advancing. I think Red Bull are simply working through their program, less concerned with demonstrating single lap superiority.
Monza is an extremely high destructive race on the machinery over the race distance. I predict the highest attrition of the season so far.
You’d expect Ferrari to be pampering their prince, in their own court, with their people filling the stands, and their rivals in the face. Why is Alonso in the garage so much? What are they up to?
Ferrari, despite the continuous avalanche of downplaying their performance capability, are definitely up at the sharp end, very consistently, at least with the Alonso package. Massa got fifth?! at Spa; is that his best result of the season? Ferrari are there all right, very close on the single lap versus race pace balance of McLaren.
But all that garage time for Fernando?
How could it be? FERRARI? ALONSO?! If you don’t think there must be something up with that, you just have not been paying enough detailed attention the weaving web of patterns…
The two best probability scenarios that I can think up fast, include, in no particular order: a. Alonso is hurt; I’m not saying I’m happy about it, but he did get a very serious whack, less than a week ago, and b. they, Ferrari, have some really juicy new bits, that they are holding back; who knows why? These crazy Italian geniuses, you don’t need to fully understand the hows of them, to be able to appreciate the ends of them. Maybe they got a piece that will push them over the top in performance, finally, but at an incredibly potentially ego-benefiting time; oh it could be so good… (they are great partiers, those Italians.) An Alonso win could devastate the opposition, in terms of championship hopes.
The running so far doesn’t bode well for Kimi and Lotus’s first win. But with 40 degree track temperature, and all of the vertical loading, the king of kindness to the tires could be the only man (at the front) left standing??? As mentioned, practice pace has historically low predictive merit for race victory. D’Ambrosio’s main job is to get by the first corner in the race unscathed; it’s a big, tough job, especially if you are coming through in the order that you will likely qualify, in the middle of it. But if he does, and he can keep it together for the whole race! He will have done better than half of the races this year, compared to the guys he’s replacing; and that’s not too bad.
Mercedes, hmm… Schumy fastest in first free practice? Such a big turn around, even at a track which favours the strong motor, Mercedes, and the best straight speed, double-DRS, two activation zones, for a team that has really wallowed for a while. But who knows? Could they have fixed their understeer and rapid tire degradation issues, and Monza!!! 40 degree track? Almost anything can happen with Schumy, not getting too hung up on how.
Early call: I like Lewis, it’s never too early to start winning. (I know, I know, all of the non-predictiveness of qualifying to race, but were all most just human.)