Notoriously their Achilles heel, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel put in performances in the third free practice at Monza to suggest that Red Bull have finally cracked the intense Italian circuit. Finishing P1 and P2 respectively the signs look ominous for the chasing pack as it may be the case that Qualifying turns into a race for third place.
In an intriguing session where it was Mercedes GP who were the surprise package Red Bull stole the show as the final flying laps saw Vettel put in a 1:23:17, the best time of the weekend and showcased the RB7’s raw speed around the tempestuous circuit that is Monza. Credit must go to the Red Bull engineers who have clearly gone to extensive efforts to ensure the car is far more competitive than it was last year.
Vettel has looked quick all weekend although the same cannot be said for Webber and this was highlighted in the fact that he and his mechanics opted to play one of four joker cars acquitted to the teams each season in order to allow the mechanics to spend longer on car adjustments late into the night after the days testing. The early signs suggest that the risk seems to have paid off with Webber looking quicker and more comfortable in the car finishing second with a 1:23:534, four hundredths of a second behind team-mate Vettel.
As for the Red Bull’s challengers Mercedes looked the most prominent with McLaren experiencing a bit of a hit and miss session after two good sessions on Friday, particularly for Hamilton. Admittedly Mercedes were running on the option softer tyre and were carrying a much lighter fuel load than the rest of the teams however Rosberg in particular made it count topping the time sheets for much of the session and eventually finishing sixth one place ahead of team-mate Michael Schumacher who despite having what seemed to be a fairly successful session complained to Mercedes mechanics that he still wasn’t happen with his set-up. However a chance is there for Mercedes to take a good spot on the grid at the expense of one of the other big hitters with Jenson Button still unhappy with his car, after trialing different set-ups McLaren moved Button’s car towards the Hamilton spec however the 2009 Champion still complained of large amounts of over-steer in mid and high-speed corners. Hamilton also enjoyed his share of misfortune despite if his good sessions on Friday it appears the VMM team seem to have opted to sacrifice downforce in order to gain greater straight line speed however because of this Hamilton lost crucial time in sector three leaving him sixth hundredths of a second behind Vettel with Button down in fifth.
Ferrari’s session started poorly with Mechanics surrounding both cars however Felipe Massa salvaged what was destined to be a poor session by putting in some last-minute effective times which enabled him to finish in P3. Early signs show this could be Massa’s weekend after finishing ahead of team-mate Alonso in two of the three practices. A victory appears to be out of Ferrari’s reach however a podium could still be on the cards, albeit unlikely.
Interestingly Ferrari did show a marked improvement after both going with high-down force spec, the opposite to McLaren and in doing so achieved better results. Possibly Martin Whitmarsh and co. need to follow suite.
One hope the chasing pack can cling to as Red Bull charge on is that having being forced to comply with Pirelli’s tyre camber rules (4.0 degrees) after the fiasco at Spa there is a stronger likelihood of Red Bull experiencing heavier tyre blistering than they are used to, at which point the rest need to strike. But at this stage it looks like Red Bull really are on the charge.
Saturday, 10 September 2011
|Position||Country||Driver||Car number||Team||Fastest Lap|
|1||Germany||Sebastian Vettel||1||Red Bull-Renault||1:23.170|
|2||Australia||Mark Webber||2||Red Bull-Renault||1:23.534|
|4||Great Britain||Lewis Hamilton||3||McLaren-Mercedes||1:23.741|
|5||Great Britain||Jenson Button||4||McLaren-Mercedes||1:23.787|
|6||Germany||Nico Rosberg||8||Mercedes GP||1:23.875|
|7||Germany||Michael Schumacher||7||Mercedes GP||1:24.114|
|9||Germany||Adrian Sutil||14||Force India-Mercedes||1:24.543|
|10||Great Britain||Paul Di Resta||15||Force India-Mercedes||1:24.581|
|12||Russian Federation||Vitaly Petrov||10||Renault||1:24.889|
|16||Spain||Jaime Alguersuari||19||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1:25.426|
|17||Switzerland||Sebastien Buemi||18||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1:25.439|