Top Dog Italy 2018

Grazie mille, Monza! What a race that was. Possibly the race of the season. It may have lacked the fairytale ending the tifosi longed for, but it had darn near everything else. The Temple of Speed lived up to its billing with a scintillating Saturday and the fastest qualifying lap in history. (Bravo, signore Raikkonen). The scene was set for an epic race day tussle between Scuderia Ferrari and the Silver Arrows. And our hard working hounds did not disappoint with some terrific doggy dicing up and down the field. But which of our canine chums nabbed this week’s Top Dog honour? A glass of your finest prosecco, for…

…Lewis Hamilton

Lewis celebrates an unexpected win – image via

There is no such thing as a racing certainty. Just ask the Prancing Horses. I was fully expecting the red cars to romp away with this one. They had the speed advantage and both Kimi and Seb were spectacular in qualifying. The race was theirs to lose. And that’s precisely what happened as Hamilton broke thousands of Italian hearts on his way to yet another brilliant victory. Many pundits hailed it as one of his greatest drives. Who am I to argue?

Of course, I have to justify my choice. Nessun problema! Lewis showed he meant business from lights out, chasing down the Ferraris off the line. Vettel got nail bitingly close to Raikkonen on the run down to the first chicane. He backed out of the move causing Hamilton to chip a piece of front wing as he took avoiding action. But Lewis smelled a pass. He stuck to Seb’s rear wing to the second chicane where he pulled off one of his spectacular, ‘round-the-outside’ overtakes on the Ferrari. A predictable ‘racing incident’ ensued with Vettel spinning off and facing the wrong way. Mamma Mia, here we go again! Seb limped to the pits for a front wing and tyre change. A timely safety car meant he lost less time, but he still had it all to do. He charged back up through the field to finish a brilliant fourth.

Vettel recovers to an impressive 4th – image via Ferrari official media

Merc Monza Masterclass

Meanwhile up front, Lewis was plotting how to get the better of the other red car. The safety car peeled in on Lap 4 and Hamilton wasted no time, squeezing past the Ice Man at the popular first chicane. His delight was short lived as Raikkonen came straight back at him at, yes, you guessed it, the second chicane. Cue tifosi hysteria. Awesome stuff.

I’ll admit I thought the excitement was over then. Kimi was going to use his superior speed to pull away into the distance, right? Hell no! Lewis showed the Mercedes had better pace than expected. He piled the pressure on Kimi ahead, keeping the gap to around one second, lurking in his mirrors and trading fastest laps with the Finn.

Kimi blinked first on the pitstop front, coming in on Lap 21. Could he keep his advantage with a nifty undercut? With clear air in front of him, Hamilton did what he does best and unleashed some mega lap times. His tyres were in good nick so he kept pushing to the limit. But Kimi’s fresh tyres soon got into the groove and Hamilton found himself behind the Ferrari again after his stop on Lap 28. Did Mercedes leave him out too long and scupper his chance of the win?

Now that’s what I call teamwork

Enter Valtteri Bottas. In what can only be described as a masterclass in teamwork, Bottas (who was now leading the race) did a brilliant job of backing Raikkonen up into the rapidly chasing Hamilton. Once Bottas had stopped, Lewis had Kimi in his tractor beam – and I was moving closer to the edge of my seat. With 10 laps remaining, Hamilton was breathing down the back of Kimi’s Hans device. I wasn’t breathing at all! As they sped down the main straight, you sensed it was now or never for Lewis. Raikkonen wasn’t going down without a fight, forcing Lewis to go around the outside of the chicane (where else?). Hamilton relishes that challenge and kept his foot in as the two cars exited the corner. Lewis nosed ahead, leaving just enough room for Kimi who sensibly backed out at the last possible moment. It was a brilliant pass, tastier than a hefty dollop of tiramisu. Flying Finn vs. Hammertime. You can’t touch this! What a treat it was seeing these two world champions going, ahem, tow to tow at the fastest track in the world.

Formel 1 – Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Großer Preis von Italien 2018. Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas
Formula One – Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Italian GP 2018. Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas

Uncork the boos

Of course, the tifosi didn’t see it that way. They were none too chuffed that Mercedes had vanquished their beloved team on home ground. Both Merc drivers were booed as they took to the podium.  Now I’m no fan of booing, but I do understand it comes from a place of passion, especially where the tifosi are concerned. I did feel sorry for Raikkonen. He drove brilliantly all weekend and I would have been delighted to see him on the top step. But you can’t deny that Hamilton was sublime. He showed restraint, determination and true racing prowess in equal measure. Yes, spot-on strategy calls, unusually compliant tyres and the most unselfish teammate in sport all played their part. But Lewis drove like a dream to take his 5thvictory in Monza, equalling Michael Schumacher. What’s more, he is now 30 points ahead of Vettel with seven races to go.  Molto bene, Lewis on another epic drive – and Top Dog prize too. You. Are. The. Man.

Deputy Dogs

Kimi Raikkonen showed there is life in the old dog yet. This was one of his greatest weekends and was just pipped to Top Dog. Fingers crossed he gets another sniff at it. He shares Deputy Dog status with everyone’s favourite wingman, Valtteri Bottas. He sacrificed a potential podium to help Lewis. As things turned out, he was indeed rewarded with a third place finish thanks to naughty Max Verstappen’s time penalty. A quick shout out to the Williams team too for their first double points finish of the year. It may have been assisted by Grosjean’s disqualification (subject to appeal) but is a big boost to the team and gets Sirotkin on the scoreboard at last.

That’s all from Monza. Next up, Singapore. Follow Badger GP for all the floodlit action around the streets of Marina Bay. Or why not watch live with fellow Badger fans at the Grand Prix Screenings event in Leeds? Grazie for reading!

Kimi got his 100th podium, but missed out on the win and Top Dog, just. Image via official Ferrari media.