A few significant talking points dominated the Italian Grand Prix at Monza yesterday. The first, and most obvious in terms of the World Championship, was how unassailable Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes look. With Hamilton stretching the gap over his teammate to an enormous 53 points, I think there's no way anybody will catch him for the title now. As for Rosberg, he looks a shadow of his 2014 self as the effects of being schooled by Hamilton every weekend begin to take their toll, and I am starting to doubt whether he will ever win a World Championship.
But Hamilton was also at the centre of one of the more contentious issues from yesterday's race. Shortly before the end, Hamilton's race engineer instructed him to put in some flying laps – an odd decision, considering that he was cruising to almost-certain victory with a gap to Sebastian Vettel in second place of over twenty seconds.
Why the sudden need to hurry? Speculation was rife that Mercedes were worried about an issue, and that they needed enough time between their man and Vettel's Ferrari to be able to squeeze in an extra pitstop if necessary – but if Hamilton's tyres were going off, he would've felt that in the car and said something to his team before they had picked it up, and if it were an engine issue the sensible precaution would be to slow down and nurse the car to the end (there were fewer than five laps to go, at this point), rather than push the machinery even harder.
All soon became clear, however, as it was revealed that Mercedes were under investigation for having left rear tyres (on both their cars) which were suspected of being below the minimum tyre pressure, as set by F1's tyre manufacturer Pirelli. A lower tyre pressure is supposed to give the cars more performance, but Pirelli had raised their stipulated minimum pressures considerably from the previous race in Belgium, following criticism from teams and drivers regarding tyre failures at Spa Francorchamps.
As Hamilton celebrated victory on the Monza podium, in front of the usual crowd of passionate Italian racing fans, we waited to see if he would be disqualified for being 0.3 PSI below the required pressure in one tyre.
In the end, the enquiry exonerated Mercedes, and Hamilton's win was allowed to stand. To me, though, it looks awfully like getting off on a mere technicality. As I understood the rule, what mattered was the outcome of whether the tyre pressures were legal or not, not the procedures the team followed – and yet Mercedes were let off because they had done the right things, even though it had still produced an illegal result in one of Hamilton's tyres. Their defence, essentially, seems to have been "well, we didn't mean to!" That might count for something, of course – but ultimately, breaking the rules is breaking the rules, regardless.
Regardless also of the fact that Hamilton didn't actually gain an advantage from the infringement. This was another common defence from fans on Twitter, and a point raised in Hamilton's interview immediately after the race on Sky Sports; once again, however, breaking a rule should carry a punishment, whether you actually benefit from breaking it or not. If not, why bother to have the rules at all?
I think, though, the main culprit in all of this is Pirelli themselves. Their tyres are simply not good enough. I have said this before, and it remains my position that the sooner this disastrous 'high-degradataion' tyre experiment is ended, the better it will be for Formula 1. The only reason we were in the situation at all was because tyres had failed at the previous Grand Prix in Spa, and so Pirelli had to take emergency action to make sure their shonky product didn't end up hurting anybody. I don't see that as a tenable situation for F1, which is supposed to be a byword for the very best in the world – the best drivers, engineers, machinery, technology, and yes, tyres.
There is no excuse for teams or drivers not following the rules – and if they don't, they should be punished accordingly. But when those rules have been hastily cobbled together to spare the blushes of a tyre manufacture whose product ca be trusted to operate properly within the existing regulations, that hardly seems fair either. A serious overhaul of tyres in F1 is needed.
The other main thing which seemed to be on everyone's minds throughout the Grand Prix weekend was: would F1 be coming back to Monza next year?
Sebastian Vettel's thoughts on this were pretty clear…
I agree with him completely. This is a classic race; it is steeped in motorsport history. If Monza is allowed to go the way of Magny Cours, Imola, Hockenheim, and other classic circuits with more racing heritage than a hundred soulless specially-built compounds in the middle of the desert could ever hope to have, it truly will spell the end for Formula 1.