Ferrari has left the Italian Grand Prix with its tail between its legs after Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton handed it a bruising defeat on its home turf.
The famous Italian team arrived at the Autodromo Internazionale Monza full of optimism after a strong showing at the Belgian Grand Prix one week earlier, but before its legions of passionate home fans it could muster just the third row on the grid and third and fifth places in the race.
Mercedes, on the other hand, flew, with Lewis Hamilton cruising to victory after claiming Formula One’s all-time pole position record having equalling Michael Schumacher’s previous benchmark of 68 at the previous round.
Hamilton reaped the spoils, too, taking control of the drivers championship for this first time this season with a three-point margin over Vettel.
“I think we just screwed up,” Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne told Germany’s RTL. “The set-up for the car was wrong. I think we underestimated the circuit.
“We need to go back to the factory and find out which way the car went sideways.”
It was a curt assessment of Ferrari’s biggest race of the year, but it was also the most detailed explanation from the Scuderia for its woeful weekend, with much of the rest of the team remaining tight-lipped about their struggles.
In truth it seemed the team was simply caught short when a heavy deluge flooded the circuit on Saturday, depriving it of precious track time to hone its machine.
From Friday practice Vettel and teammate Kimi Räikkönen were unhappy with the balance of their cars around the super-low-downforce circuit, a track layout far removed from the team’s preferred slow-speed, high-downforce configurations.
But when heavy rain effectively cancelled final practice on Saturday, Ferrari had to guess how best to address the car’s deficiencies. The results spoke for themselves.
Vettel finished a crushing 36 seconds behind Hamilton after 53 laps of racing and Räikkönen spent much of his race overcoming midfield drivers Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll for fourth place, which was later snatched from him by Daniel Ricciardo, who recovered from 16th on the grid to win the driver of the day award.
Weekends rarely come more difficult for championship-contending teams, but Vettel told the Ferrari faithful assembled beneath Monza’s famous podium that their team would bounce back in Singapore on 17 September.
“Even if this race has been difficult, I know that we have a very, very strong can and we will have a very, very strong end of the season, I’m sure of that,” he said.
The Singapore Grand Prix is expected to suit the Ferrari car as well as Monza suited the Mercedes, but with the Silver Arrows now sitting atop both championship tables — it leads Ferrari by a commanding 61 points in the constructors standings — the ball is in Ferrari’s court to mount a reply.
“Mercedes power is definitely better than Ferrari power!” Hamilton said on the podium, gleefully throwing jibes to the crowd that made no secret he was not their preferred winner. “Today the car was fantastic and really a dream to drive.”
Remarkable is that Hamilton’s wins in Belgium and Italy are the season’s first back-to-back victories, both signifying the swinging momentum of the season and foreshadowing Mercedes ready to break loose from the pack if given the chance.
“The last two races have been incredibly strong for us as a team,” Hamilton said. “We’ve just gone from strength to strength and really shown a real strength in depth.
“It’s obviously an incredibly exciting season.”
And it’s a season with plenty more twists and turns to come.