Monza talking points: Is Sebastian Vettel too accident-prone to win the title?

Plenty of talking points emerged from Ferrari’s home defeat at Monza. ESPN’s F1 editor Laurence Edmondson, associate editor Nate Saunders and F1 writers Kate Walker and Maurice Hamilton offer their opinions below.

Is Sebastian Vettel too accident-prone to win this year’s title?

LE: He’s not making it easy for himself, but the 2018 title is still very much his to win. The mistakes so far — five by my count: Baku, France, Austria in qualifying, Germany and Italy — have cost him somewhere in the region of 60 points, but that also underlines what a competitive car he’s had. The Ferrari only appears to be getting stronger and he has the performance in his hands to beat Lewis Hamilton this year. In 2010 he came back from a 31-point gap with six races remaining and in 2012 he recovered a 39-point deficit in seven races, so his current 30-point gap is far from insurmountable if he starts stringing results together.

MH: Four incidents have cost him what could have been a reasonable lead in the championship. Vettel has it all to do now and he’s not great under pressure (Sunday’s race being a good example). At this rate, a combination of Ferrari’s tactical mistakes and his errors will be costly.

NS: Yes. Think of Vettel’s four key mistakes this year and then think of the last time Lewis Hamilton made a similar error which cost him a significant haul of points. Vettel is losing a championship he should be winning right now and that’s all on him.

KW: No, but given the car advantage he’s had Seb should be the one with the one-race lead in the standings, not Lewis. The championship could have been won already (thank goodness it’s not been!) had Seb specifically and Ferrari more generally not made a habit of making fairly small mistakes with significant consequences. What Seb needs (she says, like she’s a racing driver or something…) is to be a little more patient and stop trying to force things. He’s only forcing errors.

Can you see Kimi Raikkonen winning a race again in F1?

LE: I feel like Monza was his big chance, but ultimately he wasn’t good enough. Those quick laps out of the pits damaged the tyres beyond recovery and he paid for it for the rest of the race. Yes, Ferrari should have helped him on strategy, but he had the quicker car and should have realised his advantage over Hamilton. As long as either Hamilton or Vettel are still in the running, I can’t see Raikkonen getting the job done.

MH: It won’t be in the Ferrari script for 2018, given that Vettel needs all the help he can get. But Sunday showed that, while nothing is settled for 2019, Raikkonen is not necessarily being totally compliant. I could never see him deliberately screwing things up for Vettel but, given half a chance, there’s nothing he — and many F1 fans — would like more than to see Kimi take what will probably be his final win.

NS: No. He’ll be helping Sebastian Vettel for the rest of this season and Ferrari clearly doesn’t know what to do with his strategy — even when he is winning the race like he was at Monza.

KW: Yes, but not for as long as he races with Ferrari. Had Seb not messed up in Italy, I doubt KImi would have won — we’ve seen too many unfortunate strategic decisions from the flying Finn’s side of the garage. Call me a cynic, but coincidence only goes so far.

Is McLaren taking a risk with a driver line-up of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris in 2019?

LE: A complete change of driver line-up from one year to the next is a risk if you have a decent car to build on, but McLaren needs to start from scratch in 2019 anyway. Clearly the MCL33 has issues at the very core of its design philosophy that need to be scrapped and starting with two new drivers may actually help.

MH: Given the state they’re in, this is not a risk. There’s too many fundamental factors that need sorting before McLaren really need the input – and attendant pressure – of an experienced winner. There’s probably no better time to have these two. Certainly, it’s a perfect place for Norris to learn the ropes.

NS: Given that McLaren is very much in rebuilding mode, this line-up makes sense. A big-name driver would have perhaps provided a big distraction but, as we’ve seen from Fernando Alonso, could also just emphasise the problems even more when that driver is languishing down the order every weekend. The drivers won’t come in expecting miracles and will both be highly motivated to help McLaren improve rather than play political games.

KW: Yes, in that two new drivers is always a risk. Carlos might not be new to the sport, but he’s new to McLaren, and will have to learn how his engineering team communicate (as they will with him, in the inverse). If anything Lando will have the advantage despite being a rookie, as his hours spent working with the McLaren simulator team will have given him insight into the team’s operations.

Was Max Verstappen’s penalty for his clash with Valtteri Bottas justified?

LE: In my opinion, five seconds and two penalty points wasn’t a big enough penalty. Moving under braking when your rival has committed to the outside is unacceptable and the accident could have been far bigger. It wasn’t his first offence and if the stewards want to put an end to it, the penalties need to be more severe.

MH: Yes it was. Verstappen says he left room because Bottas was able to run on the white line. That’s not acceptable when you consider they’re braking from around 200 mph — something we tend to forget thanks to the dumbing down effect of television. Max has said in the past that he goes by what the stewards say rather than what drivers or anyone else says. Now they’ve spoken, will he take heed? Probably not.

NS: Yes. Bottas had nowhere to go — he was driving alongside the grass — and Verstappen moved across and thumped his car. A slam-dunk penalty.

KW: Absolutely. He didn’t leave a car width, the evidence was clear, and his response was pure petulance and unbecoming of a driver of his talent. Very disappointing.

Having seen several instances of it in 2018, does booing have any place in F1?

LE: I wouldn’t expect Ferrari fans to celebrate a Mercedes win at Monza in the same way that I wouldn’t expect Manchester United fans to celebrate a Manchester City win at Old Trafford.

MH: Being of the old school, I’m not comfortable with this. The first time I recall booing was Austria 2002 (when Ferrari team orders switched the finishing order) and the disgraceful non-race 2005 USGP. On each occasion, booing was fully justified. But not because the ‘wrong man’ has won. There is a tribal instinct in motor racing, along with any other sport, but I’d hate to see this get out of control — which can easily happen these days because of the immediate and semi-hysterical effect of social media. It’s a sport. People win and lose.

NS: Sport is theatre and booing is part of that. Vettel and Raikkonen were booed by a partisan British crowd at Silverstone and Hamilton was booed by a partisan Italian crowd at Monza. It adds some needle to the championship and as long as it doesn’t descend into anything else of a more sinister nature I don’t see an issue with it.

KW: It most certainly does! I boo when I see a calendar that will cost 20% more to cover than previous seasons; when I get news that my flight home has been delayed or cancelled; when local police tell me I can’t use an F1 access road despite having the right passes… As for booing drivers? When done with malice it leaves a sour taste, but in Monza it’s practically panto tradition. Ferrari are heroes, and everyone else is a villain. With certain (and very moving) exceptions made for ex-Ferrari drivers, like Felipe for Williams in 2015.