5 of the Most Interesting Radio Messages from 2016 Italian Grand Prix

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistSeptember 6, 2016

5 of the Most Interesting Radio Messages from 2016 Italian Grand Prix

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    For the first time in the 2016 Formula One season, Nico Rosberg looked like a broken man after qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix.

    Just six days after Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton joined him on the Belgian GP podium from 21st on the grid, Rosberg was a huge 0.478 seconds slower than the championship leader in a two-way fight for pole position at Monza.

    The German was unable to hide his horror in the immediate aftermath of the session, but he was almost unrecognisable around 24 hours later.

    Hamilton's slow start had allowed Rosberg to take a comfortable victory at F1's Temple of Speed.

    And after crossing the line to take his seventh win of the season, cutting Hamilton's lead to just two points with seven races remaining, he wooed the Mercedes pit wall and the Italian crowd with a certain wit and charm we have rarely seen from Rosberg.

    Here, we analyse the best radio messages of the Italian GP, featuring Hamilton's recovery to second place, Williams' big mistake and the tales of the two McLaren-Honda drivers.

Nico Rosberg Celebrates 7th Win of 2016 with Mercedes

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    We saw the two sides of Rosberg over the Italian GP weekend. 

    On Saturday, we saw the man who adopts the role of Mercedes' unofficial No. 2 driver, who qualifies almost half a second behind Hamilton and who fidgets his way through the post-session press conference, unable to digest the sheer margin of his defeat. 

    On Sunday, however, we saw the driver who is gradually growing into the stature of a world champion. 

    Sure, Hamilton's slow start from pole position gifted him the lead at the first corner, yet when Rosberg did nudge himself into first place, he ensured the No. 44 car found no way back into the race. 

    As noted by Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper, the gap between the Mercedes drivers was never lower than 9.6 seconds as Rosberg—just like his consecutive victories in the opening four races of the year—disappeared into the distance while his rivals fell over themselves. 

    His seventh win of 2016 cut Hamilton's championship lead to just two points, and as Rosberg crossed the finish line, his race engineer allowed himself to get a little too excited. 

    "Hurroo! Excellent job, really good job on that first stint, Nicola!" wailed Tony Ross, suffering an unfortunate slip of the tongue. "Just area under the curve, area under the curve, brilliant job." 

    At that point, it would have topped off Rosberg's day had he replied with, say, something along the lines of: "Tony! How many times have I told you?! Stop calling me Nicola in public!" 

    But while that particular opportunity was missed, Rosberg showed he was still sharp after 53 faultless laps around Monza, responding: "Thank you very much, Thomas, thank you very much...Awesome guys, thank you very much. It's great to win here in Italy." 

    Rosberg's celebrations continued long after he left the cockpit as he crowdsurfed on his Mercedes mechanics, explained how "part" of him feels Italian during the podium interviews, sweet-talked the booing crowd with words of Italian and invited them to join him for a rendition of Seven Nation Army

    Working the crowd like never before, he finally looked like a world champion.

Mercedes Manage Lewis Hamilton Through a Tricky Start

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    How must it feel to start a grand prix from pole position, release the clutch when the five red lights disappear and go absolutely nowhere?

    Hamilton has experienced that twice in the last three years at Monza, having fallen from first to fourth within a matter of metres at the start of the 2014 race.

    He came back to win on that day, pressurising Rosberg into a mistake at the first chicane, but there was to be no recovery drive on Sunday, when he tumbled as low as sixth at the start.

    When a driver loses so many positions so early on, the temptation is to do what Max Verstappen did at Spa—to position the car here, there and everywhere in a desperate effort to instantly make up for that disappointment.

    That approach, as Verstappen soon discovered, carries a high element of risk, and in the modern era it is more beneficial—especially if they're behind the wheel of a car as dominant as the Mercedes W07—to sit back and wait for the moment to pounce.

    And that was essentially what the pit wall reminded Hamilton—who, along with his team-mate, started on the more durable soft-compound tyres—to do when he followed Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas in the opening stages of the Italian GP. 

    "So remember, Lewis, three cars ahead are on supersoft tyres," said his race engineer, Pete Bonnington, as early as Lap 5. "They'll be quick for a few laps, then degrade."

    Despite the need to massage his tyres at the beginning, Hamilton simply couldn't bring himself to ignore his racing instincts and locked up his inside-front tyre under braking for the first chicane on Lap 7 as he tried to keep up with Bottas. 

    "OK Lewis, you're doing a good job managing these tyres. Just keep looking after them, avoid the locks. Just need to be in good shape in five laps' time," Bonnington added.

    But still Hamilton wouldn't quite give up, forcing Bottas into a lockup of his own at Turn 1 at the beginning of Lap 9 and leaving the pit wall with no option but to give him another gentle reminder.

    "OK Lewis, just make sure you keep these tyres in good shape. We can still get you up back behind Nico with strategy."

    With a DRS-assisted run on the main straight, however, Hamilton was still eager to force the issue at the first chicane, with Bottas defending increasingly aggressively on Lap 10 before conceding the position at the same place a lap later.

    Despite reclaiming fourth, Hamilton appeared to admit he should have listened to his engineer's pleas a little more closely, stating: "Rears are pretty...pretty wasted already."

    Determined to pull off a one-stop strategy, however, Mercedes instructed the three-time world champion to persevere with his burning rubber, encouraging Hamilton to push hard as the supersoft runners began to pit. 

    "So start picking up the pace as much as you can. Three laps," Bonnington warned on Lap 14.

    Although Mercedes said they planned to pit Hamilton within three laps, it wasn't until Lap 25 that he made his only stop of the afternoon.

    If the team's intention behind their five- and three-lap countdowns was to wrongfoot Ferrari, it worked as Vettel and Raikkonen became the only drivers in the field to remain on supersofts for the second stint.

    When he rejoined behind the scarlet-red cars, Hamilton—with tyres more than capable of going to the end—would have been contemplating another patient stint of waiting for the right moment to strike. 

    "What tyre are they on?" he asked on Lap 26.

    "So, both Ferraris have taken supersoft again," replied Bonnington, "so they have to stop once more."

    Just a few laps after floundering in fifth, second place was all but secure from that moment.

Williams Underestimate the Strength of Red Bull and Daniel Ricciardo

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    With podium finishes in the last two Italian grands prix, Williams would have fancied their chances of a strong result at Monza.

    Although Mercedes and Ferrari had moved well out of their reach, the team would still be quick enough to beat Red Bull—who have struggled for straight-line speed for as long as anyone can remember—on the fastest circuit on the calendar, right?


    Daniel Ricciardo's performance in qualifying, when he was just 0.001 seconds away from beating Bottas to fifth on the grid, should have been a warning to Williams, especially as Red Bull's race pace is normally far superior to their speed on a single lap.

    But even though Bottas couldn't quite shake off Ricciardo in the first half of the race, the Williams pit wall seemed convinced the Australian would eventually fade away.

    After Bottas made his second and final stop for soft-compound tyres on Lap 30, his team felt simply making his way through traffic—Force India's Nico Hulkenberg—and avoiding being jumped in the pit window would be enough for the Finn to seal fifth.

    "So, Ricciardo has stayed out—he was told to do the opposite to us—so it's going to be essential to get past Hulkenberg and then we've beaten Ricciardo," reassured his race engineer, Jonathan Eddolls, on Lap 32.

    Rather than following his rival into the pits within a lap or three, Ricciardo stayed out for an extra seven laps to both benefit from free air and to put himself in a position to complete the race on the supersoft tyres.

    "OK mate, we need good, clean laps now," urged his race engineer, Simon Rennie, after Bottas headed for the pits.

    After his stop at the end of Lap 37, Ricciardo rejoined around four seconds adrift of Bottas with 15 laps remaining, but with much softer, fresher rubber at his disposal, he was quickly catching the Williams driver.

    "OK, so you were one second quicker than Bottas that lap," reported Rennie on Lap 40. "One second quicker than Bottas, good job. Let's have 'im."

    Even then, though, Williams were still convinced he wouldn't catch Bottas, with Eddolls suggesting Ricciardo would run out of rubber way before he caught the No. 77 car.

    "So, Ricciardo is slowly catching us," Bottas was told despite the rapidly decreasing gap. "However, he's got double the deg that we have on his qually tyre, so we're looking good."

    When Bottas and Williams eventually did realise Ricciardo was a serious threat, it was already too late, with the Red Bull driver forcing his way past with one of the finest overtaking moves of the season at the first chicane on Lap 47.

    Confirmation that the Red Bull-Ricciardo partnership should never be underestimated.

Fernando Alonso Frustrated on an Off-Weekend for McLaren-Honda

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    McLaren-Honda exceeded all expectations at the so-called "power circuits" in Austria, Germany and Belgium in recent months. But given Monza's status as the Temple of Speed, the Italian GP was a weekend for realistic aims and, more importantly, patience.

    Unfortunately, Fernando Alonso's patience had been tested from the beginning of the event, having suffered a hydraulic leak at the end of the first practice session, which forced him to miss almost 30 minutes of FP2 on Friday afternoon.

    Then, 24 hours later, he was heard complaining about a loss of power as he returned to parc ferme having qualified 13th.

    A typically strong start to the race, when he jumped from 12th on the grid to run ninth in the opening laps, improved his demeanour slightly, yet it darkened significantly when a slow first pit stop dropped him all the way down to 14th. 

    The electronic traffic-light system used by teams should turn green when all four new tyres are fitted to the car, but on this occasion McLaren's remained stuck on red, the confusion resulting in a stop of 5.5 seconds.

    And as he rejoined the track on Lap 14, Alonso vented his frustration with the faulty lights, shouting: "Yeah, the traffic light didn't work, man! The f--king traffic lights!"

    The time lost in that incident no doubt led to frantic calculations on the pit wall as McLaren considered ways to help Alonso salvage a respectable result. 

    His second pit stop was on the horizon on Lap 33, when race engineer Mark Temple double-checked Alonso was happy with the team's strategy.

    "Do you still prefer Plan A?"

    "Well, I don't know what you mean," replied Alonso, who switched to the soft tyres during his first visit to the pits. "We are blistered with this tyre, imagine with the other one. The real question is to go to between Plan B and Plan C!" 

    Alonso went on to pit for another set of softs at the end of that lap and, in search of a little fun, had an enjoyable tussle with team-mate Jenson Button—who elected for the supersofts during his second stop—as the race entered its final 10 laps. 

    But with the team looking for an extra point to extend their lead over Toro Rosso in the constructors' standings, Temple reminded Alonso to remain focused and apply pressure on 11th-placed Romain Grosjean, whose supersofts were approaching the end of their lifespan. 

    "OK Fernando, let's keep the pace going strong until the end," he said on Lap 48. "Grosjean is still out there on 18-lap-old options, he may come toward us." 

    With Grosjean driving a Haas car using the latest Ferrari power unit, however, there was only one possible response to that comment. 


Jenson Button, McLaren-Honda Take Advantage of Lapped Traffic

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    Due to the many adventures of Esteban Gutierrez, we have often seen the bad side of F1 traffic in recent months.

    The dozy Haas driver incurred the wrath of Hamilton for holding up the three-time world champion in the Hungarian GP and, just seven days later, angered Ricciardo following a similar incident in Germany.

    In Italy, though, we witnessed how drivers and teams can use blue flags to their advantage.

    Having made his first stop for soft-compound tyres on Lap 15, Button's second visit to the pits was fast approaching on Lap 37 when his race engineer, Tom Stallard, spotted an opportunity.

    Button's closest competitors were on the verge of being lapped by Rosberg, with the blue flags forcing them to ease off the throttle pedal, check their rear-view mirrors and move aside for the race leader.

    Elevated as high as 10th during the pit-stop phase, Button was out of Rosberg's line of fire and could therefore push as hard as possible, making up bundles of time on the newly lapped cars.

    And rather than letting their rivals off the hook by pitting at that crucial stage of the race, Stallard instructed Button to keep circulating and maximise that window of opportunity before stopping on Lap 38. 

    "Jenson, cars on your pit window are about to be lapped by Rosberg and lose time," he said. "We need to stay out because they will lose time. You pace is good, keep going."

    The result? 

    Rosberg zoomed past at almost the exact moment Button, who rejoined directly behind 13th-placed Carlos Sainz Jr., exited the pits.

    With no blue flags to worry about for the foreseeable future, the 2009 world champion could instantly take advantage of the grip of his new supersofts, passing Sainz—who pitted at the end of Lap 39—speeding by Alonso and pursuing Grosjean for 11th.

    As one McLaren driver allowed his frustration to get the better of him, the other worked in perfect harmony with the pit wall to deliver the best result available.

    All team radio messages, as well as timing and tyre data, sourced from the official F1 website, the FOM television feed and Pirelli's official race report.