MONZA, Italy (Reuters) - Ferrari had every hope of winning their home Italian Grand Prix for the first time since 2010 on Sunday and they blew it.
The post-mortems were in full swing on Monday, with the front page headline of the mass-circulation Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper declaring ‘Autogol Ferrari’ (Ferrari own goal).
They also decided there was more to the story than meets the eye.
Ferrari had everything going for them at Monza. They had momentum from Sebastian Vettel winning the previous race in Belgium, they had dominated practice and they enjoyed a huge groundswell of support.
They swept the front row in qualifying at the fastest track on the calendar, the Ferrari’s straight line speed leaving champions Mercedes in no doubt that they had a fight on their hands.
And then it all went wrong, with Kimi Raikkonen starting on pole and closing the door on Vettel as the German, the team’s clear number one in the title race, tried to get past on the opening lap.
Vettel then tangled with world champion and eventual race winner Lewis Hamilton, spinning back to 18th and having to fight through to a damage-limiting fourth — 30 points adrift of the British Mercedes driver with seven races left.
Raikkonen finished second, struggling on badly worn tyres.
Even if the next races are kinder to the Scuderia, the self-inflicted damage in front of tens of thousands of their own fans will take time to digest.
It would be easy to see the opening lap collision, with Vettel making another apparent misjudgement, as the key moment but the seeds of Ferrari’s misfortune were sown before then.
Saturday’s qualifying, with Raikkonen allowed to do his final quick lap after Vettel and gain an aerodynamic tow from others right at the end of the session, left observers perplexed.
Vettel explained it was the team policy to give one driver priority one weekend and the other the next but that made no sense for a team fighting a title battle with one clear favourite.
The German has won five races this season to Raikkonen’s none, and he and Hamilton are effectively in a two-man contest.
In more orchestrated circumstances, Ferrari would have done everything to ensure Vettel started on pole with Raikkonen riding shotgun behind.
Even then, the expectation was that Raikkonen would play the loyal team mate and let Vettel through. The Finn had other ideas.
“We sign drivers, not butlers,” was the response of Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene to suggestions that Raikkonen should have been told what to do.
The Italian media and others surmised, however, that Raikkonen’s uncompromising start may have had something to do with other matters off the track that left him in no mood to make life easy.
Reports swirling around at Monza suggested that Sauber’s Ferrari protege Charles Leclerc has already signed a contract to replace Raikkonen, who will be 39 next month, at Ferrari next year.
If that is the case, Raikkonen — who has not won a race since 2013 and has had few chances with four times world champion Vettel as his team mate — may simply have decided to look after his own interests.
The remaining seven races could be very interesting indeed.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Nick Mulvenney