The smell of cut grass up at Ascari this Friday morning, the Indian summer showing no sign of relenting, sun rapidly burning through the morning haze to lend its favour to one of the most evocative trackside sights of the season. The old banking crosses above, the current tracks dips beneath as if respectfully doffing its cap to history – and the cars burst out of that dip, still giving it everything in eighth gear before the Ascari braking zone.
The left-handed entry is the speed pinch point for the whole sequence as it then opens out curving right, switching left, drivers accelerating as hard as their ºdownforce will allow, changing up mid-corner, then again, squirming, on the exit. Valtteri Bottas is beautiful of line in the Williams and pushing hard, sparks and dust intermingling as he gets out onto the exit kerb.
Next is Hamilton, on an identical line but the Merc visibly grippier, the second upchange before the exit. His transition into that first left-hander, from 205mph in eighth to 95mph in third, is one smooth yet breathtaking sequence, Rosberg appearing to grab at the turn by comparison.
Romain Grosjean is wrestling majestically with the Haas, stubbornly refusing to surrender momentum, preferring instead to fight the slide. He’d have been at home in the last turbo era, when the qualifying challenge was to adapt instantly to twice the grip and twice the power rather than fine-honing. His style of attack has an appealing retro feel that blends perfectly with the setting.