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Magnificent Mclaren 1-2 as Title Rivals Collide

Italian Grand Prix

After a nine-year hiatus, Mclaren return to the top step of the podium with a fantastic result in an enthralling Italian Grand Prix.

Well, where to start! After a cracking performance in the sprint race on Saturday, Ricciardo lined up in second place with Verstappen on Pole. Bottas, who won the sprint, started from the back of the grid after changing his engine. Hamilton lined up fourth on the grid after a poor getaway in the sprint.

Off the line, Ricciardo got a perfect start, blasting past Verstappen to get the inside line into turn one and take the lead. Hamilton gets a good start, passing Norris and making an attempt on Verstappen for second. Verstappen leaves his rival no room and as they rub wheels, Hamilton is forced to bail out of the move—bumping over the kerb and missing the corner. This loss of momentum gives Norris the chance to retake third position. Further back, Giovinazzi, battling with the Ferraris, is spun around after cutting a corner and returning to the track in front of Sainz.

Up in front, Verstappen remains close to Ricciardo, dipping in and out of DRS, but ultimately never challenging the Mclaren driver ahead. Behind them, Norris drops back a little from Verstappen, and Hamilton follows Norris, dipping in and out of DRS. He makes one solid overtaking attempt, but ultimately Norris’ defensive driving keeps Hamilton at bay. Overtaking is possible here, but it’s very difficult.

Behind them, there’s close running; Latifi, Ocon and Vettel do battle, Perez passes Sainz for sixth and Bottas makes quick progress through the pack.

With Verstappen and Hamilton being unable to make the move, on-track pit stops become increasingly important—for the championship rivals to gain positions, and for the Mclarens to retain positions. Ricciardo is the first to pit, with Verstappen following a lap later. But an excruciatingly slow pit stop sees Verstappen drop down the order into tenth place. Hamilton briefly takes the lead from Norris before pitting and having a slightly slow pitstop himself. The Mercedes comes out just behind Norris and side by side with Verstappen. In a nail-biting few seconds, the championship rivals go side by side around turn one and then—yes, it happens—they collide into turn two, Verstappen dramatically bouncing over a sausage kerb, his car going over the top of Hamilton’s.

Once again the halo device proves its importance as Verstappen’s rear-wheel makes contact with Hamilton’s helmet, but the halo keeps the driver safe in the cockpit. Again the two championship rivals have collided, but this time they are both out of the race and a safety car is brought out to retrieve the stricken cars. This is a major incident in the season and people seem divided on who is to blame—it will undoubtedly be talked about incessantly! Ultimately, both drivers are out of the race, and the stewards deemed Verstappen to be more at fault—handing him a three-place grid penalty for the next race.

Those who hadn’t pitted take the chance to do so under the safety car, Leclerc and Russell both particularly gaining from this—the Ferrari driver coming out in second and the Williams moving up into ninth.

The safety car pulls in and it’s a great restart for the Mclarens; Ricciardo maintains his lead, and a very brave Norris—with a wheel on the grass—storms pass Leclerc into second place. The Ferraris don’t quite have the pace after the restart, with Perez passing Leclerc into third and Bottas overtaking both Ferraris to take fourth. Perez is later given a five-second penalty, being deemed to have gained an advantage by leaving the track whilst overtaking Leclerc. At this part of the race, Bottas is super quick and, after dispatching the Ferraris, is on Perez. However, he is unable to continue his forward momentum and has to settle for finishing behind Perez on track. Due to his penalty, Perez drops down to fifth, promoting Bottas onto the podium in third position.

There’s close running through the field, with Vettel battling Kubica, and the Haas teammates going wheel to wheel, resulting in a spin for Schumacher.

But up ahead it is Daniel Ricciardo who takes his first victory since Monaco 2021 and his first non-Red Bull victory. Norris’ great drive earns him his best result in F1, finishing in second position. It’s been a long wait, nine years since Mclaren’s last victory and eleven since their last one-two finish. But, in a fantastic performance from the whole team this weekend, they take a much deserved first one-two of 2021 for any team.

The Teams

Mercedes: DNF and a third position, so a mixed bag! Bottas did an exemplary job moving from last to third position in the race—he was super quick and brilliant in overtaking today. Only a few days after announcing that Bottas will not be with Mercedes next year, Bottas put in a superb showing all weekend—perhaps a weight of expectation has been lifted and allowed him to access a speed and performance he had been struggling to really show in the last few years. As for Hamilton, well, THAT collision took him out of the race. Up until then, he showed good pace and was probably on for a podium, so the team will undoubtedly feel disgruntled, believing Verstappen responsible for the collision and therefore robbing Hamilton of valuable points. At a track that was deemed to favour the Mercedes, they will be disappointed that Hamilton did not bring home a load of points.

Red Bull: A DNF and fifth. Perez did well by moving up from eighth, but it seemed a wasted opportunity to get a podium. It was clear Perez gained an advantage by going off track whilst overtaking Leclerc and should have just given the position back immediately. The Red Bull driver could have then gone for a legitimate overtake a few laps later. I guess Red Bull thought they would have more than a five-second gap to the Ferrari by the end of the race, but they didn’t and therefore lost out. Still, a solid performance in the race by Perez.

As for Verstappen, well, we all know how that one ended. Obviously, he felt Hamilton was at fault, squeezing him and leaving him with nowhere to go. I understand these drivers want to go wheel to wheel and race for positions, but, perhaps on this one, if he had just yielded, the two could have raced it out to the chequered flag. Verstappen has a reputation as an unyielding driver, but sometimes it is better to yield and do battle than risk crashing out. This incident will carry over to the next race with the three-place grid penalty for Verstappen at a track deemed to suit the Mercedes more, but at least Sochi is a track where one can overtake. One thing Red Bull will definitely be working on is pit stops. A recent rule change has cut down automation in the stops—trying to slow them down. Now the mechanics have to press a button when the wheel nut is tightened—this used to happen automatically. It seems the mechanic today didn’t press the button, resulting in the lengthy pit stop. Lots of button pressing practice coming their way.

Mclaren: Yeah, all right I suppose! One-Two finish, and an absolutely class performance from the whole team. This wasn’t a fluke, this wasn’t a victory on default after Red Bull and Mercedes went out—Ricciardo and Norris were ahead of Verstappen and Hamilton on merit before they crashed out. The championship rivals had also spent over twenty laps behind the Mclarens, unable to get by. The team showed pace the whole weekend and thoroughly deserved this result. Ricciardo seemed connected to the car in a way we haven’t yet seen and this confidence oozed through the weekend. Norris defended well and attacked bravely and thoroughly deserved the second position. Very glad to see the papaya team back at the top. In the tight third-place battle with Ferrari, these points will be happily received.

Ferrari: Fourth and sixth place finishes, not a bad showing. The team obviously didn’t have quite the same speed at Mclaren, Red Bull and Mercedes at Monza, so I think they should be happy with this result. Leclerc seemed to have a little more pace here, but both drivers had a good race, keeping out of trouble and taking advantage of a Hamilton-Verstappen non-finish to gain more points.

Alpine: Eighth and tenth: not a terribly exciting result for these guys. Alpine didn’t have the pace of the top four here and was battling with the Aston Martins and Williams today. Alonso had a quite quiet race, but did move up from eleventh to eighth. Ocon was disgruntled by the race—getting mixed up in a few incidents and coming togethers which he felt hampered his race. The Frenchman was given a 5-second penalty for a coming together with Vettel, which also didn’t help his race. Ocon felt he could have been seventh if it weren’t for these mishaps, but he finished tenth. A few points are better than none and this result does seem quite representative of the pace that the team showed this weekend.

Alpha Tauri: Double DNF—absolutely a race to forget! After being buffeted out of the sprint race, Gasly started at the back and soon retired with a systems problem. At least he made it to the start though, unlike Tsunoda who retired before the start with brake issues. Not much to say really! May as well get all your bad luck and DNF’s out the way in one weekend, eh!

Aston Martin: Seventh and twelfth—not a bad result. Stroll can be happy with a seventh-place today, I think, in a car that lacked the straight-line speed. In fact, I think that finish is probably higher than the real pace of that car today. Vettel can be happy to finish! After being buffeted by his teammate on the opening lap and losing several places, he was later pushed wide by Ocon, and later still, he came together with Schumacher. None of these seemed his fault, just wrong time, wrong place!

Williams: Ninth and eleventh—another great showing. Russell really benefited by pitting under the safety car and managed to move up into another points-playing position. Latifi had a very strong race and deserved a points finish, but he, unfortunately, missed out on it by one place. Ever since their first points this year, the team seems to have turned a corner, as does Latifi. In the last few races, he has given great performances and, with a new contract for next year in his pocket, I’m looking forward to seeing him and Williams progress.

Alfa Romeo: Thirteenth and fourteenth. Giovinazzo yet again had a great performance in qualifying, but unfortunately, this didn’t quite translate into the race. The Italian had to pit to change his front wing after a spin and dropped to the back of the field. I think he could have got some good points here, as he was battling with the Ferraris when he came together with Sainz and span. So, perhaps some good points were lost today. Kubica finished a few seconds behind his teammate—again, a good showing considering he’s stepped in to replace Raikkonen, who is still isolating after testing positive for Covid19.

Haas: Fifteenth and DNF—the race seems to epitomise their season really! They ran at the back for most of the race and battled a little with each other, such as when Mazepin collided with Schumacher, sending him into a spin. Schumacher did continue and finish last, while Mazepin retired with an engine failure. The team are completely concentrating on next year’s car, and I can only hope this gamble pays off for them next season.

Final Thoughts

What a performance from Mclaren, and no fluke either; it was a genuinely well-earnt one-two finish. As for THAT crash, well, people are going to talk and talk about it. Ultimately, I feel it was a racing incident—perhaps Hamilton could have given Verstappen slightly less space in turn one, therefore not allowing him alongside. But, if I were to apportion blame, it seemed clear that the gap Verstappen had gone for was going to disappear and there would be no way through. Verstappen could have bailed on this move, just as Hamilton did on his attempted overtake on Verstappen on lap one, and the two could have both carried on in the race. It does raise a little question about the sausage kerbs—this is what Verstappen clipped, which launched him up and on top of Hamilton’s car. Perhaps these kerbs situated on corners like this are a little dangerous. Ultimately though, it is another showing of how important the halo device is; seeing the crash in slow motion, you can clearly see Verstappen’s back tyre rollover Hamilton’s helmet and is only kept out of his cockpit by the halo. If it weren’t there, this would have been a horrific crash with potentially fatal consequences. The roll cage too protected the driver and, although we should never stop looking for safety advancements, it is worth being grateful for those that we do have in the sport.

Driver(s) of the Day: Ricciardo and Norris (sorry, I can’t choose!)
Honourable mentions: Bottas, Latifi

Sprint Race

The second outing for this experiment saw another interesting race. Bottas lead from the start and took a well-earned victory. Verstappen came second, with Ricciardo third. Hamilton got a terrible start and dropped back; he spent the race in fifth—unable to pass Norris, something we would see more of in the feature race. The most dramatic action happened on the first lap, with Gasly’s front wing being clipped; it became detached and caught under the Alpha Tauri, which then crashed into the barriers. Thankfully, Gasly was fine, but again it showed how much this sprint race can affect a whole weekend—from starting in sixth, the Frenchman went to a back-row start and an early DNF. Similarly, Hamilton went from a front row start to a fifth-place one, which obviously affected his race.

Again, I feel this to be a success; it adds another dimension to the race weekend, and who can argue against more racing?

Italian Grand Prix Race Results

  1. Ricciardo (Fastest Lap)
  2. Norris
  3. Bottas
  4. Leclerc
  5. Perez
  6. Sainz
  7. Stroll
  8. Alonso
  9. Russell
  10. Ocon

Race Highlights

Next Time

We’re off to Sochi, Russia, a flowing track where overtaking is possible—expect some good racing!

Where to Watch

USA: Sunday 26th September Live on ESPN race start at 8:00 am EST
UK: Sunday 26th September Live on Sky Sports F1 race start at 1:00 pm GMT
Highlights on Channel Four, Sunday 26th September, time TBC

 

For more great race coverage, check out the following!

Dutch Delight for Verstappen at Circuit Zandvoort

Hungarian Grand Prix: Shock on the Top of the Podium

Verstappen Wins Shortest Ever F1 race

Written by Jenny Alderton

Jenny is a freelance writer based in Wales with keen interest in Motorsports. An avid follower of Formula one for over twenty years she has recently branched out into watching other vehicles driving around in wiggly circles. Namely, Motogp, World Superbike championship, and British Superbike championship.

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