Best. Race. Of. The. Season.
We got everything, right? Dramatic crash, brake failure, DNF’s, safety car, controversy, overtaking, killer strategy – well, super lucky strategies – shock victory, ace podium. I don’t actually know where to start!
Maybe I should start at the beginning, where the Mercedes team had locked out the front row in qualifying, followed by Sainz and Perez on row two. Bottas made a poor start from second, dropping back to sixth in the opening lap. The Mclarens were the main winners— Sainz sailing into second and Norris gaining three positions to move into third. Red Bull got poor starts— Verstappen dropping back to eighth from fifth on the grid and Albon— who started ninth— fell to fifteenth after slight contact with Gasly at the first corner.
The opening stint saw Hamilton settle into a comfortable lead over Sainz, who impressively pulled away from the rest of the field by a few seconds. Behind was a close pack with Perez and Ricciardo at the front of the train in third and fourth, followed by Bottas and Verstappen.
From the outset Bottas had a sluggish car which didn’t feel right: he even reported having a puncture on the opening lap— there was no puncture, but obviously the Finn didn’t feel comfortable in the car and he lacked pace throughout the race. The team later said the car struggled running in dirty air and keeping pace through right hand corners— seems there was something amiss in the set up. Consequently, Bottas was destined to a midfield battle, ultimately finishing fifth. When there are topsy-turvy races— which this ended up being— it’s a great opportunity for drivers to get points which may typically be out of their reach, but there is also a large element of luck involved. Normally— in a race like this— Bottas would probably feel annoyed at not getting a race victory— but with the poor performing Mercedes he had, some luck jumping cars in the pits, and the poor results for the other front runners— I think he should feel a little luckier than he normally would taking home a fifth place.
Back to the racing— Monza is seen as a one stop race and toward the beginning of the pit stop window— on lap 20— we see the stricken Haas of Kevin Magnussen retire— slowly pulling off track near the entry to the pit lane. Gasly comes in for fresh tyres— moving onto the hard compound, which have been working well for team-mate Kyvat. Normally teams will try to stop under safety car conditions as it saves them time. All teams and strategists seem to have one eye on the stricken Haas, waiting for a possible safety car. However, when the safety car is brought out, only Hamilton and Giovinazzi pit. A seemingly strange decision for the other cars to stay out becomes clear when I realise the pit lane is actually closed and— in a few laps— when it is opened— almost all the drivers come in for chaotic and busy stops. It’s easy to see how a team can miss the pit lane closure in the weird situation— but rules are rules and Hamilton and Giovinazzi will inevitably receive penalties. The big winners from this period are those who pitted just before the pitlane was closed— having dropped further down the field after a pit stop, the safety car immediately bunched the pack up and when those in front pitted, the few who did not then sailed to the front. These lucky drivers were: Gasly, Raikkonen, Leclerc, and Latifi: all on good tyres, with good track position.
Only a few laps into the restart we see Leclerc lose the rear end of his Ferrari- leading to a big crash into the tyre wall. This brings out the red flag— stopping the session— to clear the debris. Leclerc is thankfully fine, but this really was a crap end to a crap race in a crap season for Ferrari. Twelve months ago, they took a victory here on home soil. Today, they converted a poor qualifying performance into two DNF’s— Vettel retiring after a left rear brake failure on lap six. Maybe it is for the best that there were no fans- no Tifosi- at Monza to witness this today.
Talking of poor performances, Red Bull failed to capitalise on this upside-down race. Normally they are steadfast in their ability to pick up any points which are dropped by the Mercedes team, but this weekend they just didn’t seem to get the car hooked up, Verstappen retiring with a technical issue on lap thirty-one, and Albon— never recovering from the first lap incident— finishing out of the points in fifteenth.
The inevitable stop-go penalties were announced for Giovinazzi and Hamilton, both given ten seconds, to be taken within a few laps of the announcement. Although it is only ten seconds stationary in the pit box, the actual time lost coming in is more like thirty seconds due to the speed limit within the pit lane. In a pack so close just after a restart, this will drop a driver not only to the back of the pack but— in Hamilton’s case— 26 seconds behind it.
A standing restart from the grid saw Hamilton on pole from Stroll and Gasly, who made a great start and leapt into second place. Mercedes opted to come in and take their penalty as soon as possible— may as well get it out of the way and concentrate on making up places— leaving Gasly to lead the Italian Grand Prix. Alfa Romeo chose to keep Giovinazzi out as long as possible and milk the glory of running in third position— and I don’t blame them! An Italian at his home race in an Italian car running third, behind two other Italian cars— none of which were Ferraris— is a bizarre and beautiful sight.
The last part of the race saw three main narratives. First was Hamilton catching the field: seeing how many places he could make up before the chequered flag. Consistent pace and good overtaking saw a great recovery drive from the Brit to land him a seventh place finish. We also saw Raikkonen falling back through the pack— the Alfa Romeo just not fast enough to keep the other cars at bay. This did make for some fantastic overtakes and impeccable defensive driving from Raikkonen— always giving just enough room for other competitors— but making them work damn hard for their position. This sort of committed and passionate driving has made him one of the racers of the season for me so far.
The headline story, however, was at the front: Gasly having pulled some killer laps to gain a lead over Sainz, who then tried to reel him in. In the last lap the Mclaren got within a second of the Alpha Tauri to gain DRS but was just too far away in the end to affect an overtake. Gasly’s impeccable drive, under increasing pressure from Sainz, gave a much-deserved victory to an underdog Italian team on home soil. Stroll rounded off the podium, with Norris in fourth and Bottas in fifth.
It’s really refreshing to see victories and podiums like this within F1— breaking the dominance of the same drivers and teams. This is the first podium since 2012 without a Red Bull, Mercedes, or Ferrari on it. Instead we see three young drivers: all acheiving their second ever second podium: all in their highest ever finishing position. The last victory won by a team other than Red Bull, Ferrari, or Mercedes was the season opener in 2013, where Raikkonen took victory in a Lotus. That’s a long seven year dry spell. Sure, it’s nice to see Hamilton make history and admire the brilliance of the Mercedes operation: and it’s great watching the mid-field teams— so closely competitive this year— battle it out from fourth onwards, but how great is it when the midfield teams take to the front?! When the cards are shuffled, and we see them battling for the victory? It’s what the fans want to see and the FIA keep promising to deliver through changes to create closer racing. These promises don’t seem to have been delivered upon, however, and we are reliant on freak incidents, unique races, and the whim of the racing gods to deliver them. We saw today what racing can be like without the massive dominance of a few teams and I loved it!
For the smaller teams, a victory like this is so rare, so important, that it is hard to describe how much it can mean financially and emotionally. As for the star of the day— Pierre Gasly— what a season he is having! The man who was demoted by Red Bull to the sister team Alpha Tauri just twelve months ago proves his mettle as a driver: from a podium last year in Brazil to the amazing driving throughout this year and on to this much deserved maiden victory. Pierre is now one of only 109 men to have won an F1 race— and what a race to win!
Driver of the Day: Pierre Gasly
Honourable mentions: Carlos Sainz
Italian Grand Prix Race Results
- Hamilton (Fastest Lap)
Next time – The first ever F1 race at super fast paced Mugello! I Cannot wait!
Where to watch-
USA- Sunday 13th September live on ESPN. Race starts 10:05am EST
UK- Sunday 13th September live on Sky F1. Race starts at 2:05pm GMT
Highlights on Channel Four and Sky one at 6:30 Sunday 13th September.