Italy presents us with a strong, unexpected argument for a reverse grid as Pierre Gasly wins in Monza

Benvenuti a Monza! We’re here and we’ve settled in for two weeks of exciting racing in Italy, but should we have come? Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari might like to weigh in on that one.

The Italian Grand Prix was the first weekend where the teams were no longer permitted to use their ‘party-mode’ engine modes, typically used in qualifying by certain teams to boost their chances of a better lap time.

At the start of the race it was a tale of two halves for the two Mercedes drivers, as Hamilton got yet another great start off the line, gliding into first place unchallenged as Bottas got swallowed up by the pack. McLaren had an excellent start with Sainz quickly taking 2nd position, and his team-mate Lando Norris overtaking a struggling Bottas going through the first and second Lesmos, which is testament to McLaren’s progress in recent years.

2020 Italian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Bottas was quickly overtaken by Daniel Ricciardo, putting the Renault driver into 5th, and pushing Bottas down to 6th. Bottas was quick to report a possible puncture but chose not to pit. Bottas’ race engineer, Ricciardo Musconi, confirmed there were no issues with his tyres, but Bottas still looked to be struggling as he was overtaken by the Red Bull of Max Verstappen through the Parabolica.

It was a sorry start for the home favourites Ferrari, who qualified in 13th and 17th. Just when they thought it couldn’t get any worse, Sebastian Vettel reported brake failure on lap four, smashing through the foam barriers at the end of the pit straight and limping his way back to the pits, where the car was retired for the second time this season.

Ferrari’s hopes were then pinned on Leclerc, who didn’t appear to be having the same issue but didn’t really seem to be having a much better race. Hope was quickly abandoned after a a shocking crash going into the Parabolica, where the Ferrari ploughed into the tyre wall, bringing out the safety car for the second time and red flagging the session. Leclerc’s crash athough dramatic, proved exactly how valuable the halo truly was, as he was able to get out of the car and run from the scene unscathed. All this in the same weekend that Netflix were spending time with Ferrari.

Shortly before the crash, Hamilton had made a quick decision to pit after the safety car came out for Kevin Magnussen, who was forced to stop on track just before the pit entrance with a suspected power unit issue.

Mercedes took what they thought was a risk-free pit-stop, with Alfa Romeo’s Giovinazzi following suit shortly after. It wasn’t long until the race was stopped due to Leclerc’s incident, and both Hamilton and Giovinazzi were placed under investigation for entering the pits after it had been closed due to Magnussen’s stoppage.

This visibly rattled Mercedes, who were looking pretty comfortable. Hamilton took it upon himself to grab his scooter and make his way to Race Control during the red flag in an attempt to justify his actions, arguing on the radio that “there was no light” going into the pit lane.

This didn’t save him nor Giovinazzi, who were both given a 10-second stop and go penalty, serving F1 fans with the biggest game-changer in the hybrid era.

Hamilton was noticeably annoyed by this decision and was talking about building up a lead once again before taking his penalty. He was dissuaded from doing this by his race engineers, who had decided to ‘take the hit’ on this occasion.

2020 Italian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Mercedes’ loss meant some considerable gains to the likes of Alpha Tauri, Racing Point, Alfa Romeo and McLaren.

The red flag wasn’t in place for too long and on lap 27 we were back on track heading for a dramatic restart.

Gasly was lightning fast on the restart, overtaking Stroll to take what was essentially first place, as Hamilton made his way around and back into the pits to serve his penalty. He re-joined the race 23 seconds behind the rest of the pack, meaning he would have to have had the drive of his life to get back to a podium finish.

Though it looked like a good opportunity for the Racing Point, Stroll seemed to have issues with the brakes, causing him to run off on the Della Roggia chicane and giving away two positions and putting him down into 5th. This was quickly taken from him by Sainz who had his eyes firmly set on the prize.

The same ambition and determination weren’t felt in either of the Red Bull cars, who have struggled more than usual. Albon was the first to have issues, running wide on lap one after being squeezed by Stroll and Gasly down the main straight, and causing damage to the Haas of Romain Grosjean. Albon was given a 5-second penalty for the damage he caused.

As usual, there was greater expectation of success with Verstappen, who was making some respectable overtakes, and scrapping with Bottas for 6th/7th position. Unfortunately, this was short lived as he was forced to retire the car on lap 31 due to a power unit issue.

Come lap 34, Sainz was chasing Gasly for the win after he and Raikkonen gave fans an absolute masterclass in overtaking through Turn 1.

Stroll bounced back from his earlier brake issue and overtook Raikkonen the following lap, moving him into third place.

Sainz continued to chase Gasly right down to the final lap of the race. Gasly just managed to stay ahead and out of DRS range of the determined McLaren driver and took his first ever F1 win, something absolutely none of us expected would happen going into this race weekend.

MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 06: Race winner Pierre Gasly of France and Scuderia AlphaTauri celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 06, 2020 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202009060423 // Usage for editorial use only //

After being essentially demoted from Red Bull in the middle of 2019, this win is exactly the boost Gasly and the wider Alpha Tauri team needed. You’d have to be a hard individual not to feel some emotion watching him sit on the podium, sipping champagne in sheer disbelief. It’s only a shame the Tifosi weren’t there to make his win even more special.

We cannot end this race review however, without giving a special mention to Williams, who had its final race with their de-facto team principal, Claire Williams. It followed the announcement last Thursday that the family had decided to step away from Formula 1 after 43 years. It’s a real shame for us to see both she and the family say goodbye to the F1 family.

We owe Williams so much after having been an enormous part in F1’s development, bringing iconic moments for us all to appreciate and look back on with fondness. Though they will continue to race under the same name, something tells me it just won’t quite be the same anymore, so thank you Frank, thank you Claire, and thank you Williams for the great memories. We hope to see you back on top soon.

Leclerc fends off Mercedes duo to take Italian Grand Prix victory

Charles Leclerc has claimed his second ever win in F1 at this afternoon’s Italian Grand Prix, the first time a Ferrari driver has won at Monza since 2010.

The Mercedes pairing of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton finished second and third respectively, having pushed Leclerc for much of the race. Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg came home fourth and fifth.

The other Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, by comparison, faltered. Vettel span at the Ascari chicane on lap seven and collected the Racing Point of Lance Stroll as he rejoined. He received a ten-second stop/go penalty for ‘rejoining the track in an unsafe manner’, behind only disqualification in terms of harshness. He damaged his front wing and pitted twice on his way to a lowly P13 finish.

Leclerc started from pole position with Hamilton alongside him, and led into turn one despite Hamilton initially getting a better start.

Ferrari Media

The pair came into the pits on lap twenty and lap twenty-one respectively; Hamilton changed onto the soft tyres, while Leclerc went onto the hard compound.

On lap twenty-three, Hamilton attempted to pass Leclerc round the outside going into the Variante della Roggia chicane but was forced to take to the escape road, saying over the radio that Leclerc hadn’t given him a car’s width of room. Leclerc was given a black and white flag as a warning, but escaped a penalty.

Hamilton continued to pressure Leclerc, and on lap 36 Leclerc locked up going into the first chicane and cut across the kerbs. Though this allowed Hamilton to further close on him, the Ferrari driver successfully defended his position and maintained his lead. The stewards noted that Leclerc had failed to take the apex at turn two, but decided that no investigation was necessary.

At this stage in the race, Hamilton’s medium tyres were starting to fade and Bottas began to reel him in, his own tyres some seven laps fresher than Hamilton’s.

Wolfgang Wilhelm

Hamilton locked up and took to the escape road on lap 42, allowing Bottas to move up into P2 and chase down Leclerc. Though he then got to within DRS range of Leclerc, a couple of errors meant he was not able to make any attempts to pass for the lead.

Leclerc crossed the line just over eight tenths ahead of Bottas to take his second career victory, much to the joy of the Tifosi in the grandstands. The win moves him ahead of Vettel in the championship. Hamilton, meanwhile, pitted late on to chase the extra point for fastest lap. Bottas’s P2 finish means Hamilton’s championship lead has been shortened by two points.

Alex Albon finished in sixth ahead of Sergio Perez, with Max Verstappen coming from nineteenth on the grid to end up eighth. Antonio Giovinazzi and Lando Norris complete the top ten.

Fernando Alonso: “Monza has all the characteristics that expose the weaknesses of our package”

McLaren’s Fernando Alonso has said that despite having fond memories of the Monza circuit, he is not holding out hope for a good result at this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix, with the track unlikely to play to his car’s strengths.

“Monza is a very special circuit for me and I have a lot of happy memories there,” he said. “It has a different feeling to many tracks – maybe because of the heritage or the fans, I’m not sure – but the emotions you feel when the fans invade the track after the race is like nowhere else in the world – there’s so much passion there.

“For us we know this weekend will be difficult, like in Spa. Better tracks are coming for us, that’s for sure, but Monza has all the characteristics that expose the weaknesses of our package. We just have to work as hard as possible and see what we can get out of it.”

Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.
Sunday 26 August 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren, and Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, on the grid.
Photo: Glenn Dunbar/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _31I8707

Last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix came to a rather jarring halt for Alonso before he’d even reached the first corner. P17 was his result in qualifying – the worst Saturday for McLaren so far this year after team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne qualified P20 – but the Spaniard was bumped up a few places on the grid thanks to engine penalties given to those around him.

Unfortunately, that put him right in the thick of things when Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg missed his braking point going into La Source on lap one and triggered a series of events that ended in Alonso being launched over the top of Charles Leclerc in an incident reminiscent of the crash at the start of the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix.

“After the accident in Spa last Sunday,” Alonso added, “I know the team has been working very hard to make sure we have enough parts for this back-to-back race. I’m very grateful for their efforts and I’ll still be giving it maximum attack even if it will be a challenging weekend.”

Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.
Friday 24 August 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren MCL33.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _2ST3380

 

Featured image – Steven Tee/McLaren. Ref: Digital Image _1ST2801

Monza Preview: can Ferrari fight back?

GP ITALIA F1/2016 – MONZA (ITALIA) 04/09/2016
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

Formula One returns off the back of a thrilling Belgian Grand Prix in which Lewis Hamilton clinched a well-deserved win. This week, the drivers will return to the Autodromo Nazionale Monza for the thirteenth round of the 2017 F1 season. With just seven points – the difference between first and second place separating Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – things could soon change at the ‘Temple of Speed’ this weekend.

Ferrari: Is the comeback on?

Ferrari impressed at Spa last weekend, despite the track seeming to not suit the set up of their car. Vettel pushed Hamilton all the way to the end, coming close at the end of the safety car restart. He dived up the inside, only to fall foul of the Mercedes’s top line speed. The upgrades to the SF70-H certainly worked wonders at the Belgian circuit. Ferrari will be looking for another win at their home race in front of the passionate Tifosi this weekend and with their showing in Spa, they can certainly be a safe bet on taking the chequered flag for the first time since 2010.

They will need to nail their qualifying position at the circuit and the support of the passionate Italians will certainly provide the team with some much needed confidence. Vettel will want to win his first Italian Grand Prix in Ferrari red, chasing the record five wins that the legendary Michael Schumacher achieved in his time as a Ferrari driver. Expect the Italian team to be riding high with the support of the home crowd behind them.

GP ITALIA F1/2016 – MONZA (ITALIA) 04/09/2016
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)


Mercedes: one eye on the competition

Mercedes left Spa as a team of mixed fortunes. Hamilton claimed a dominant pole and a win that he had to fight until the bitter end for, whilst Valtteri Bottas had a race to forget. On the safety car restart, he was left vulnerable on his soft tyres to the attack of Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Räikkönen, forced off the track and recovering to fifth. Mercedes brought the fourth and final reincarnation of their engine to Spa in order to get around the lower oil burn regulations that come into play for engines introduced after this weekend. It was a decision that flared tempers within Ferrari as the Maranello outfit have yet to introduce the latest incarnation of their engine.

Mercedes surely will be tentative as they enter the Ferrari hunting ground. The circuit itself seems to favour the Silver Arrows with its long straights and low drag, however, Ferrari’s showing at the previous race where the circuit wasn’t one of their strongest will have put Mercedes on the alert. Hamilton will be aiming for Mercedes’s fourth consecutive Monza win and the chance to finally become the championship leader after trailing Vettel all season. Expect Mercedes to keep one eye on the competition, but focus on the job ahead.

Trouble brewing at Red Bull

Red Bull seemed to put themselves in a strong position in Spa. Despite the misfortune of Max Verstappen’s sixth DNF this season, Daniel Ricciardo managed to fight his way onto the podium and claim a third place after a couple of disappointing races. The Austrian team also ran some aero trails which proved critical towards their success in Spa and could potentially earn them success in Monza. Red Bull tested a new spec low-drag rear wing on Ricciardo’s car. This set up will suit the low-downforce track and long straights that Monza is famous for.

However, despite this positivity, Verstappen is set for grid penalties at the circuit after his fourth and final combustion engine failed on the ninth lap of the Belgian Grand Prix. This will no doubt make the young Dutchman hungry to carve his way through the field, hungry for success. However, the doubts over Renault and over their ability to provide a competitive engine will continue to rage, casting Verstappen’s future potentially into doubt.

GP ITALIA F1/2016 – MONZA (ITALIA) 04/09/2016
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)


Force India: Round Two?

The boxing gloves came out once more at Spa as Force India teammates Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon came to blows not once, but twice. They clashed in the opening lap with Perez bumping his teammate into the wall as they came towards Eau Rouge. However, things did not end there. On lap 30, Perez squeezed Ocon into the wall in a similar place as they came up towards Eau Rouge, however, on this occasion the outcome was not so favourable. It ended Perez’s race with a puncture as he spilled debris onto the track, bringing out the safety car. However, Ocon’s race was also compromised by a broken front wing and he limped home in ninth position. Such loss of points have forced the team to take a similar approach to Mercedes last season and introduce new rules of engagement.

Monza will be the first race that these will come into play and although, it seems that the racing will become diluted, it is easy to consider things from Force India’s viewpoint. They do not want to lose any more points and surrender the fourth place they hold in the constructor’s championship as it would affect funding for next year.

McLaren: The curious case of Fernando Alonso

McLaren had a race to forget in Spa. Stoffel Vandoorne had a 65 grid penalty to take as a result of exceeding his quota of power unit elements and for changing his gearbox. Fernando Alonso had similar mixed luck. He failed to get into Q2 due to a failure within the software running in his car as taking Puhon flat confused the system and left the Spaniard with no power. This continued into the race as despite a good start, Alonso retired on lap 26, reporting that once again there was no power. It’s a phrase that has sadly become the norm over the McLaren team radios.  However, shortly after the race, Honda reported that they could not find fault with Alonso’s power unit.

The former world champion had cut a sullen figure all weekend, using his radio to voice his opinion of the car, and things are not likely to change at Monza. The long straights will not favour the Honda engine and it’s likely that the team will have another weekend to forget. Alonso is also poised to take penalties as a result of taking a new upgraded engine to the race, it is hoped that by doing so, McLaren will be in a stronger position for the Singapore GP, considered one of the lower-power circuits. However, the question for McLaren is over Alonso’s future. The former world champion has made it clear that he is unhappy with the technology in the car and that he has other offers on the table. Although it will be a race to forget for McLaren, the future of Fernando Alonso will still loom large over Monza.

The Italian Grand Prix will commence on Friday 1st September with practise at 10am local time, followed by qualifying on Saturday 2nd September at 2pm local time. The race will be held on Sunday 3rd September at 2pm local time.

Sarah Jarvis