What an eventful, chaotic, thrilling, crazy weekend! All the bookmakers must have loved that one because in truth, no one, absolutely no one would have seen that coming. Well, if bored of the same podiums happening again and again, you decided to skip the weekend and wait for the graph reports, this is what you missed:
1. Williams’ family farewell
It was an emotional Italian Grand Prix for the Williams Racing crew, as they were saying farewell to the family who founded them. Having faced ever growing financial struggles in the past couple of years, the british stable has been bought by an investment group. That takeover put a term to a format of a family-owned F1 team, which made all the aficionados particularly nostalgic. Both George Russell and Nicholas Latifi paid a vibrant and moving tribute to Sir Frank and Claire Williams for their passion, their hard work, and their dedication that resulted in all the successes they have achieved. And to end it in style, Claire Williams directed her Canadian driver out of his garage box.
2. The Racing Point’s “brake ducts” gate is now settled. Somehow
The Racing Point’s car has been stamped by many, the “pink Mercedes”. Its resemblance with the 2019 championship winning car of Mercedes led four teams to lodge an appeal against the Silverstone-based team, about their alleged copying of the Mercedes’ brake ducts, which are now listed parts. Eventually, McLaren, Williams and Renault withdrew their protest, but Ferrari chose to go on with it. Binotto said ahead of the race weekend that Ferrari asked the FIA for clarity and clarifications. If they were to get them, they would also be ready to withdraw the appeal. Yet, early Sunday morning, Lawrence Stroll was noticed wandering out of the Ferrari motorhome. Following his visit, Racing Point released a statement saying they have withdrawn their appeal against the penalties handed to them regarding their brake ducts. Within the day, Ferrari also came up, and notified their decision to withdraw the appeal as well. So much for clarity and clarifications then, but at least they ave found a way to come to terms, and avoid a legal battle that would have made no good to the image of the sport.
3. Ferrari double DNF'd at home race
Ferrari was racing at their home turf at Monza. If the practice sessions and qualifying results left few hopes for a podium, the tifosi expected at least to see their team put up a good fight. Alas, as soon as the sixth lap of the race, the brakes of Sebastian Vettel’s car failed, and he went straight onto the polystyrene barrier. If anything, he can even consider himself lucky; had the failure happened elsewhere, only God knows how severe the accident would have resulted. For that fundamentally ill-designed SF1000, one would at least expect it to be reliable. and as it is, it is fair to put that reliability to question.
To add to the tifosi’s misery, Charles Leclerc, the local hero and race winner of the 2019 edition crashed his car at Parabolica in the 24th lap. The young monegasque owned his mistake, saying: “I lost control of the car, it's my fault". That crash sealed a weekend that neither the team, nor the tifosi will remember much fondly.
4. Mercedes “race party mode”?
The world champions had their cars best placed to bring home a very much expected double. The two W11 were starting 1st and 2nd on the grid, and their pace on Friday and Saturday suggested that, bar reliability or strategy mishaps, no one would be able to compete with them. In addition, they have warned that they would convert the departed “party mode” into additional performance in the race. The prospect was daunting. At the start, Lewis Hamilton got away well and kept his lead after turn one. Valtteri Bottas however, had a terrible start and dropped in 6th position. No one was particularly concerned, as it was expected Mercedes’ superior pace would come into play and allow the Finn to get back in second place within a couple of laps. Surprisingly, it didn’t happen, and Bottas stayed stuck behind the Renault of Daniel Ricciardo until the safety car came. He complained on the radio: "I can't race with these engine settings. It's a joke". Bottas' struggles brought back in mind an interview where he himself said that the engine modes ban would make the overtaking more and more difficult, and produce processional races. At that point, the race edition of the Mercedes’ “party mode” looked less and less threatening. The occurrence of a safety car on lap 23 and a stop-and-go penalty handed to Hamilton brought however, another light to the events. The Briton fell over 20 seconds adrift of Alex Albon, the last-placed driver on track. He then caught up the field, fended it off and made his way up to 7th with the bonus point for the race’s fastest lap. Has Hamilton extracted the maximum performance from the car? Has Bottas had issues with his? These contrasted fortunes of the two Mercedes’ drivers leaves puzzled about the real efficiency of their engine modes, and more largely, about the impact of those frozen modes on racing. Because if a Mercedes can’t overtake a Renault, how relevant is it to freeze the engines’ mapping.
5. Lewis Hamilton Penalised
It was supposed to be business as usual for the British world champion. He got half the job done, by getting a good start at the lights out, and was managing the gap to Sainz in second, relegated 12 seconds behind. It took the car failure of Kevin Magnussen, which triggered a safety car, for everything to go wrong for Hamilton. The Briton missed the boards while switching his engine to safety car mode, as Mercedes also failed to notice the FIA communication that the pitlane was closed. As a result, Hamilton’s race engineer called him to box, breaching the article 28.14 of the FIA Formula One sporting regulations. The stewards, according to the rulebook, handed a 10 seconds stop-and-go penalty. With the race having been red flagged, Hamilton seized the chance to go to the steward’s office to plead his case, in vain. Ultimately, he served his penalty, and did some damage limitation in his championship bid to title.
The penalty has been handed by the letter of the law, however it would be interesting to make a quick jump in the past. During the 2016 brazilian GP, Daniel Ricciardo received a 5 seconds time penalty for crossing the pitlane when it was still closed. At that time, the sporting regulations allowed the stewards to chose between : 5 seconds time penalty, 10 seconds time penalty, a drive through, a 10 seconds stop-and-go. Right after the Ricciardo incident, the rule has been reviewed, and the current outcome is that breaching of article 28.14 automatically implies a 10 seconds stop-and-go penalty.
28.14 Under exceptional circumstances the race director may ask for the pit entry to be closed during the race for safety reasons. At such times drivers may only enter the pit lane in order for essential and entirely evident repairs to be carried out to the car. A penalty under Article 38.3(d) will be imposed on any driver who, in the opinion of the stewards, entered the pit lane for any other reason whilst it was closed.
38.3(d) The stewards may impose any one of the penalties below on any driver involved in an Incident: [...] A ten second stop-and-go time penalty. The driver must enter the pit lane, stop in his pit stop position for at least ten seconds and then re-join the race.
When asked about the incident, Hamilton said : "Approaching a corner, it's generally quite easy to see but when you're cornering in a right-hand corner, you're looking over to the right and gauging the gap between you and the white line, so your view is centre to the right. Also, when there's a car pulled over on the right you are conscious of the marshals, so that's the area you look to. I don't remember that was the indication for the pit lane closing, so that was a new experience".
Regarding the penalty, he added: "a stop-and-go penalty would come if you've done something intentional or driving dramatically and you've put someone in danger maybe, but, having experienced it and it almost put you out of the race, it is not the greatest thing for racing". Ultimately he said "I definitely hold myself accountable for not seeing the signs". Hamilton raised nonetheless a valid point about the fairest way to penalise what was seemingly a miscommunication, contrary to a clear intention of breaching the rule. In this regard, Michael MASI, the FIA race director, deplored the lack of flexibility of the ruling. For him, “If there are elements of the regulations that need to be reviewed, we will review it in a sporting working group with all of the teams sporting directors. And if something is necessary, go through the required process to do it”.
6. Once upon a time, Pierre Gasly the Magnifique!
A year ago, Pierre Gasly was lapped by his teammate Max Verstappen during the Austrian GP, en route to win the first non-Mercedes victory of the season. He was lapped again during the Hungarian GP, and was consequently demoted to the Red Bull’s Junior team Alpha Tauri. The “A” team even pushed the harshness to announce it to the Frenchman via a text. How impersonal!
Gasly took that punch on the chin, but there started his redemption journey. In Brazil 2019, Gasly scored a second place for what was recorded to be the F1’s youngest podium in history. At Monza, the Alpha Tauri’s home race, the French man managed to get his maiden win, 12 years after the one of Sebastian Vettel at the same venue. He did so brilliantly, by resisting the pressure drive of the faster McLaren of Carlos Sainz in second.
After all those struggles, an ecstatic and unbelieving Gasly stood on the highest step of the podium and even got a missed call from the French president Emmanuel Macron. That Gasly comeback is definitely legends material. We hope he did find the time to call his President back though!
7. Top teams disaster race
For the first time in 2020, the podium didn’t feature neither Lewis Hamilton, nor Valtteri Bottas, nor Max Verstappen. The top tier of the drivers’ standing missed out the podium for various reasons. Their fall highlights in fact, the knockout the two top teams Mercedes and Red Bull endured. Helmut Marko, Red Bull’s sporting director said his team lobbied to get the extreme engine modes banned, so that they could be closer to their competition. Unfortunately for him, it massively backfired. In pure pace, Red Bull looked far away from the Brackley squad. They even ended their races with Verstappen retiring, and Albon finishing 15th. On Mercedes' hand, despite announcing a formidable race pace allowed by the cancellation of the “party mode”, Bottas was unable to pass the Renault the McLaren and the Racing Point ahead of him. He blamed it on overheating issues due to being stuck in the traffic, but it does not erase all doubts. Ultimately, the top team mishap gave a refreshing podium, as Toto Wolff said : “It was a win that we lost, but it was a win for Formula One."
8. Helmut marko comments about Max title hope's
Helmut Marko said about Max: "It is better not to be near him. His championship hopes are over now". One has to wonder if Max has genuinely been in contention for the championship against a Hamilton / Mercedes combo in such a formidable form.
9. Ocon's radio drama
Ocon was not happy at all with the team for missing what he described as a "massive opportunity" today. He was told firmly not to vent his feelings over team radio.
10. Fun stat
Pierre Gasly has now the same number of win in an Alpha Tauri as Verstappen in the “A” team.