Monza claimed “I have been the craziest, the most chaotic race of the season”. Mugello replied “hold my pizza!” one eventful start, a safety car restart, two red flags and two standing starts... F1 fans have really been in for a treat of a race. In case you missed the unmissable, here is a selection of the Tuscan GP highlights:
1. The first lap drama
The race pace on Friday’s free practice sessions suggested that Red Bull could have brought the fight to Mercedes in race trim. Besides, with Albon completing the second row for the team, all was to play for a strategic battle against the silver arrows. Unfortunately, The #33’ car of Max Verstappen was reported to have an engine issue, even before the start of the race. His mechanics did their magic on the grid again, and the four wheels were back on the car right in time for the Dutchman to start the race. Little did we know it would precede unfortunate events!
As the lights went out, away the drivers went. Valtteri Bottas got a perfect start and instantly jumped ahead of his teammate Lewis Hamilton who seemed to struggle with stalling. Verstappen also got away well but immediately reported a loss of power. He then dropped back into the mid-pack. At the same time in Turn 2, Pierre Gasly became the meat in a Grosjean-Räikkönen sandwich. Grosjean made contact with Gasly who bounced over the rear right wheel of Kimi Räikkönen. The Finn slammed into the back of Verstappen’s Red Bull and the Dutchman was ejected into the gravel where he became beached. It was the end of his race, and the one of Gasly, the last race winner at Monza. The race direction called the safety car in.
It is the second time in two races that Verstappen endured engine-related issues. The Dutchman didn’t hesitate to vent his disappointment over the team’s engine supplier Honda, saying "That's just not normal. Especially since this is now happening for the second time in a row. At the moment I'm just fed up with it."
2. The carnage of the safety car’s restart
The race direction instructed a restart behind the safety car on lap six, and all the drivers bunched behind the leading car of Bottas. The Finn had to keep his teammate at bay, and with the tow and the headwinds, he had a full plate on his hands.
With the safety car being released, there was another drama, as a chain reaction accident happened. It seemed some drivers at the back end of the field pre-empt Bottas and accelerated before the middle of the pack had got up to speed. Antonio Giovinazzi then crashed into Kevin Magnussen’s gearbox, sweeping Nicholas Latifi and Carlos Sainz away with him. Fortunately, a sore hand for Sainz was as far as injuries went as a result of the incident. There were destroyed cars and flying parts all over the track, it hence prompted the race control to bring out the red flags. the remaining cars funnelled into the pit lane.
In the heat of the moment, Romain Grosjean put the blame on the cars leading the pack ahead, saying “That was stupid from whoever was at the front. They want to kill us or what? This is the worst thing I’ve seen ever”. Lewis Hamilton on the other hand questioned why the safety car’s lights went off that late. When interviewed on their perspective of the accident, both Giovinazzi, Magnussen and Latifi were adamant that the cars leading were at fault, because they had to maintain a constant speed. According to them, it was a dangerous move from Bottas.
Before jumping into conclusions, let’s have a quick look at what the rule says about restarts:
Article 39.13: “At this point the first car in line behind the safety car may dictate the pace and, if necessary, fall more than ten car lengths behind it. In order to avoid the likelihood of accidents before the safety car returns to the pits, from the point at which the lights on the car are turned out drivers must proceed at a pace which involves no erratic acceleration or braking nor any other manoeuvre which is likely to endanger other drivers or impede the restart.”
“As the safety car is approaching the pit entry the SC boards will be withdrawn, [...] as the leader approaches the Line the yellow flags will be withdrawn and a green flag will be displayed at the Line.”
When asked about his restart, Bottas said: "We're allowed to race from the control line, which has been there for a while I think. The difference this year is the safety car, they are putting the lights off quite late, so you can build a gap pretty late on. Of course when you're in the lead, you try to maximise your chances, and I'm not at all to blame for that. Everyone can look at everything they want for it, I was doing consistent speed until I went. Yes, I went late, but we started racing from the control line, not before that. The guys behind who crashed because of that, they can look in the mirror. There's no point whining about it."
Ultimately, it is safe to say many wrongs don’t make a right, since the stewards concluded that the root cause of this incident was the inconsistent application of throttle and brake, from the final corner along the pit straight, by the following twelve drivers : Magnussen, Kvyat, Latifi, Albon, Stroll, Ricciardo, Perez, Norris, Ocon, Russell, Giovinazzi and Sainz.
3. The silver war
After being red-flagged for around 25 minutes, the session resumed with a (first) standing start. Hamilton took the lead back from his team mate, making the most of the tow effect, on fuming brakes. He then started to build a gap, while Bottas fought to stay in a two-seconds touching distance. On lap 25 Hamilton reported that his tyres didn’t feel great, as his rear was sliding. Valtteri then requested from the team to get the opposite of Lewis for the second set of tyres. Unfortunately for him by lap 31, he reported vibrations on his medium tyres, as their wear dropped off before Hamilton’s. So the counter strategy he was planning on was no longer an option for him, but up to the Briton at this point. By the time Bottas pitted for hards, Hamilton had increased the gap up to five seconds. He wanted to keep going on his mediums, but his race engineer warned him the undercut was too powerful. Hamilton pitted and emerged ahead with a comfortable seven-seconds advantage, which led Bottas to wish “A Safety Car would be nice right now”. The F1 gods duly indulged, with a safety car on lap 44, triggered by Lance Stroll’s crash at Arrabiata 2. The extent of damages on Stroll’s RP20 led the race control to call for a second red flag.
With the session resuming with another standing start, both Hamilton and Bottas started on used softs. The Finn had the opportunity to slipstream his teammate and regain the lead. Unfortunately for him, his start wasn’t as brilliant as his first one, and he dropped in third behind the Renault of Daniel Ricciardo. Hamilton then managed his lead to the flag, and even secured the fastest lap of the race.
4. Podium for Ricciardo, points for Russell. So close… but still, so far
Daniel Ricciardo has a deal with his team principal Cyrill Abiteboul. The moment the Aussie will score a podium for his french team, the manager will get an appointment with the tattoo artist, to get a tattoo to Ricciardo’s liking. When he overtook Bottas at the last restart, we all were already picturing what kind of crazy tattoo an inspired Daniel would get his team principal to do. It was tantalisingly close, but Alex Albon return in form postponed the tattooist appointment for what we hope is not a far term.
As for George Russell, we hung on to his ninth position saying “come on Georgie, you can do this!”. Alas, as a butterfly effect, the safety car Bottas called upon the race intervened at the worst possible time, and cost the young Briton what would have been the first points of his F1 career. A sympathetic Sebastian Vettel said about Russell: "I felt a bit sorry for him to be honest, because I thought he drove really well, especially before the last restart. He was faster than us, he was consistent, he managed his race well. I could see what he was doing, so yeah, it'll come for him." Reflecting on his race, Russell said : “I was ahead of the Ferraris. The pace was good, I was fully maintaining position and we had P9 sort of in the bag to bring home, the tyres were great. Then, I just lost all of my positions off the line with a poor launch. I don't really know what happened because everything seemed to be on target with the procedures". Perhaps, the extra warm-up lap before the final restart, that has benefited Grosjean and Raikkonen has been the reason why they were able to overtake Russell with such ease. But as Vettel said, it will come for him.
5. Red Bull’s drivers mixed fortunes
We were accustomed to see the two Mercedes of Hamilton and Bottas accompanied by a Red bull on the podium. It was more or less the same, but also different, as the Redbull alongside them on the podium was the one of Alex Albon. Verstappen had to retire from the race as soon as the first lap with engine issues. It was then the opportunity for Albon to make his way to the podium. And the Thai driver did deliver, by brilliantly overtaking the Racing point of Perez, and the Renault of Ricciardo in the final stages. By doing so, Albon scored the maiden podium of his career.
Meanwhile, having endured two engine failures in two races on their leading car since the engine modes ban have been enforced, one can expect to see some tensions between Red Bull Racing and Honda, their engine supplier. Verstappen has been quite vocal about how unacceptable that situation was in his book, for a team aiming to play for championships. He said “We shouldn’t have been in that position”.
6. A not so happy 1000th entry celebration for Ferrari
Ferrari started their GP anniversary with Sebastian Vettel 14th on the grid, with Charles Leclerc in 5th. A great getaway at the start of the race gave the impression the monegasque could bag some good points. He gained two positions, and even looked to threaten Hamilton in P2 at the time. The impression didn’t last long though. Leclerc gradually fell in the ranking down to ninth place. Meanwhile Vettel starting from P14, avoided the first lap’s crash and managed to make his way up to P10 at the chequered flag. It is however fair to notice he did so while battling with George Russell’s Williams for most of the race.
In the end, it was a double-point finish for the Scuderia, but definitely not one of their most remarkable performances. A deflated Leclerc would say at the end of the race: “We were just slow”. From an all-time great of the sport, it is painful to witness Ferrari this low.
7. Interesting stats
The Tuscan GP has featured eight DNFs!! The last time we saw that many race incidents was probably Hockenheim 2019. But the track was wet then.
Hamilton is more than ever, leading the championship with 190 points, 17 points ahead of his closest competition Red bull with 173 points.
8. Lewis Hamilton’s statement
According to the saying, a picture is worth thousands of words, and Hamilton didn’t miss his chance to be pictured with a t-shirt saying “ARREST THE COPS WHO KILLED BREONNA TAYLOR”. It was his way of addressing one more time, the issue of racial inequality.
Remarkably, his team Mercedes have given him their undivided support regarding the matter by saying to those who accused him of bringing politics to the sport: “This. Is. Not. Politics. It's. Basic. Human. Rights.”
Beyond F1, the most recent MotoGP winner Franco Morbidelli said a few weeks ago in an interview that he aspired to be like Lewis Hamilton and be the anti-racism voice MotoGP needs, but that he didn’t think he could until he had earned his place with some results. His choice to run a Spike Lee-inspired helmet for his home race this weekend at the San Marino Grand Prix did bring him luck, and the platform he was hoping for.
Motorsports four-wheels and two-wheels queen categories’s podiums showcased strong statements against racism this weekend!
9. The driver of the day
The Aussie’s race has been acclaimed by the fans as the best one. He collected 23,9% of the votes.
10. Fun facts
Lewis Hamilton has signed for HWA, and he celebrated their new partnership with the fastest lap.
Kimi Raikkonen gave the viewer some classic Kimi lines with his team radio exchanges following his five seconds penalty.
A five-second time penalty for Kimi ⏱— Formula 1 (@F1) September 13, 2020
FOR WHAT?!? 🎧
For this incident at the entry to the pit lane 👀
But The Iceman still had enough in hand for a first points finish of 2020 😎#TuscanGP 🇮🇹 #F1 pic.twitter.com/dHZZ1LqPK7
Pierre Gasly, Carlos Sainz and Lance stroll were the happy podium-sitters at Monza. Strangely, they all endured a crash at Mugello…
At the end of the race, we all felt as drained as Sebastian Vettel, but I guess this is how things should be!