ANALYSIS: Assessing the field – 2020 Italian Grand Prix

There is one phrase to describe the 2020 Italian Grand Prix at Autodromo Nazionale di Monza (Monza) and that is: Unpredictable. By lap 35 of 53, the top four positions were cemented and not a single one was occupied by Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas or Max Verstappen

Among the unexpected chaos, we saw Pierre Gasly take his maiden Formula 1 career victory and Carlos Sainz Jr. take his second podium and best Formula 1 finish to date and Lance Stroll achieve his second podium in the sport. The trio shared their second podiums together in what was an emotional moment, witnessed by fans around the world, including French President Emmanuel Macron who called Gasly to congratulate him on his win. 

The race was a race of two races. A red flag caused by the need for barrier repairs after Charles Leclerc suffered from a hefty collision on the exit of Parabolica, soon after the safety car period, ensured the race began again from a standing start, with a brand new grid. 

The grid was reset from Kevin Magnussen’s retirement shortly before Leclerc’s off, where his Haas ground to a halt at the pit lane entry. If this wasn’t enough, under the safety car few cars opted to pit, but Stroll, who stayed out, unaware that this gamble would later play to his advantage when rules allowed his first tyre change to happen under the red flag. 

As the yellow flags were called for Magnussen’s incident Lewis Hamilton and Antonio Giovinazzi dived into the pitlane whilst the pit was closed, which handed them 10 second stop-go time penalties: This really spiced the race up at the restart, with both Mercedes W011s nowhere in sight of the podium. 

At one point we had the Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN’s of Kimi Raikkonen and Giovinazzi running in second and third place following the restart. 

What’s come to be a given is Scuderia Ferrari having woeful races. With Sebastian Vettel qualifying in nineteenth, retiring after two laps due to brake failure and then Leclerc’s off just after the safety car period, really was not the home race the team was hoping for. 

TOP OF THE CLASS

Pierre Gasly – Scuderia Alpha Tauri Honda

Qualifying Margin to teammate: Kyvat out in Q2 | Race Margin to teammate: -22.208s

There really aren’t enough words to best describe Pierre’s weekend. Upon the standing restart, Gasly got the jump into second place behind Hamilton, who was yet to take his stop-go penalty, which in turn allowed the Frenchman to then take the race lead on lap 29. He became the first Frenchman in 24 years to win a grand prix. 

The past 18 months haven’t been kind to Pierre with the emotional rollercoaster that’s served him: Being dropped from Red Bull Racing before Spa 2019, losing his best friend Anthoine Hubert at the Belgian Circuit, to then scoring second place in Brazil last season for Scuderia Alpha Tauri and now his first career win at the helm of the second Red Bull team all while beating the team that dropped him. 

For Scuderia Alpha Tauri Honda, it was 12 years since Sebastian Vettel celebrated his maiden win at the Italian Circuit while racing for the same team, under the Scuderia Toro Rosso banner, which has made Gasly’s win all that little more special. 

Carlos Sainz Jr. – McLaren F1 Team

Qualifying Margin to teammate: +0.125 | Race Margin to teammate: -5.585s

From leading the race, to being back in sixth at the standing restart, Sainz really had the hammer down to recover to his career best second place finish. Sainz claimed that he would’ve needed at least another lap to take the victory from Gasly, having crossed the line 0.4seconds behind the frenchman. Carlos made it clear that even though he was gunning for the race win, he was pleased with second place for McLaren. 

Lance Stroll – BWT Racing Point Formula One Team

Qualifying Margin to teammate:-0.329 | Race Margin to teammate: -19.866s

Lance Stroll’s race was one of pure joy and brilliant strategy calls from the BWT Racing Point Formula One Team pit wall. The strategy calls really played into his hands over the race, with the safety car and red flag period gifting Stroll the opportunity to capitalise. First the Canadian stayed out whilst everyone pitted under the safety car, and then under red flag conditions, he was able to retain position and change his tyres. A stellar restart allowed him to climb up the order before sitting happy in third place by the 35th lap. It was a wonderful moment as he shared his second podium of his Formula 1 career alongside other second-timers Gasly and Sainz, with all three drivers sitting on the podium and taking in their achievement together. 

Lando Norris – McLaren F1 Team

Qualifying Margin to teammate: -0.125s | Race Margin to teammate: +5.585s

Although he was investigated by the Stewards for slowing upon pit entry under the safety car period, which allowed for Sainz to safely leave the McLaren pit box in time, Norris had one of his best races to date finishing in fourth place, just shy of a podium position. 

If both McLarens keep up this kind of pace going forward, they really do have what it takes to become the best of the midfield. A place you wouldn’t have thought to have seen the team back in 2013. 

HOMEWORK TO DO

Scuderia Ferrari

Qualifying Margin to teammate: Vettel out in Q1, Leclerc out in Q2 | Race Margin to teammate: DNF

When you just thought it could not get any worse for the four-time world champion, Sebastian Vettel’s SF1000 suffered from brake failure in the early laps of the team’s home Grand Prix, consequently leading to retirement from the race. 

Leclerc crashed on lap 25 into the tyre wall on the outside of Parabolica as the circuit levelled to the pit straight in what was a big impact crash, signalling the second of the Ferraris to retire from the race. 

Charles was luckily okay. The replays showed that the back end twitched under braking and accelerating to correct the loss of grip failed to come through for the Monegasque driver and he too, watched the remainder of the race, like his teammate Vettel, from the sidelines.  

It was probably a blessing in disguise that crowds were banned from Monza due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as the feeling around the park would have been one of anguish and hostility. Especially when the team were breaking the wrong kinds of records: It was the first time since 1995 that both of the prancing horses failed to finish the Italian Grand Prix and to add to it, the first time in 30 years they failed to make the top ten of qualifying. 

Let’s hope the team’s 1000th anniversary race at Mugello, their own circuit, has a turn of fortune for Vettel and Leclerc. 

Kevin Magnussen – Haas F1 Team

Qualifying Margin to teammate: Magnussen out in Q1 | Race Margin to teammate: DNF

As much as Kevin’s retirement was great for the racing which spawned from it, in what some fans would have described as a laudable performance worthy of driver of the day, we’ve got to be serious here and none of us were surprised when we saw a Haas F1 Team car at the side of the track were we? All season both Magnussen and Romain Grosjean have struggled to break into the points and frequently find themselves at the back of the grid following qualifying and at the bottom end of the standings come the chequered flag (which is partly down to the Ferrari power unit supplied to Haas). Magnussen can be faster, so let’s hope he’s battling with the likes of Daniil Kvyat and Esteban Ocon, and even his team mate at Mugello. 

Valtteri Bottas – Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team

Qualifying Margin to teammate: -0.069s | Race Margin to teammate: +10.137s

Even with a fifth place finish, beating his team mate Hamilton, Bottas’ performance at the Italian Grand Prix was average. With the fastest car on the grid, no errors, and no penalties awarded during the race, Bottas really had the chance to push the W11 closer and closer to the podium, being stuck right in the middle of the midfield teams for almost half race distance. 

Alexander Albon – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing

Qualifying Margin to teammate: -0.295s | Race Margin to teammate: (Verstappen DNF)

A fifteenth place finish for Alexander Albon, is not what we expect from a driver in what is the second fastest car on the grid. We know Albon has struggled with the car – it is well known that the RB16 is very difficult to drive – uncomfortable with the way it handles and unsuited to his driving style, however with Verstappen out of the picture (having retired from the race) it would’ve been a prime opportunity for the Thai racer to at least have broken into the top ten. It was a bittersweet ending to the race for the Red Bull team and Scuderia Alpha Tauri, with Albon switching with Gasly last year, and Gasly taking his first win before his replacement? Hmm. Is Albon’s position at Aston Martin Red Bull Racing even more at threat now? 

THE REST OF THE FIELD

In the case of Lewis Hamilton, the performance of the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team’s W11 suggested the car was not set up to race in ‘dirty air’. Compared with his teammate Bottas, Hamilton did manage to make up 10 positions after serving his 10 second time penalty, following the red flag period and restart, unlike Bottas who struggled in the middle of the top ten with the best place of fifth overall. 

Max Verstappen of Aston Martin Red Bull Racing retired on lap 31 of the race with a power unit problem. It wasn’t the performance we’d come to expect from Max (prior to retirement), having been on the charge at the front of the pack for the most part of the 2020 season and being the only challenger to the Mercedes of Bottas and Hamilton consistently. Having said that, we can’t say whether he’d have had a great recovery drive from the restart, through the pack to challenge the midfielders at the front as he was only back out for two laps at most before his RB16 found itself being wheeled into the garage. 

Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN teammates, Raikkonen and Giovinazzi, were at one point running second and third shortly after the restart. In what was a topsy-turvy Italian Grand Prix, we did not expect to see three Italian cars running in the podium positions over the weekend, but as expected both ended the race outside the top ten. Raikkonen had some battles at the chicanes with both Sainz and Stroll, giving them a challenge to pass, but leaving enough room into the exits for them to make the passes stick: A sound move from the 2007 World Champion.

Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo were on a standard race strategy with Renault DP World F1 Team which did not really benefit from the huge shake up experienced just beyond the halfway point of the race. However both drivers finished in the top 10, with Ricciardo in sixth and Ocon in eighth. It was a solid points haul for the pair. 

It was the last race for the Williams family as part of the team, with Claire stepping down as Team Principal at the end of the race. Adding to the emotion of the departure of Claire and her father, team founder Sir Frank Williams, drivers Nicholas Latifi and George Russell crossed the line in eleventh and fourteenth place respectively. On their return to the pit lane after the race, Russell and Latifi said their farewells and thank-yous and I think it just made it all a bit too real that the Williams we all come to love and know in the sport was closing a chapter. Teary eyes all round. 

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