Madness in Monza


Pictured from left to right: Lando Norris, Zak Brown (CEO of McLaren Racing), and Daniel Ricciardo. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Last week, Formula 1 rounded off another tripleheader at Monza for the Italian Grand Prix. Heading into this race, the momentum was with Red Bull and Max Verstappen, having won the previous two races. However, if last year’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza showed anything, this track can give us a new winner.

As a reminder, this weekend brought back the spring race format, which meant that there were only two practices, with qualifying on Friday and the sprint race on Saturday. Qualifying set the grid for the sprint race while the results of the sprint race determined the starting grid for the full race on Sunday. The top three finishers of the sprint race receive three, two and one point respectively.

The Mercedes were blazing fast in Friday practice with Lewis Hamilton topping the time table, ahead of Verstappen who was followed by the other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas. When it was time for qualifying, Bottas grabbed P1 for the sprint race, with Hamilton in second and Verstappen in third. One shock were the McLarens, with Lando Norris qualifying in fourth and his teammate Daniel Ricciardo in fifth.

Bottas received a brand new engine when it came time for the sprint race, surpassing the engines allotted for the season. However, the key aspect is that any penalties are not in effect until Sunday, which meant that Bottas still started the sprint in first despite being pushed to the back of the grid on Sunday. This was a tactical masterstroke by Mercedes because it still gave them points to pursue and increase their gaps in the constructors’ standings.

When the lights went out for the sprint, Bottas got off the line well, with Hamilton falling down the order into fifth. Ricciardo moved into third while Norris remained in fourth. Before the end of the first sector, a safety car was brought out due to the Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly, whose front wing broke after slight contact and caused him to run off the road and into the barrier. 

The sprint then resumed after a couple of laps and Bottas crossed the line 18 later, followed by Verstappen, Ricciardo, Norris and Hamilton. With his second place finish, Verstappen slightly increased his lead in the drivers’ championship and started the race in pole position due to Bottas’ grid penalties.

When it came time for the race, both the Mercedes and McLarens were quick the entire weekend and the start would be critical. Sure enough, when the lights went out on Sunday, Ricciardo passed Verstappen going into turn one with Norris staying ahead of Hamilton and in third. The order remained like that until lap 23 when Ricciardo entered the pits. Verstappen responded on the following lap but had a woeful 11.1 second pit stop, a rarity for one of the best pit crews in the paddock. Verstappen ended up emerging in 10th thereafter. Norris now had the lead, but it only lasted for a bit, with Hamilton passing him in front. Norris pitted on lap 25 with Hamilton entering the pits the lap after.

This is where the race turned on its head. Verstappen was coming up right behind Hamilton as he exited the pits. The two ended up side-by-side going into turn one and two and the title rivals collided, taking each other out of the race. The safety car was immediately brought out which meant that Ricciardo now led the race in front of the Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Norris. The lone Red Bull of Perez was in fourth with the other lone Mercedes of Bottas in sixth.

Once the safety car was in and the green light was given, Ricciardo led the pack with Norris getting past Leclerc in the Curvo Grande to make it a McLaren one-two. Perez also eventually passed Leclerc, albeit off the track. The regulations state that the position has to be given back immediately but Red Bull was unsure of that. 

Unfortunately, the window to return the spot was eliminated when Bottas passed Leclerc, which meant that Red Bull would lose a lot of time if they tried to give the position back. Perez was subsequently given a five second time penalty for the pass on Leclerc, which could cost them positions.

Meanwhile at the front, the McLarens were cruising, with both drivers holding their positions. After 53 laps, Ricciardo earned his first victory since 2018, McLaren’s first since 2012. Norris finished in second to give McLaren their first one-two in eleven years. Perez finished in third but fell down to fifth with his penalty, giving Bottas the final spot on the podium.

This is the fifth different winner this season. In addition to that, this is the first race where a constructor has claimed the maximum points from a race. That is 44 points from finishing first and second as well as the fastest lap of the race. 

McLaren jumped into third in the constructors with Verstappen remaining in the lead of the driver standings after this result. The next race is this weekend at Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix. Importantly, Verstappen has a three place grid penalty for the incident with Hamilton, which means that the highest he can qualify in this race is fourth. Expect another exciting race in a season that has not disappointed.