The Italian GP, held at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, was the final race of the first triple-header of the 2021 F1 Season. The fastest track on the F1 Calendar, the circuit is famously called the "Temple of Speed". Being the last race of the European leg before the fly-aways, Monza has produced some unexpected and exciting races in the past.
Variante Ascari, Curva Grande, the Lesmos, the Variantes and the Parabolica ( which got rechristened to Curva Alboreto ) make this circuit a must visit.
Like Zandvoort, which was full of Dutch fans in orange, Monza is the home of the Ferrari faithful, also known as the Tifosi, who come dressed in Scuderia red. It was also the home race for Alfa Romeo, the title sponsor for Sauber F1 and Alpha Tauri F1.
Leading up to the Grand Prix weekend, many teams confirmed their lineups for 2022.
With Raikkonen retiring from the sport, Valtteri Bottas took his place at Alfa Romeo with a multi-year contract. As for the seat vacated at Mercedes, George Russell got the promotion, while Alpha Tauri retained the services of Pierre Gasly and Tsunoda. A struggle ensued between Red Bull and Mercedes to get one of their academy drivers into the Williams seat. Finally, it was Albon who got hired for 2022, alongside Latifi, much to the chagrin of Mercedes. The former F1 driver got another chance to prove his mettle, denying ex-F2 and current FE Champion Nyck De Vries an F1 appearance.
Meanwhile, Alfa Romeo announced that Kubica would race instead of Raikkonen in Monza after the Finn failed to recover from COVID-19 in time.
Monza was the second race at which the FIA decided to sample the new format for a race weekend after Silverstone.
While Friday would have one Practice Session followed by Qualifying, the latter would decide the grid for the F1 Sprint ( lasting 100 km or 18 laps ), which would get held on Saturday after a practice session in the morning. The results from the F1 Sprint would make up the starting grid for the Grand Prix on Sunday. The winner of the Sprint would get 3 points, second and third would get two and one points respectively. There would be no podium celebrations after the F1 Sprint. If a driver failed to finish the Sprint due to an accident, the teams could change parts ( different spec allowed ) for the Grand Prix. The intriguing aspect of the weekend was that all 20 drivers would have a free tyre choice at the start of both the F1 Sprint and the Grand Prix.
Verstappen led Hamilton by 3 points but had struggled in the previous races at Monza. Did Hamilton manage to overturn the deficit and retake the lead in the Championship? Mercedes and Red Bull also faced the dilemma of the unavoidable "engine penalty" ( if they opted for a 4th unit ) and whether it would be prudent to take the hit at Monza.
Ferrari hoped for a strong showing in front of its Tifosi, while Gasly hoped to repeat the feat from 2020 at Alpha Tauri's home race.
How did the weekend unfold for all the teams and drivers? Time for a recap of the Italian GP!
Friday Practice :
Friday Practice got underway, and the drivers set about finding the limits of the track. While Hamilton missed the braking point at the 2nd Variante, Norris had to negotiate the markers at the runoff at turn one. Track limits got enforced at turn 11, and there were several lap time deletions. Slip-streaming played a pivotal role at Monza, and as the drivers switched to Qualifying simulations in the latter half of the session, track position became equally vital. As a result, many drivers got caught up in traffic on their low-fuel runs.
Hamilton topped the timesheets at the end of Practice, with Verstappen splitting the two Mercedes cars in P2. Bottas was 3rd in the other Mercedes, followed by Stroll, Gasly and Vettel. The fastest Ferrari-powered car was Sainz in P7, with Alonso, Ricciardo and Perez going a second slower than Hamilton's best attempt.
Leclerc was P11 in the other Ferrari, ahead of Norris in the McLaren. Tsunoda and Ocon split the Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Kubica in P14 and P15, respectively. The Williams of Russell and Latifi and the Haas cars of Mazepin and Schumacher completed the back of the field.
Mercedes decided to give Bottas a new power unit ( his 4th ), which meant that he would start the race on Sunday from the back of the grid. The penalty didn't affect Bottas' chances for a better starting position for the F1 Sprint, though.
The Alpines decided to stay put as the rest of the field emerged from pits at the start of Q1. Softs were the tyre of choice for everyone. Leclerc reported issues about "engine braking", following which Ferrari asked him to return to the pits. Verstappen was on a flying lap when he got impeded by the Aston Martin and Alpine cars at the 2nd Variante. The Dutchman made his displeasure known over team radio.
Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo, Gasly, Giovinazzi and Norris were the top 6, with Tsunoda, Leclerc, Kubica, Schumacher and Mazepin facing elimination at the end of the first runs.
Norris improved to P3 but had his lap time deleted for exceeding track limits. Gasly, on his 2nd attempt, got impeded by the Ferraris at Ascari.
Lap times kept improving with track evolution, and Verstappen, Sainz and Leclerc broke into the top 6 with five minutes remaining of Q1. The trio, along with Gasly, decided to stay put in the final minute of Q1 as the rest of the field headed out for their last attempts.
There was traffic at Parabolica as the drivers jostled for a tow down the main straight.
Hamilton, Bottas, Norris, Verstappen, Sainz and Giovinazzi were the top 6 at the end of Q1. Tsunoda seemed to have made it into Q2, having eliminated Russell, but the rookie had exceeded track limits at turn 11 at the start of his final lap. Subsequently, his lap time got deleted. As a result, Russell got promoted to P15, while Tsunoda got eliminated with Latifi, Kubica, Schumacher and Mazepin.
The Ferrari mechanics removed the engine cover on Leclerc's car and carried out extensive checks before Q2 got underway.
All 15 drivers were out on track at the start of Q2 with soft tyres. Leclerc's complaints about engine braking didn't cease, while Alonso missed his braking into turn one. The Spaniard went over the sausage kerbs and ended up in Perez's path.
Hamilton, Bottas, Norris, Ricciardo, Gasly and Verstappen were the top 6, with Ocon, Vettel, Sainz, Russell and Alonso in the drop zone halfway through Q2.
The clock ran down, and a train of cars emerged from their garages for their final runs of Q2. The ensuing melee in the pit lane almost caused Vettel's Aston Martin to collide with Hamilton's Mercedes. Thankfully, barring a few disgruntled radio communications, there was no damage suffered by anyone. Nevertheless, the incident got flagged for investigation post-session.
The Mercedes duo stuck to used soft tyres while the rest chose fresh sets. The following drivers made it to Q3 - Hamilton, Bottas, Norris, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Gasly, Giovinazzi, Sainz, Leclerc and Perez.
Vettel, Stroll, Alonso, Ocon and Russell got eliminated.
Giovinazzi had tyres fit only for a single run in Q3, while Perez chose the used softs for his first run. Hamilton set the quickest time at the end of the first representative laps, a hundredth clear of Verstappen and Norris. Less than a second separated the top 10 going into the final minutes of Q3.
On their final runs, Verstappen failed to improve in sectors 1 and 2. Bottas was the quickest in the first two sectors, while Ricciardo went purple in the third. Bottas went P1, and Hamilton, a few car lengths behind, failed to beat the Finn. Less than a hundredth of a second separated the Mercedes duo.
Verstappen held on to P3, followed by the McLarens of Norris and Ricciardo. Only three-hundredths separated P3 from P5! Gasly was P6 for Alpha Tauri, followed by the Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc. Row 5 got completed by Perez and Giovinazzi.
Bottas got the "Speed King" / Fastest Qualifier award and hoped to bag the three points from the F1 Sprint. Although the Finn would start the Grand Prix from the back of the field, his pace in the F1 Sprint would help indicate what he could achieve on Sunday. Hamilton and Mercedes had the measure of Verstappen and Red Bull, as evident from the practice session and Qualifying. A tow from Perez helped Verstappen set a competitive lap on his first run from Q3. The Red Bull driver was in damage limitation mode, and every little detail was precious for his title aspirations.
McLaren looked strong at Ferrari's home race, and all was not well in the latter's camp. Giovinazzi was the star of Qualifying with a Q3 appearance in his Alfa Romeo at his home race. The Italian was fighting for a drive for 2022 and had stepped up his game. As for Gasly and Alpha Tauri, the Frenchman produced another stellar performance to qualify in the top 6 for the 11th time in 14 races!
Post-session, Aston Martin and Alpine
got fined 5000 Euros each for their misdemeanours in Q2.
While Aston Martin
made the mistake of releasing Vettel
path, an employee of Alpine
got caught operating in an unsafe manner in the pit lane, according to the stewards.
Saturday Practice :
It was a challenging Saturday morning for Scuderia Ferrari. While Leclerc felt "unwell" and requested a return to the pits before the session ended, Sainz lost control of his car at Ascari and wrecked the front. The Spaniard was winded and had to visit the medical centre for preliminary checks. The Ferrari mechanics faced a race against time to get the car ready for the F1 Sprint. Meanwhile, on the track, Schumacher and Hamilton took to the runoff at the 2nd Variante while Ricciardo missed his braking at turn one.
Hamilton topped the timesheets from Bottas and Verstappen. Perez was 4th in the other Red Bull, followed by Ocon and the Alfa Romeos of Kubica and Giovinazzi. Alonso, Gasly and Norris completed the top 10.
The Ferrari of Leclerc led the lower half of the field, followed by Ricciardo and the Williams of Latifi and Russell. Tsunoda was P15, while the Aston Martins of Stroll and Vettel split the Haas cars of Mazepin and Schumacher in P17 and P18, respectively. The crash for Sainz left him with the slowest time of FP2.
F1 Sprint :
The sun was shining, and 18 laps separated the drivers from Pole Position at the Italian Grand Prix. All drivers had a free tyre choice. The McLarens opted for used soft tyres while others in the top 10 persisted with the mediums. In the latter half of the field, the Alpine drivers and Tsunoda were on new soft tyres while the Aston Martin duo chose a used set of softs. With a mixed tyre choice across the field, the F1 Sprint promised to be an exciting affair.
The five red lights went out, and it was a clean getaway for Bottas. Hamilton suffered excessive wheelspin and got bogged down off the line. The Briton got overtaken by Verstappen, Ricciardo and Gasly as he tried to weave and defend from those behind him. Going into turn one, Norris had the inside line, and he also managed to get past Hamilton. Meanwhile, at turn one, Gasly clipped the back of Ricciardo's McLaren, which resulted in front-wing damage. Going into the Curva Grande, the front wing gave way, getting stuck under the car. Gasly was a mere passenger as his Alpha Tauri hurtled into the barriers and the advertisement boards. Hamilton inherited P5.
Further down the field, Tsunoda tapped Kubica at the 2nd Variante, sending the Alfa Romeo driver into a spin. Thankfully, Kubica managed to rejoin the race. However, the Safety Car got deployed to extricate Gasly's stricken Alpha Tauri. Tsunoda pitted for a new front wing and soft tyres, rejoining in P19 and last. Meanwhile, Mazepin had gained five places and was up into P15.
Racing resumed on lap 4, and once again, Bottas had a clean getaway. Vettel sparred with Alonso for P11, and despite the initial success, the latter regained the position from Vettel. Meanwhile, Russell got past Schumacher for P16, while Tsunoda overtook Kubica for P18.
Bottas was the fastest man on track, while Russell relegated Mazepin to P16 on lap 6. Hamilton couldn't get closer to Norris for an overtake and seemed destined to finish the Sprint in P5. Meanwhile, Tsunoda continued his recovery up the field with overtakes on both Haas cars.
The battle for P9 was hotting up with Perez challenging Stroll. Perez missed the braking at turn one and went over the sausage kerbs. Although the overtake wasn't legitimate, the Mexican refused to return the position until Ascari. The incident got flagged for investigation, but the stewards relented after hearing Red Bull's defence over the pit communications. Perez did eventually complete a legitimate overtake for P9.
Bottas took the Chequered Flag and victory in the F1 Sprint, followed by Verstappen and Ricciardo. Norris was P4 in the other McLaren, having fended off a challenge by Hamilton all race long. The Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz were P6 and P7, followed by Giovinazzi, Perez and Stroll, who completed the top 10.
Vettel split the Alpines of Alonso and Ocon in P12, while Latifi and Russell were P14 and P15 for Williams. P16 was the best that Tsunoda could manage, with Kubica splitting the Haas cars of Mazepin and Schumacher in P18.
While Bottas got the 3 points for finishing P1 in the F1 Sprint, the Finn would start the Grand Prix from the back of the grid due to his engine penalty. Ever since it got announced that the Finn would leave Mercedes at the end of the year, Bottas had stepped up his performances and looked certain for a strong finish on Sunday. As for Hamilton, the tables had turned. Hamilton should have won the Sprint if he had made a better start, but he found himself languishing in P4 and a further 5 points adrift from Verstappen in the Championship. The reigning World Champion looked distraught and didn't believe he had the pace to win the Grand Prix.
Verstappen inherited Pole Position for the race besides bagging 2 World Championship points from the Sprint. It was Red Bull's first Pole Position at Monza since 2013 and Honda's first since 1991! Verstappen looked competitive in race trim and became the favourite to win the Grand Prix on Sunday. As for Perez, P8 wasn't the ideal starting position, and he prayed for an incident-free first lap if he wished to offer any assistance to Verstappen in the fight against Hamilton.
Ricciardo, Norris and McLaren were the stars of the F1 Sprint. After a disappointing display in the Netherlands, the Woking-based outfit produced a befitting response in the F1 Sprint. Ricciardo was back on the front row and had a golden opportunity to bag his first podium with McLaren. Norris' consistency had paid dividends in the past, and his calibre came to the fore as he defended his position from Hamilton. Sunday was the big day, and McLaren needed to reduce the deficit to Ferrari in the fight for P3 in the Constructors.
Despite the hiccups and the incidents, the Ferrari drivers managed to qualify in the top 6 at the team's home race. It hadn't been a good showing for the Italian marquee in the past here, but they hoped to turn it around with a strong showing on race day. Giovinazzi, in his Ferrari-powered Alfa Romeo, equalled his best qualifying position in P7. The team's hopes for a points-finish banked on Giovinazzi, who was quickly turning into a team leader. As for Kubica, the reserve driver who stepped in for Raikkonen, it would be a long afternoon at the back of the pack.
The Aston Martins and the Alpine cars were inseparable in the F1 Sprint. Although Aston Martin had faded away in the battle for P5 in the Constructors, it had a great chance to recover lost ground. Mercedes power gave Aston Martin the edge on the power-hungry circuit, but Alpine had also gotten upgrades of its own. Race Strategy would play a pivotal role in this battle. Williams seemed to be struggling with balance issues, and a points-finish seemed unlikely. After getting announced as a Mercedes driver for 2022, Russell seemed distracted and off the pace. The Briton hoped for a better showing on Sunday after getting out-qualified by teammate Latifi.
Alpha Tauri suffered the biggest hit from the F1 Sprint. Gasly, their best hope, crashed on the opening lap, leaving him at the back of the pack for the start of the Grand Prix. Meanwhile, Tsunoda had only managed P15 in yet another disappointing display. The team couldn't afford a points-less Sunday at its home race. Gasly, the winner from last year, looked gutted as he believed he had the pace to finish on the podium in both the F1 Sprint and the Grand Prix. Haas F1 had a better showing in the F1 Sprint, but breaking into the top 10 was still a far-fetched idea.
C2, C3 and C4 were the dry tyre compounds available for the race, and Pirelli predicted a one-stop strategy.
Alpha Tauri replaced the Power Unit and Energy Store on Gasly's car, making it a pit lane start for the Frenchman. Meanwhile, a problem got detected on teammate Tsunoda's car, and the mechanics wheeled it back to the pits. The Japanese driver failed to join the cars on the formation lap, and the problem was terminal. Tsunoda wouldn't start the race!
Hamilton, Bottas, Gasly and Kubica chose the hard tyres while the rest of the field stuck with the mediums for the race start. The Aston Martin duo was on a used set of mediums, however.
The five red lights went out, and it was a clean getaway for Verstappen. Ricciardo in P2 had an equally good start off the line and challenged Verstappen for the lead. The Australian succeeded and was leading the Italian Grand Prix for McLaren! Hamilton managed to jump Norris into P3 and sparred with Verstappen going into 2nd Variante. The duo banged wheels, and Hamilton went over the kerbs, losing momentum and P3 to Norris.
Further down the field, Giovinazzi overtook Sainz and was challenging Leclerc for P5. Both Leclerc and Giovinazzi missed their braking into turn three, and Giovinazzi got tagged by Sainz on rejoining the track. The Italian suffered a spin and hit the wall, damaging the front and the floor on his Alfa Romeo. The incident got flagged for investigation, and Giovinazzi got a five-second time penalty for rejoining the track in an unsafe manner. Meanwhile, Stroll muscled his way past teammate Vettel, the latter losing momentum in the Lesmos and yielding positions to the Alpine drivers and Latifi.
Bottas had made his way up to P15, and the stewards deployed the Virtual Safety Car to clear the gravel and debris off the racing line. Giovinazzi pitted for hard tyres and a new front wing, rejoining in P19.
The Virtual Safety Car period ended on lap 4, and Verstappen had closed within a second of Ricciardo at the front. Meanwhile, Bottas got past Kubica for P14 and then overtook Russell for P13 ( lap 6 ). Gasly returned to the pits and retired from the race on lap 5. Both Alpha Tauri drivers were out of the race!
Ricciardo, Verstappen, Norris, Hamilton, Leclerc, Sainz, Perez, Stroll, Alonso and Ocon were top 10 at the end of lap 7.
Latifi relegated Ocon to P11, while Perez challenged Sainz for P6. Despite a dogged defence by Sainz, Perez managed to get past on lap 9. Bottas continued his charge up the field with overtakes on Vettel and Ocon, moving up to P11. Meanwhile, Hamilton challenged Norris for P3, but the Briton managed to fend off his more experienced countryman.
Bottas was into the points-scoring positions with a pass on Latifi on lap 13, while McLaren informed Ricciardo that they were sticking to "Plan A". The battle for P12 was hotting up, and Ocon failed to give Vettel enough space while defending his position. As a result, Vettel got pushed onto the gravel, and the duo banged wheels at the 2nd Variante. The incident got flagged for investigation, and Ocon got a five-second time penalty for forcing another driver off the track.
Both Ricciardo and Verstappen reported that they were losing grip on the rear tyres. Alonso was the next to get relegated by Bottas, the Finn bagging P9 on lap 17. Mercedes informed Bottas that he was setting similar lap times as the race leaders.
Ricciardo, Verstappen, Norris, Hamilton, Leclerc, Perez, Sainz, Stroll, Bottas and Alonso were in the top 10 at the end of lap 20.
Verstappen suffered a lock-up at the first chicane and reiterated the lack of grip on his worn tyres ( lap 21 ). Meanwhile, Bottas overtook Stroll for P8 on lap 22.
The pit stop window for those on the medium tyres had opened, and race leader Ricciardo pitted on lap 22. Red Bull informed Verstappen to do the opposite of Ricciardo, hoping to jump the McLaren driver with the overcut. Ricciardo switched to the hards and rejoined in P7. A lap later, Verstappen dived into the pits for his switch to the hard tyres, but an issue on the right front wheel left him stationary for 11.1 seconds! The Dutchman rejoined the race in P10, under threat of losing positions to both Norris and Hamilton. Latifi also switched to hard tyres and rejoined in P14.
Meanwhile, Hamilton got past Norris and took the lead of the race on lap 24! Norris pitted immediately after, switched to the hards and rejoined in P8. Ricciardo and Verstappen made their way through the field with overtakes on Sainz and Alonso for P4 and P9, respectively ( lap 25 ). Despite his blistering laps, Verstappen couldn't prevent Norris from jumping him after the pit stops. The Dutchman trailed the McLaren driver by only a second and was closing in on an overtake.
Interestingly, Mercedes decided to cut Hamilton's stint on the hard tyres and pitted him on lap 26. The Briton switched to the mediums, and as he exited the pits, he got released into the Norris-Verstappen sandwich. While Norris went unchallenged into turn one, Hamilton defended from Verstappen. Verstappen didn't relent in his challenge and was almost side-by-side with Hamilton into the 2nd chicane. The Dutchman tried to squeeze his Red Bull into an ever-reducing gap and clipped the sausage kerb at the 2nd turn. The resulting hit sent him airborne, the rear wheel going up and over the rear wing of the Mercedes. The Red Bull then went over Hamilton's TV Pod and the HALO, which protected Hamilton from a severe impact. The cars got beached in the gravel, and both were out of the race! Verstappen and Hamilton ( thankfully )walked away from the accident, and the incident got flagged for investigation post-race.
The Safety Car had to be deployed by the Stewards for the safe extrication of the two cars. While Stroll and Alonso had pitted on lap 26, switching to the hards, those yet to make a switch utilized the Safety Car period for their stops. Leclerc, Perez, Sainz and Bottas pitted under the Safety Car on lap 27. While the Ferraris and Perez switched to the hard tyres, Bottas opted for the mediums. Ocon, Russell, Kubica and Vettel ( 2nd stop ) were the next pit stoppers, with Ocon and Russell choosing the hards and Kubica and Vettel the mediums.
Ricciardo, Leclerc, Norris, Perez, Sainz, Bottas, Stroll, Alonso, Russell and Latifi were the top 10 at the end of lap 28.
Racing resumed on lap 31, and it was a clean getaway for Ricciardo. Leclerc came under pressure from Norris in the fight for P2, and the duo banged wheels at turn one. However, Norris managed to grab P2. Meanwhile, Bottas went wheel-to-wheel with Sainz for P5, but the Ferrari driver defended his position. Further down the field, Giovinazzi got past Schumacher for P14. Schumacher initially had a coming together with Vettel at turn one and then got spun around after Mazepin hit the rear of his car at the 2nd Variante. Mazepin got a five-second time penalty for causing the collision.
Bottas got past Sainz for P5 while Ocon pushed Latifi out of the points on lap 32. Perez pressured Leclerc for P3 but going into the 2nd Variante, the Mexican went over the kerbs, gaining an advantage and refused to hand the position back to Leclerc. The incident got flagged for investigation, and Perez got a five-second time penalty for his illegal overtake.
Leclerc was falling backwards and fell into the clutches of Bottas on the next lap. The Monegasque defended his position, but Bottas got the better of him on lap 34. Bottas was the quickest man on track, lapping 1.5 seconds faster than the leaders.
Mazepin missed his braking into turn one and had to go through the markers in the runoff area, which allowed Schumacher to retake P15 ( lap 39 ). McLaren told Ricciardo to push and use all the grip available on the hard tyres. Norris was keen on challenging his teammate for the race lead, but McLaren asked him to hold the fort. Meanwhile, in the battle for P3, Bottas challenged Perez into the 2nd Variante, but Perez reclaimed the position with the switchback.
The Virtual Safety Car got deployed after Mazepin suffered a mechanical failure and stopped at Ascari. Racing resumed on lap 45, and Vettel overtook Kubica for P12.
Ricciardo, Norris, Perez, Bottas, Leclerc, Sainz, Stroll, Alonso, Russell and Ocon were the top 10 on lap 46.
Perez reported that vibrations were increasing on his hard tyres while Giovinazzi got past his teammate Kubica for P13 on lap 49. Stroll got flagged for investigation for not slowing down under Yellow Flag conditions. The Canadian got let off with a warning for his misdemeanour.
Ricciardo set the fastest lap of the race on the final lap and claimed victory at the Italian Grand Prix. Norris came home in 2nd to complete a McLaren 1-2! Perez was P3 but fell back to P5 after getting the five seconds added to his race time. Bottas got promoted to the podium in P3, while Leclerc got P4 for Ferrari. His teammate Sainz was P6, followed by the Aston Martin of Stroll. Russell split the Alpines of Alonso and Ocon in P9.
Latifi was P11 in the other Williams, with Vettel in P12. The Alfa Romeos of Giovinazzi and Kubica were P13 and P14, while Schumacher in P15 completed the classification.
Ricciardo returned to the top step of the podium for the first time since the Monaco GP in 2018 ( 1204 days ). The 2012 Brazilian GP was the last time that McLaren had won a race. It had been 4109 days since McLaren's previous 1-2 at the Canadian GP in 2010. McLaren was the first team to achieve a 1-2 finish in the 2021 Season.
The result helped them jump Ferrari in the Constructor standings. More than P3 and the 13.5 point lead, they had finished 1-2 at their arch-rival's home race! It was more than just a victory. As for Ricciardo, he silenced the doubters, showing that he could still win races. The Australian pounced on the opportunity and produced a flawless performance to victory, also setting the fastest lap. Norris, his teammate, was mature enough to adhere to team instructions and not challenge for the win, which could have compromised both drivers. The Briton closed the gap to Bottas for P3 in the Drivers' Championship. McLaren had produced a strong showing throughout 2021, and a win was the icing on the cake!
After starting from the back of the grid, Bottas charged through the pack to end up on the podium. The Finn ensured that Mercedes outscored Red Bull on the weekend, increasing their buffer to 18 points. Bottas had transformed into another driver after being released from Mercedes for 2022. He looked free from obligations, racing for himself and producing a stellar drive.
Perez and Red Bull got caught out by the illegal overtake on Leclerc. The Mexican looked strong in race trim but managed only P5, leaving Red Bull further adrift in the Constructors. Qualifying remained his biggest weakness, and Red Bull needed him to improve if they hoped to win the title in 2021.
Ferrari produced a strong showing at its home race. Leclerc, consistent as ever, finished a commendable P4 while Sainz, after his mistake on Saturday morning, compensated with a P6 finish. The Spaniard was lucky to get away with minimal damage after contact with Giovinazzi on the opening lap. Despite the double-points haul, Ferrari got outscored by McLaren and faced an uphill task to overturn the deficit. Nevertheless, the Tifosi witnessed a better Sunday than the one in 2019.
Aston Martin, with its 007 liveries from the James Bond series, bagged P7 with Stroll. Unfortunately, Vettel could only manage P12 and finished outside the points. While Vettel lost four positions on the opening lap, the German failed to make inroads due to collisions with Ocon and Schumacher. As for Stroll, the six points helped Aston Martin outscore Alpha Tauri and Alpine in the Constructors Championship. They remained 7th, 25 points shy of Alpha Tauri.
Alonso and Ocon finished in the points again for Alpine. While Alonso had an uneventful race in P8, Ocon sparred with the likes of Latifi and Vettel over the final points-scoring position. The three points helped Alpine extend their lead over Alpha Tauri to 11 points, further cementing their hold on P5 in the Constructors.
Mr Saturday turned into Mr Sunday! Russell, after the disappointments of Qualifying and the F1 Sprint, recovered to bag P9 for Williams. His teammate Latifi fought hard but finished P11, just outside the points. It had been a tough weekend for Williams, but thanks to Russell, they managed to capitalize on the mistakes made by those in front. They extended their lead to 19 points over Alfa Romeo in the battle for P8. The deficit looked unassailable for Alfa Romeo.
The triple-header was a story of missed opportunities for Alfa Romeo. While Giovinazzi produced yet another stellar performance in the F1 Sprint to start P7, his mistake on the opening lap damaged his car. The Italian struggled throughout the race to extract performance, and P13 was the best he could manage. It was yet another weekend of what could have been. Kubica, his teammate, finished P14, having intense battles with Vettel in the latter half of the race. The absence of Raikkonen due to COVID badly hurt the team's chances over the last two weekends. Alfa Romeo had lost a chunk of points throughout the year, sometimes to unfortunate incidents on track, sometimes to driver errors but more often than not to strategic calls.
Haas F1 had another lacklustre weekend. While Mazepin retired due to a mechanical failure, Schumacher finished P15 and last. A public apology for rear-ending Schumacher followed post-race ( from Mazepin ), but overall, it was a disappointing display. It seemed highly unlikely that Haas would score in 2021.
Alpha Tauri was one of the biggest losers from the weekend. While Tsunoda failed to start the race due to mechanical issues, Gasly, too, returned to the pits with similar problems. It wasn't the showing that Alpha Tauri had hoped for at its home race, especially after Gasly's win last year. Nevertheless, they had the resources to turn it around in the upcoming rounds.
Hamilton and Verstappen, the title contenders, had an unpleasant accident, which ended their races, maintaining the status quo in the Championship. Verstappen still led Hamilton by 5 points in the Championship. The accident, however, became the talking point for both the media and the fans. After going through the footage and assessing the facts and defences presented by the drivers and their representatives, the stewards ruled that Verstappen was at fault for trying to pass Hamilton despite seeing the gap disappear at turn two. The Dutchman got a three-place grid drop and two penalty points on his super-licence for his dangerous manoeuvre. Verstappen also faced heat from a particular set of media and fans for not checking on Hamilton's wellbeing and simply walking away from the accident.
As for Hamilton, it was a lucky escape, thanks to the HALO Safety Device, which protected him from getting a grievous injury after Verstappen's Red Bull went over the TV Pod and the cockpit of his car. Hamilton, however, suffered a sprain to his neck after Verstappen's right rear-wheel brushed the top of his helmet.
The jury remained in disagreement with the stewards' verdict. While Hamilton sympathizers believed that Verstappen shouldn't have attacked the corner knowing that the former had the right of way, the other side demanded more racing room from Hamilton rather than sticking to a line that a driver would conventionally take in the absence of another car.
Strategically, Verstappen with the hards would have had more tyre life than Hamilton ( on mediums ) towards the end of the race and could have attempted an overtake then. The Dutchman would have been seething inside his helmet after losing his shot at victory due to Red Bull's slow pit stop. He looked like a man on a mission as he cut his way through slower cars up until the incident. Seeing Hamilton emerge from the pits ahead of him would have added to the desperation, and Verstappen decided to risk the overtake at the first opportunity itself. The decision proved to be a disastrous one. With Hamilton shutting the door and Verstappen persisting with his line, the latter went over the dreaded sausage kerbs and airborne into Hamilton's path.
As for Hamilton, the Briton didn't want to yield track position since his car was not comfortable sitting in the dirty air of another. More importantly, it was his title rival that Hamilton was sparring with coming out of the pit lane. Going into turn one, he was ahead and then followed his racing line into turn two. The Briton didn't expect Verstappen to not relent in his challenge and the door shut on the latter. The rest is history. Both drivers blamed the other for their predicament. The verdict was out, and it stood, satisfactory or not.
Over the years, the sport has witnessed iconic fights for the Championship. This incident between Verstappen and Hamilton, like the one in Silverstone, will change the dynamics of the title fight. It won't be the last time that Hamilton and Verstappen tussle or have a coming together this year. However, the one who shows more maturity and foresight will emerge Champion at the end of the year.
The next Grand Prix is a fortnight away, and everyone will get a chance to recover, regroup and return reenergized. The title battle will rage on in Russia, but in Italy, the F1 world celebrated the triumph of Ricciardo, Norris and McLaren!
Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!