The pandemic COVID-19 threatened to jeopardize the 2020 F1 Season as the world went into lockdown, and a lot of races were postponed or cancelled. Racing returned in July with a series triple-headers, the governing body planning for 17 to 18 races in the season. Many iconic tracks got added to the calendar while some made a return after a long hiatus.
Mugello had been a regular feature on the Moto GP calendar but had never hosted an F1 race. F1 however, had an in-season test here in 2012 where Grosjean had come out fastest for Lotus F1. It was also the venue where Kimi Raikkonen tested for Sauber in 2000, eventually getting him a ticket to F1 a year later. The track finally got the opportunity to host a full F1 weekend in 2020, and the race got christened "The Tuscan GP".
It would also play host to Scuderia Ferrari's 1000th GP in F1. The Italian marquee has been the most successful team in F1, having participated every year since the sport's inception and sported retro Burgundy livery to commemorate the weekend. The sport welcomed fans ( in limited number ) to the grandstands for the first time this year.
The driver market was abuzz in the leadup to the Tuscan GP. Sergio Perez announced that he would be leaving Racing Point at the end of the season with no alternate destination ( currently ). The replacement got announced the very next day, and it was none other than the 4 Time World Champion Sebastian Vettel! The team would also change its name to Aston Martin from 2021.
Renault Sport F1 also decided to change their name and livery to Alpine Racing F1, 2021 onwards. Alpine, the brand's sports performance division relaunched in 2017 had been a regular feature in the World Endurance Championship. The cars would be powered by Renault E-Tech Hybrid Engines, however.
Simon Roberts, Williams Racing's former MD got appointed as the acting Team Principal for the transitional period.
The Italian Grand Prix threw up a major upset with Gasly taking an unlikely win for Alpha Tauri. Hamilton and Mercedes hoped to reclaim the top step in Mugello. Verstappen and Bottas looked to make amends from last weekend while Ferrari prayed for a memorable 1000th GP in the sport. The midfield battle was hotting up between McLaren, Racing Point and Renault and a good result was the need in Mugello since it marked the halfway stage of the 2020 season.
Who reigned supreme in the wilderness of Tuscany?
Time to revisit the inaugural Tuscan GP!
Sunday was a special day for Scuderia Ferrari F1 as they celebrated their 1000th GP with a small pre-race celebration. Mick Schumacher, the son of the most successful driver in F1, Michael Schumacher, had the opportunity of driving his father's title-winning Ferrari from 2004 around the circuit.
Pirelli chose the C1, C2 and C3 tyre compounds for this race weekend and most drivers had plans to stop twice during the race.
The drivers made it to the grid after their reconnaissance laps, and Verstappen reported issues with his power unit. There was a flurry of activity around his car as the mechanics first addressed a brake light issue and then the software and electronics. Thankfully, the power unit issue got addressed in time, and Verstappen was ready for the battle ahead.
Kvyat, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Russell and Latifi opted for the medium tyres while the rest were on softs.
The five red lights went out, and the inaugural Tuscan GP got underway! It was a slow start for Hamilton who got overtaken by Bottas and also by Verstappen. However, the Red Bull driver suffered a sudden loss of power, rapidly losing positions and ending up in a midfield tussle. Bottas led from Hamilton, Leclerc and Albon but there was mayhem further down the field. Raikkonen suffered a touch of oversteer out of turn 1, having to correct his line. Gasly was sparring with Grosjean when he ended up in a Raikkonen-Grosjean sandwich. The trio banged wheels with Gasly tangling badly with Raikkonen, getting lifted into the air momentarily and hitting Verstappen. Raikkonen couldn't control his braking due to the locked wheels and rear-ended Verstappen as well, sending the Dutchman into the gravel. Further up, Sainz got spun around by one of the Racing Point cars and suffered damage. Vettel was unable to take avoiding action and damaged his front wing in the process.
The resulting debris on track forced the stewards to deploy the Safety Car. Verstappen was out of the race for the second weekend in a row. The incident got flagged for investigation, but later got termed as a "racing incident".
Vettel and Raikkonen pitted at the end of the first lap for a new wing and a fresh set of medium tyres.
The order behind the Safety Car was - Bottas, Hamilton, Leclerc, Albon, Stroll, Ricciardo, Perez, Norris, Kvyat, Ocon, Russell, Magnussen, Latifi, Giovinazzi, Sainz, Grosjean, Raikkonen and Vettel.
Magnussen was a big winner, having made up eight positions on the opening lap.
It was a lengthy Safety Car period as the marshalls tried to extricate Verstappen's stricken Red Bull.
The Safety Car peeled back into the pits at the end of lap 6 with Bottas bunching up the field to time his restart perfectly. It was a clean restart at the front, but further down, the midfield got tangled in an ugly crash on the start-finish straight. Sainz, Giovinazzi and Magnussen collided on the restart, parking up on the pit straight. Magnussen went slow at the restart, but Giovinazzi reacted quicker and went into the back of his car. The duo then collided with Sainz and Latifi which caused the Safety Car to get deployed again. Grosjean, Raikkonen and Vettel did well to avoid the mayhem in front of them.
The stewards deemed it best to Red Flag the race to remove the excess debris and the cars on the start-finish straight. Alfa Romeo and Haas also had the opportunity to inspect and repair the damage sustained by Raikkonen and Grosjean in the first lap incident. Both had extensive floor-damage, and the mechanics were busy taping up the gaps under the watchful eyes of the FIA Scrutineers.
The race restart incident got investigated, and the following drivers were issued warnings ( post-race ) for inconsistent application of throttle and brake for the restart procedure - Magnussen, Kvyat, Latifi, Albon, Stroll, Ricciardo, Perez, Norris, Ocon, Russell, Giovinazzi and Sainz.
The restart would be a standing start again but the Red Flag period claimed another victim in Ocon. The Frenchman retired due to his brakes overheating. Only 13 cars remained at the restart. It was turning into a race of attrition. Bottas, Hamilton, Russell and Raikkonen opted for the mediums ( Raikkonen on used ) while the rest of the field was on soft tyres. Lap 9 became the formation lap for the restart. Hamilton's front brakes were smoking as he waited on the grid for the five red lights to illuminate.
Everyone had a clean getaway, but Bottas lost the lead to Hamilton into turn 1. Albon was down in P7 while Raikkonen had moved up into P10. Vettel got past Grosjean for P12 on lap 11 while Russell overtook Raikkonen for P10 a lap later. Hamilton set the fastest lap of the race on lap 13 and was pulling away from Bottas and Leclerc.
Ricciardo overtook Perez for P5 on lap 15 while Vettel relegated Raikkonen to P13. The battle for the final podium position was hotting up with Stroll closing in on Leclerc. It was job done on lap 18 for the Canadian. Albon began to make amends for his poor restart with a pass on Perez for P6 on the same lap. Leclerc then lost three places in the span of three laps with Ricciardo, Albon and Perez getting the better of the Ferrari driver. He didn't want to lose more time and pitted on lap 22 for hard tyres, the team switching him to plan "C". Leclerc rejoined in 13th and last.
Hamilton, Bottas, Stroll, Ricciardo, Albon, Perez, Norris, Kvyat, Russell and Vettel were the top 10 at the end of lap 24.
Ricciardo was closing up on Stroll in the battle for P3 while Leclerc cleared Grosjean for P12. Norris was in acknowledgement with the team's idea of undercutting Perez while Bottas requested Mercedes to put him on the opposite strategy to Hamilton. Ricciardo pitted on lap 28 for medium tyres and rejoined in 8th. Raikkonen pitted for hard tyres, but a slow left-rear and miscommunication with the rear jack-man kept him stationary for almost 13 seconds. He rejoined last, far adrift from the rest of the field. Meanwhile, on track Norris got past Perez for P5 on the 28th lap.
There were more pit stops over the next couple of laps with Perez, Stroll, Norris and Kvyat pitting for the mediums and Vettel, Grosjean and Russell for the hards. Perez got the jump on Norris as the undercut seemed to be the smarter call. Ricciardo was another beneficiary, displacing Stroll for P3. Perez set the fastest lap of the race on lap 32 while Bottas pitted having nursed his tyres till that stop. He switched to the hard tyres and rejoined in third. Mercedes asked Hamilton to pit, but the Briton wanted to go longer since his tyres felt fine. The team asked him to pit for "safety reasons" and cover him off against the undercut. Hamilton pitted on lap 33 for hard tyres and rejoined, his lead intact while Albon switched to the medium tyres on the same lap, emerging in 5th. Norris got past Leclerc for P7 while Raikkonen overtook Grosjean for P12. Bottas set the fastest lap of the race on lap 35 as he tried to reduce the gap to Hamilton at the front. Kvyat was closing in on Leclerc for P8, the latter's tyres losing performance. Leclerc got rid of his hard tyres on lap 38, switching to the mediums and rejoining in 11th.
Albon was the fastest man on track ( lap 40 ) and honing in on Stroll in P4. Russell had quietly moved up to P9 in his Williams, hoping to stay in the points. Mercedes asked both its drivers to avoid the kerbs since they were concerned about the health of the tyres.
There was more drama on lap 43 with Stroll crashing at turn 9. He picked up a rear-tyre puncture and was a passenger as he hit the barriers. The Safety Car got deployed for the third time, and Bottas was the first to pit for medium tyres. Ricciardo, Albon, Perez, Norris, Kvyat, Raikkonen, Grosjean and Vettel pitted for the soft tyres while Hamilton switched to the mediums a lap later. Replays showed the Raikkonen entered the pit lane at the last moment, cutting across the white line, which got flagged by the stewards for investigation.
The old school nature of the track meant that the extrication of Stroll's car was becoming difficult. The barriers also needed repairing, and the Stewards decided to Red Flag the race for the second time! It was a complete reset for the remaining drivers and a golden opportunity for Bottas to try for victory. The drivers returned to the pits to await further instructions about the race restart and have some maintenance work done on their cars. Meanwhile, the Racing Point of Stroll looked like a complete wreck with the marshalls having to use extinguishers to put out fires at the back of the car.
Raikkonen and Grosjean were a lap down to the rest of the field and instructed to complete a lap before rejoining the back of the queue under Safety Car for the formation lap. Lap 46 became the formation lap for the third standing start of the race! Everyone was on the soft tyres for the final stint of this race.
The lights went out and the race restarted with Hamilton getting away nicely. Bottas got overtaken by the fast-starting Renault of Ricciardo with Albon and Perez fighting wheel-to-wheel behind them. Russell, who was in P9 got bogged down at the restart and fell back to P12. Raikkonen was up into P8, ahead of Grosjean and the Ferrari drivers.
Bottas reclaimed P2 from Ricciardo on lap 48 and went about chasing his team-mate in full earnest. He set the fastest lap of the race on lap 49. Meanwhile, Raikkonen got a five-second time penalty for crossing the line at pit entry in the Safety Car period earlier. The Iceman was under threat of finishing outside the points, and the team asked him to keep pushing till the end of the race.
Leclerc overtook Grosjean for P9 on lap 50 while Albon got past Ricciardo for P3 a lap later. The Thai driver looked set to bag the first podium of his career. Grosjean got relegated to P11 by Vettel on lap 51 while Hamilton extended his lead with the fastest lap of the race. Grosjean lost another position, this time to Russell who was trying to recover the places he had lost at the restart. Russell was informed about Raikkonen's time penalty, and the team asked him to keep pushing until the end. They believed they could finish 10th and take home a point at the end of the race.
Albon was closing in on Bottas, but the Finn responded with the fastest lap of the race on lap 53. Russell was now in DRS range of Vettel for P10, the duo falling away from Raikkonen and Leclerc in front. Alfa Romeo was updating Raikkonen about the gaps at the end of each lap, and the Finn consistently kept setting personal best lap times to build a buffer to the chasing pack behind him. Eventually, Vettel and Russell failed to stay within five seconds of Raikkonen. The Finn was pulling away comfortably from Leclerc as well.
Ricciardo was keeping Albon honest but was unable to mount an attack for P3. Albon had to keep it clean for two more laps, and the final podium place was his! Hamilton didn't want the point for the fastest lap to slip away and bagged it on the penultimate lap of the race. Russell couldn't sustain his challenge and fell away from Vettel.
Hamilton took the Chequered Flag and victory at the Tuscan Grand Prix! Bottas was second best again, and Albon was ecstatic to bag the first podium of his career! Ricciardo matched his best result at Renault with P4, narrowly missing on what could have been a famous podium. Perez, Norris and Kvyat had escaped the midfield melee unscathed and finished in 5th, 6th and 7th respectively. Raikkonen came home in 8th, but only 3.5 seconds ahead of Leclerc which meant that he would lose P8 to the Monegasque driver ( due to the time penalty ). He, however, finished P9, finally scoring his first points of the 2020 season. Vettel was 10th with Russell and Grosjean finishing just outside the points. Ironically, the three podium finishers from the previous race weekend didn't finish the race! The Tuscan GP became the longest race of the 2020 season.
Mercedes celebrated 100 Grand Prix victories since their return to F1 in 2010. Hamilton was one shy of equalling Schumacher's record of wins in F1 ( 91 ). Red Bull was pleased to see Albon finally finish on the podium, something that was long due. Ricciardo was the driver of the day and had there not been the third restart he would have won Renault's first podium since their return. He drove a flawless race. Raikkonen did a fine job after the final restart in a car that had a badly damaged floor. Alfa Romeo was steadily improving with each weekend. Ferrari was the only team along with Mercedes to have both their cars finish the race. P8 and P10 were the best they could with the lack of speed. Williams and Russell were disappointed to have finished just outside the points.
Verstappen with his third retirement of the season was out of the title race. Bottas vowed to keep pushing until the end, but Hamilton remained relentless in his quest for the 7th title.
This race was a reminder of the saying - "to finish first, first, you have to finish". Hamilton had clean getaways and made no mistakes at the front. Others kept it clean amid utter chaos which unfolded around them. This race was a test of the mental calibre, fortitude and fitness of every racer and kudos to the men who got across the finish line.
We have reached the halfway point of the 2020 season, and racing resumes in a fortnight in the city of Sochi, Russia. Will anyone be able to dethrone Mercedes on another power track?
The challengers have the time to regroup, restock, restrategize and return renewed for round ten of the season.