F1 – Italian GP – Race

Ciao, MiniFans! Yesterday gave us a surprise for the starting grid today: Hamilton couldn’t make up the places he lost in the start of the sprint qualifying and finished fifth, a place inherited for the grid today. However, Bottas’ penalties meant not being able to rely on him to keep Verstappen at bay, who was now starting from pole, alongside his old friend Ricciardo.

Before the race started, it wasn’t looking too good for Alpha Tauri. Gasly’s car didn’t feel up to speed to him and they seemed to fix it as well as they could, but soon Tsunoda’s car was being wheeled off the grid and would later be retired before kick-off. Some other surprises arose, such as Hamilton choosing hard tyres for his first stint and no one choosing softs. The start was wild: Ricciardo stole first place away from Verstappen, leaving him to fend off Hamilton, who had done an incredible start on his hard tyres. Further down the lap, and after a small touch between Verstappen and Hamilton that made the latter lose his place to Norris, Giovinazzi and Sainz collided as well, leaving the Italian sideways on the track and causing a short virtual safety car to be deployed as they picked up his broken front wing and he made his way back to boxes for the first pit stop of the race. The Italian would eventually be given a 5-second time penalty for unsafely rejoining the track.  

Once things settled, the only one overtaking cars was Bottas, making his way up the order from the back, while two Alpha Tauri monopolised the retirements from the race, as Gasly made his way into the pits to stop his race in the first few laps. Norris had to start defending from Hamilton, who was closer than ever, while he was informed of the strategy plan to follow and Leclerc slowly made his way to the back of Hamilton’s car. His teammate Ricciardo, however, was the one communicating to his team what plan he felt comfortable with, as Verstappen had yet to do a proper overtaking try.

When we neared lap 20, those with mediums started to feel them not working as good as they could, with reports over radio of the rears sliding. While the McLarens were thriving in first and third and defending from the two leaders, Alpine was drowning in misery. Alonso wasn’t able to get anywhere near Stroll, while Ocon was having trouble trying to get close to and overtake Latifi, getting a 5-second penalty for an earlier incident with Vettel. In lap 23, Ricciardo did his first stop for hard tyres to protect himself from an undercut. Verstappen could not improve his previous time, while McLaren did manage to keep the times up. The big surprise seemed to come when the Red Bull stop came up to over eleven seconds long and Hamilton overtook Norris, effectively inheriting the lead of the race, with one less stop in his pocket. However, the biggest shock would come just a couple laps after this.

Mercedes decided to pit Hamilton, as he would exit the pits in front of Verstappen. They did their job, giving him medium tyres, albeit slowly. The not-as-fast stop meant that Hamilton left the pits basically in between Norris and Verstappen. Norris was in front and not involved, but Verstappen is one of those drivers who does not yield. They weren’t side by side on the straight, but he found a space in the first corner that guided him to the orange bananas on the inside. This element shot up him in the air and over Hamilton’s car. The Red Bull’s rear fell onto the top part of the Mercedes, as well as on top of the halo, which can be cited for avoiding yet another nasty accident. Verstappen got out of his car as soon as he realised he was literally on top of the other car and that only the front part of his car was touching the gravel, but Hamilton kept on trying to back up while his rival left through the track. This, of course, brought out a safety car and almost an ovation from McLaren, who were realising they could not only win the race with Ricciardo, but also get a podium with Norris, who was settled in third.

The rolling start saw Norris overtaking Leclerc after a few tries, giving McLaren the first two places for the first time since the 2010 season. Behind them, Bottas was overtaking almost like a maniac until he made it to Leclerc, who put up a huge fight for a couple of laps but eventually got overtaken too. With around twenty laps to go, the McLarens were followed by Pérez and Bottas. The Mexican would get a five second penalty for using the outside of the track to overtake and both Ferrari were starting to close the gap to Bottas, but no one could really get close enough to overtake. The last few laps were only shaken up a very brief virtual safety car, caused by Mazepin’s car giving up on him and the Russian driver needing to park it beside an exit. When the checkered flag came down, McLaren celebrated its first win since 2012 and their first one-two since 2010, with Ricciardo’s smile overshadowing everything else that had happened in the previous hour and a half.

If the sprint qualifying had a very unexpected result, the race got the memo and multiplied it tenfold. From Ricciardo getting the lead from the start and Hamilton managing to start breathing Verstappen’s neck thanks to an incredible start with hard tyres. However, their happiness would be short lived. A decision to pit after a terrible stop by Red Bull in order to overtake them brought Hamilton out right beside his rival and the inevitable sparks between them made them crash together again, this time both of them getting the short end of the stick. Meanwhile, McLaren reaped what they had sowed in the sprint qualifying and came back to the place where a historic team like theirs belongs: The top step of the podium.