Analysis of an unbelievable Italian Grand Prix, brought to you by Bahrain International Circuit
If someone had told you this time last year that in a post-race interview after today’s race, Carlos Sainz would have described second place as ‘disappointing’, finishing 0.4 seconds behind a Frenchman in an Italian car which wasn’t a Ferrari, you would have fairly assumed they were mad. As it happens, the 2020 Italian Grand Prix delivered exactly that. It also delivered some gutsy driving under pressure from F1’s younger generation, safety cars and red flags and a farewell to a family who have given so much to F1 and its rich history.
If Saturday’s qualifying was anything to go by, you might have assumed an entirely different race as Mercedes locked up the front row yet again. Yet again, Hamilton was quickest off the line and sped away into the distance. However, with Bottas bogged-down at the start, it was the McLarens of Sainz and Norris who took second and third after the opening duels. Perhaps this was an early sign that we were in for something special and entirely unexpected.
The first third of the race went ahead without major incident. Sebastian Vettel had a brake failure on lap seven, continuing his miserable run with the Scuderia. Then on lap 22, the race was turned upside-down when Kevin Magnussen’s Haas stopped just short of the pit lane, resulting in a safety car being deployed. Hamilton reacted immediately, diving into the pits. The issue, however, was that entry to the pit lane was prohibited, yet he and his team had not realised. As the stewards investigated, the safety car came in only for Leclerc to spin and have a major crash on the first lap following the restart. Leclerc was unharmed, but with the Ferrari stuck in a tyre wall which required a major rebuild, the race was red flagged and stopped. During the stoppage, news came out that Hamilton would receive a 10 second stop-go penalty, which would effectively leave him last, following the restart.
The combination of all of this completely reshuffled the pack once the race got underway again. Gasly led, followed by Raikkonen, Stroll and Sainz. Raikkonen soon dropped back leaving Sainz to chase down Gasly over the remaining 18 laps. Both drivers put in a supreme driving performance under pressure, but it was ultimately Gasly who won the day, just 0.4 seconds ahead of the McLaren. It was Gasly’s first win in F1 and the first time a Frenchman had won since 1986. Stroll managed to hang on for third and Lando Norris completed an impressive weekend for the McLaren team in fourth. Further back, Hamilton managed to fight his way back from last to finish 7th in the space of just 23 laps, two places behind his teammate who struggled to fifth.
Overall, this race showed the very best of what F1 can do. It took one incident to completely alter the entire race. We saw young drivers perform under extreme pressure and a debut win for a driver who had been dropped by Red Bull just a year earlier.
A final word on this race should go to the Williams family. With the team having been acquired by a US investment firm a couple of weeks ago, it was announced that the Williams family would step down from their roles at the team after the Monza race. This ends a family involvement in the team founded by Sir Frank Williams over 40 years ago. Whilst the last few years have been a struggle for the team, fans will never forget its incredible record in the sport including seven driver’s championships, nine constructor’s championships and 114 race victories under their stewardship. Whilst the Williams name will remain in the sport under the new owners, there was undoubtedly an element of sadness at the end of an incredible 40 years for the family. All of us at BIC would like to thank Sir Frank, Claire and the rest of the family for everything they have done for the sport, creating memories we will never forget.
* Laurence Jones is head of Marketing and Communications, Bahrain International Circuit