Analysis of a classic race weekend at the Italian Grand Prix, brought to you by Bahrain International Circuit
Ignore the timesheets. This weekend’s Italian Grand Prix weekend was a vintage classic. A hugely competitive and close-fought qualifying, followed by a race full of old-school drama, teammates fighting it out, wheel-to-wheel action and a faithful and deeply passionate Ferrari home crowd who, given realistic expectations and recent form struggles, would have been more than satisfied with the result.
If the passion of the Dutch Grand Prix last week was unmistakably all about Verstappen, this week in Monza was the turn of Ferrari and its passionate Tifosi, as the adoring faithful of the Prancing Horse are known. Monza is also one of the most historic tracks on the circuit, having hosted a race every year since 1949, other than in 1980 when it was under refurbishment.
It is known as the Temple of Speed, not surprisingly because it is the fastest circuit on the calendar. A remarkable 76 per cent of the lap is taken at full throttle and with the longest flat-out section of over 1,500 meters, it is well suited to cars with strong straight-line speed and low downforce preferences.
If qualifying was anything to go by, the Tifosi were in for a real treat. Carlos Sainz took pole by a whisker from Max Verstappen, with Charles Leclerc just behind in third. The top three were separated by just 0.067 seconds.
Further back, George Russell put in an impressive performance in fourth, out-qualifying the theoretically much faster Sergio Perez. Alex Albon continued to impress, starting sixth on the grid. Whilst the circuit is well suited to this Williams car which is known to have strong straight-line speed, the overall progress in the last few races at Williams should not be underestimated.
When it came to race day, there was drama even before it started, as a technical issue for Yuki Tsunoda meant his car stopped on track on the warm up lap, causing a 20-minute delay. When the race finally got underway, the leaders all managed to get away in the order they started, much to the delight of the sea of red, with Sainz at the front.
It soon became apparent that, despite the track layout, overtaking would not be entirely straightforward. This was principally due to the fact that the DRS (the overtaking aid which drivers can use if they are within a second of the car in front) was not as effective compared to other circuits, offering a boost of around 7kph on the main straight (the average, according to the FIA, is 10 to 12kph).
As a result, there were some superb early tussles. Verstappen against Sainz for the lead, and Perez versus Russell for fourth, offered relentless wheel-to-wheel action for the first 16 laps.
Sainz, in particular, offered a heroic defence and held out for 15 laps before a lock up into turn one gave Verstappen the lead. Further back, Perez finally managed to make a move stick against Russell, a lap later.
By lap 27, most pit-stops had been completed, with one stop expected to be the preferred strategy for the race. Whilst those series of stops maintained the pecking order, it brought Perez in sight of the Ferraris for a battle that would lead almost to the end of the race.
The Mexican took Leclerc on lap 32 but Sainz held on for another 14 laps before Perez managed to overtake. Ferrari weren’t finished yet as the battle between the two team members for the final podium spot raged all the way to the chequered flag. Sainz held on by just one tenth of a second and took the honour of a step on the podium for the team’s home race.
Whilst all of that was going on, Verstappen was unbothered at the front. He was not able to sail off into the distance as he has done in previous races, but his lead was conformable enough for him to take his tenth consecutive win, yet another new record for the world champion.
Behind the top four, Russell and Hamilton were next up, representing a solid performance for Mercedes, with Albon continuing his form from qualifying finishing seventh, with Lando Norris, Fernando Alonso and Valtteri Bottas completing the top ten.
Whilst those watching around the world may well remember this race as another record from Verstappen, fans in Monza, together with those who have an appreciation for the history and stature of Ferrari may well remember it as the weekend when the team showed again its real character, fight, energy and a willingness to never give up. More than anything, it showed passion. Vintage Ferrari at vintage Monza and it doesn’t get much better than that.
F1 takes a break for a week, before heading to Singapore, for a street race under the lights on September 15.
*Laurence Jones is senior manager, Marketing and Communications, Bahrain International Circuit