Analysis of the Italian Grand Prix, brought to you by Bahrain International Circuit
There is no silver bullet when it comes to winning in F1. To reach the pinnacle of global motorsport requires continuous investment in resource and time, incredible effort, teamwork, endless sleepless nights, patience and so much more. To take a single win can occasionally happen by chance. To take a win by leading every lap of the race with your team mate a comfortable second? That’s never going to come from luck, rather a relentless focus and determination on all of the above. And so, after a winless streak which goes back to 2012, following years of heartbreak of dedicated fans of one of the historic teams of this great sport, it all finally came together for the team in papaya. McLaren had done it. A win for Daniel Ricciardo and a comfortable second for Lando Norris represented a stepping stone in the maturity of a team which doesn’t hide from the fact that the real ambition comes in winning championships. But for this moment, after well over 100 races without a win, those celebrations are more than well-deserved.
On paper, one could assume that the McLaren result was down to a DNF for both Hamilton and Verstappen, as a result of an incident which, quite evidently, had been brewing for some time. Both drivers struggled in their only pitstop at around lap 25, so when Hamilton emerged from the pits alongside Verstappen into turn one, you got the feeling it wasn’t going to end well. Verstappen tried to go around the outside, where Hamilton had left just enough room, but turning immediately to the inside of turn two, Verstappen’s space ran out. He hit a sausage kerb, ran up the back of Hamilton and they both ended up a beached mess. The inevitable endless debate followed on whose fault it was and the stewards called for an investigation after the race. Amongst teams and pundits, arguments went from the extreme view that Verstappen played a ’dirty foul’ to others saying that Hamilton should have left more room. The more measured suggested nothing more than a racing incident. Ultimately, these decisions are best left to the Stewards. They have far more data to be able to digest and conclude what is right and wrong, so it’s best left to the experts.
From the Mclaren perspective, however, there can be no suggestion that this win came from others’ misfortune. Ricciardo took the lead from the start over Verstappen and looked entirely conformable ahead of the remaining field until the point of the accident on lap 25. Yes, it made the second half of the race easier, but with straight-line speed being so important at Monza and a real struggle for cars to follow close behind in dirty air, it’s hard to see any other result other than a Ricciardo win materializing.
Unbelievably, the McLaren win and the Lewis / Max tangle wasn’t the only drama in F1 this week. It all began with the 2022 driver market. Waiting for George Russell to be announced as Mercedes driver for next season felt a bit like the night before your birthday as a child. You knew it was coming. You knew that you might get the G.I. Joe action figure you had been requesting for months, but you just tried not to get too excited about it, for fear of disappointment. Fortunately, Mercedes didn’t disappoint and they confirmed the most significant driver change of the last few seasons. Russell’s ability and talent is undoubted, but the interesting question sits around how the Mercedes team dynamics will play out next year. Bottas has always been the quieter man of the duo and whilst it would be unfair to label him directly as a number two driver, team orders have shown where the priorities sat. It’s worth also remembering how Nico Rosberg’s tenure played out at Mercedes. Toto Wolf said he was keen to avoid that rivalry becoming too much, so it will be fascinating to see how the team manage two drivers of such great natural talent.
F1’s arrival to Monza “The Temple of Speed” for the continuation of the European leg of the season was also another opportunity for F1 to trial it’s sprint race format, first seen at Silverstone earlier this year. As a reminder, the weekend has traditional qualifying on Friday, which sets the grid for the sprint race on Saturday. That 30-minute race, which offers 3 / 2 /1 points for the podium finishers, in turn sets the grid for the race.
Qualifying offered the first stark reminder that there is a long way to go in this championship, with Mercedes clearly better suited to the speed of Monza, with Hamilton and Bottas taking the front row, with Verstappen in third. It was also the first reminder of how well-suited McLaren are to this track, as they qualified fourth and fifth, just 0.02 seconds behind the Red Bull. In the sprint race, Hamilton suffered from a terrible start, with Verstappen and the two McLaren cars taking him easily into turn one. Given that the race was only 18 laps and overtaking isn’t straightforward, Hamilton never recovered and Bottas, Verstappen and the two McLaren cars never looked threatened by the rest of the field. With Bottas facing a penalty for an engine change this week, it meant that Verstappen would start on pole for the Sunday race, joined by Ricciardo and Norris, with Hamilton starting fourth.
Overall, we suspect that F1 is learning a huge amount from these sprint race trials. There will always be a body of opinion which is resistant to change, but there is huge opportunity here for an enhanced fan experience. Anything which can spread the action over the weekend and provide meaningful track action even for a casual fan on a Friday can only be a good thing. F1 is clearly onto something and we look forward to watching these developments closely.
After this exhausting weekend, F1 takes a well-earned week off. Red Bull and Mercedes fans will undoubtedly spend that time analyzing every last detail of the turn one incident, whilst McLaren fans will not care one bit. It’s been a patient wait for these loyal fans over the years and we suspect they will savor every single moment of this win. It represents an inspiration of what it really takes to succeed.
* Laurence Jones is head of Marketing and Communications, Bahrain International Circuit