GULF WEEKLY: The first McLaren F1 win in 11 years was overshadowed by the crash of the top contenders for this year’s Formula One 2021 World Drivers Championship.
But the moment at Monza was the perfect recognition of nearly three seasons of focused, incrementally-improving efforts by the Bahrain-owned team, as Daniel Ricciardo took P1 and teammate Lando Norris took P2.
“Crazy, what an awesome day!” Ricciardo radiated after the race.
“We really set the tone from the start of the weekend. I think anyone that’s seen the demeanour this weekend, they’re not surprised. I’m really stoked that it turned into a victory.”
But when history, or Netflix, recounts this race, the focus is likely to be the Lap 26 crash between Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen – the latter leading the championship standings by just five points.
Hamilton was exiting the pits when he arrived alongside Verstappen, the pair going side-by-side through the Variante del Rettifilo, but making contact, with Verstappen flying through the air and coming to rest on top of the Mercedes.
Both drivers were unhurt, and Red Bull claimed a racing incident, but the stewards found Verstappen to be at fault, handing him a three-place grid penalty to be served at the next race in Sochi.
The crash was also yet another testimonial to the value of the halo in F1 cars, after it helped former Haas driver Romain Grosjean survive his fiery crash during the Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix last year.
“From what I remember, after I came out of the pits, I saw Max coming and I made sure I left a car’s width on the outside for him,” Hamilton said, on the sidelines, after the crash.
“I went into Turn 1 and was ahead, and I was ahead going into Turn 2, and then all of a sudden, he was on top of me.”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff concurred, adding, “At turn four on lap one, Lewis backed out and I think it was clear for Max that his positioning would end in a crash. The stewards have made their decision but it is clear that, without the halo this could have been much worse.”
But the laurels for the day clearly belonged to Ricciardo who brought home his first Grand Prix win for McLaren with a stellar lead from start to finish.
Ricciardo started P2 on the grid, behind Verstappen, after Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, who topped the Qualifying Sprint the day before, was moved to the back of the grid due to a penalty after his team changed engine parts.
He quickly took the lead and held on to it with Norris holding off Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, Bottas and Leclerc.
While the two leading teams in the championship clearly have their prized drivers – Hamilton for Mercedes and Verstappen for the Red Bull – McLaren elected not to ask Ricciardo back off for Norris to take the lead, even though the young British driver has more points in the championship standings.
“It’s such a cool moment for all of us,” Norris said after the race.
“We’ve done an awesome job from the beginning of the weekend. From practice to qualifying, the decision to use the Soft tyres on Saturday, all of that set us up for today. We didn’t get lucky, we had the pace, we were in the positions we wanted to be. We had to overtake, we had to defend, and we had to do everything.”
The next Grand Prix takes place in Sochi on September 26.