Italian GP Review: Verstappen triumphant after anti-climactic race end

Max Verstappen won the Italian GP at Ferrari’s backyard in Monza after starting P7. Charles Leclerc took P2 for his team’s home race, starting from pole. George Russell had yet another uneventful but consistent race, rounding up the final podium step.

Carlos Sainz took 4th place after a charge through the field from P18, having slapped with engine penalties. Hamilton had a similar resurgence from P19 after a rather mediocre race on his part, finishing P5. Perez, yet another one of the penalty slapped drivers, crawled his way back to P6 after a brake issue early on in the race.

Lando Norris saw the chequered flag at P7 while 2020 Italian GP winner Pierre Gasly came home P8 for the other Italy-based team. Nyck De Vries, stand-in for an appendicitis-struck Alex Albon this weekend, scored points at his ‘dream’ F1 debut finishing P9. Zhou Guanyu rounded up the final points place after a feisty late race battle between him and De Vries.

Perez’s brake fire

Sebastian Vettel, who got his first Formula 1 win in Monza, could not finish his last Italian GP after retiring on lap 12 due to an ERS failure. Fernando Alonso, on his 349th Grand Prix start, was another one of the race retirees, rolling into the pits on lap 33 due to an engine overheat. Lance Stroll in the other Aston Martin also retired while Daniel Ricciardo stopped track-side after a late engine failure.

Let’s talk about that controversial end:

Ricciardo’s incident took place on Lap 47 of 53, his engine giving away abruptly with the transmission stuck in gear, disabling the track marshals from rolling the No. 3 McLaren off the track. Now, delay with the crane coming in, picking and putting that MCL36 meant the safety car was brought out at the worst of times.

With only 3 laps remaining, the safety car came out and neutralised the field as Ricciardo’s car is picked up like a helpless blue whale. However by the time Safety Car were to come into the pits, it was already lap 53 of 53.

Fans all around the world were robbed-off a “grandstand finish”, as many expected a last lap dash between Verstappen and Leclerc for victory (2021 Abu Dhabi flashbacks, anyone?). Instead what we got was a slow and steady creep across the line for all of the drivers amidst fans booing at the disappointment they just witnessed. In an otherwise eventful race with plenty of overtakes and strategy battles defining both the lead and midfield order, FIA’s antics leading to a rather unamusing finish will sure to be up for debate in the following weeks.

Post-race analysis of the Italian GP:

Monza demands a low downforce configuration from the cars, with 85% of a lap being under full throttle. Subsequently, the race is also incredibly tough on the brakes, as we saw with Perez’s brake fire early on in the Italian GP. Apart from the FIA botching up what could have been Ferrari’s fever dream in recent races, Monza celebrations even with a Ferrari P2 are incredible, to say the least.

So, let’s have a look at who tamed the tumultuous track best.

Winner: Red Bull

Once again a no brainer, Red Bull are an unstoppable juggernaut right now with near-perfect car setups and their championship contender driving largely without any fault. Perez, on the other hand, has not had the best of luck on his side, with the brake issue hindering his race earlier and the safety car keeping him from potentially making a move on Hamilton for P5. Not that he had a shabby race either, the Mexican sprinted across the field from P17, so props to that as well.

Loser: McLaren

McLaren are once again looking to be out of their pace, with Monza being an example of the team struggling on sheer survival-mode in the mid-field. Although Norris did come as best of the rest apart from RB-Ferrari-Mercedes, his teammate, winner of the 2021 Italian GP, had yet another heart-breaking race finish as the Australian does not seem to catch a break from his woes.

Winner: Mercedes

Mercedes once again made sure their presence at the right place, at the right time. Hamilton capitalised on race incidents around him, maximising his race position while George Russell still maintains his consistency with yet another podium; that too by defeating one of the Ferrari’s at their home ground. Russell’s consistency has been so much of a key for Mercedes that his gap to Charles Leclerc in the championship is now down to just 16 points.

Loser: Alpine

With one of their drivers not finishing and the other just shy of the points in P11, Monza was a weekend to forget for the Enstone-based team. If their recent uptick in performance were to be any reference, after repeated points finish weekends the Italian GP is sure to be up on the drawing boards for the team.

Winner: Nyck De Vries

And finally, the man of the hour (well 2 hours, really). Formula 2 and Formula E world champion Nyck De Vries shocked the entire world with his debut performance standing in for Alex Albon. Although he was stuck in a DRS train for most part of the race, the fact that he jumped into that car and performed as if he’d been doing this for a while, is what caught people’s eyes. Even his defence against Zhou for the last points place was indicative enough of why he surely deserves a drive in the sport.

Apart from out-qualifying teammate Nicolas Latifi, the Dutchman managed to push him down to 21st in the drivers’ standings in a 20-driver championship. A P9 finish in his first Formula 1 race has finally put this man on the radar of teams still looking for drivers to fill their seats, only time will tell if he gets the opportunity he so deserves.

Formula 1 will be returning to Singapore for the first time since 2019. After a gruelling triple header, F1 takes two weeks’-worth of a break to return to the Marina Bay for one of the most beautiful night races of the calendar.

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