GASLY SEIZES THE DAY IN WAKE OF HAMILTON PENALTY
There was a touch of déjà vu to the result of Sundays Italian Grand Prix as minds were cast back to Monza 2008 and Sebastian Vettel’s first Grand Prix win in a Torro Rosso. Similarities were obvious as Pierre Gasly driving a car built by the same team, albeit under the new name of Alpha Tauri, drove to victory in the wake of an incident packed race.
The drivers completed the formation lap with most of us watching having a clear expectation that it would be a head to head battle between Hamilton and Bottas, with perhaps Sainz, Verstappen, and the two Racing Points battling it out for the third step on the podium. However, as the lights went out it was clear that this was not going to be any ordinary race.
Sainz got a blistering start and immediately passed Bottas who seemed to be caught napping. Within 2 corners Lando Norris had also muscled Bottas into P4 and with Bottas going wide in the second Lesmo turn Perez in the Racing Point needed no invitation to pass, which he did. Next it was Ricciardo who passed Bottas at Ascari dropping him back to P6 from P2 in the space of the first lap. Verstappen hadn’t fared well either dropping back to P7 to the benefit of Norris and Ricciardo who were now in third and fifth places respectively.
Hamilton however was suffering from no such problems as he immediately started to open up a commanding lead. On lap 6 Ferrari’s dismal weekend continued when Sebastian Vettel suffered rear brake failure rendering him a passenger as his car ploughed headlong through the polystyrene bollards at the Rettifilo chicane. He subsequently retired after hobbling back to the pits. This was quickly followed by a 5 second penalty on lap 8 for Alex Albon for an earlier incident where he failed to leave sufficient room on the outside of the Rettifilo for Romain Grosjean.
Hamilton by lap 12 was cruising, pulling out a fastest lap of 1m24.852s. The race became a little processional until lap 20 when Kevin Magnussen pulled off the circuit on to the inside of the exit to the Parabolica. Pierre Gasly immediately pitted under the yellow flag and was already out of the pits on fresh rubber as the safety car was deployed to remove Magnussen’s Hass from the infield. Lewis Hamilton immediately pitted for fresh tyres while the rest of the field chose to stay out. Giovinazzi in the Alfa Romeo followed Hamilton’s lead, however, it proved costly for both of them as the pitlane at that point had not yet been opened due to the proximity to the stricken Haas. This left Carlos Sainz leading the race from Hamilton and Norris in the second McLaren.
Following the clearance of the Haas, the pit lane was opened, and the rest of the field began to pit. As the safety car came in and racing resumed on lap 24 the whole field except Lance Stroll had changed tyres. At this point both Hamilton leading, and Giovinazzi in P4, were under investigation for entering the pit while it was closed, with Stroll yet to pit in P2 and Pierre Gasly in P3, who had pitted under yellow flags just before the safety car was deployed and pitlane closed.
With the bunched-up field there was much jockeying for places with Charles Leclerc passing both Alfa’s in a single move at the Rettifilo. However, his race was to end on the next lap when he lost the rear of the car on the exit to the Parabolica and suffered a heavy impact with the tyre wall, his lack of injury a testament to the car’s safety cell. The crash triggered a second outing for the safety car while Hamilton, in the lead, was learning his fate for his earlier transgression in the pits.
The race was then red flagged as it was considered unsafe for the tyre wall to be repaired under race conditions.
During the intermission Hamilton visited the stewards to plead his case that the pitlane did not have a light at the entry point, however his appeal was dismissed, and he was awarded a 10 second stop go penalty which translated into around 30 seconds on the track. The grid reformed 30 mins later on lap 28, with Hamilton leading but knowing he had a penalty to take with Stroll in P2 who had gained a free pitstop and fresh tyres during the stoppage, Gasly in P3, Raikkonen in P4, Giovinazzi P5, and Sainz P6.
Following lights out, Gasly and Raikkonen both got the jump on Stroll. Stroll overshot the Roggia chicane gifting Sainz and Giovinazzi the places. Hamilton immediately pitted to take his stop-go penalty returning to the track in last place and 29 seconds behind the pack. His closest rivals for the championship were not faring much better with Verstappen dropping 3 places at the restart to P14 and Bottas unable to make any headway in P7. So as the race resettled the top six were Gasly, Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, Sainz, Stroll, and Norris.
With a clear track Hamilton was putting in some stellar laps, closing in on Alex Albon ahead of him at a rate of six seconds per lap. At the same time his teammate Max Verstappen’s poor weekend came to a close when he retired on lap 31 with engine problems.
Lap 34, and Sainz took his chance for P2 at the Rettifilo chicane passing Raikkonen and fixing leader Gasly in his sights. “I want Gasly!” he told his team over the radio. Next it was Lance Stroll taking Raikkonen at the Roggia chicane to claim P3, and with Lando Norris passing the slowing Raikkonen for P4 on lap 36 it was clear we were in for a close finish and a shock result with all of the top four runners looking for their maiden grand prix win.
At the front, with just five laps to go, Sainz had broken away from Stroll in the Racing Point and had now started to close on Gasly whose slightly older tyres were showing their age. Lap by lap he closed the gap and as the pair entered the final lap, he was less than a second behind. Gasly was resisting the pressure and as he rounded the Parabolica for the last time he had just enough momentum to hold Sainz at bay and take the chequered flag.
Applauded by the Red Bull mechanics standing outside their garage, the Alpha Tauri team ran up to the unique podium at Monza to watch the trophy presentation while an emotional Carlos Sainz reflected over the radio to his race engineer how he had given it everything.
As the national anthems played, we all took a breath and enjoyed the next generation of Formula 1 drivers celebrating their well-deserved podiums. Let’s hope we get similar excitement next weekend at Mugello!
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