It's been a while but I sat down with Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale for a chat about some of the technical intricacies we've witnessed in the opening phase of 2020. Incredibly we only talked about tyres for a short period too, we must have had lots to talk about... ;)
- Sunday, September 13, 2020
Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale
Ambient 30.6° Track 45.5° Humidity 39% Wind 2.2 m/s
Underneath a perfect bowl of cerulean sky, golden Tuscan sunshine poured onto the paddock, blowing out highlights on the telly as the mountains in the distance promised cool delicious relief from the inescapable sun as the teams worried away at their finicky beasts. Yesterday's qualifying promised much with regards to Red Bull's opportunities, with Albon lined up behind Max and Mercedes notoriously susceptible to the ever increasing track temperature, especially Bottas.
The F2 feature race saw drivers pitting off of the Soft tyres as early as lap 8, but Pirelli's best guess was 16-19 laps for a two-stopper, and 22 laps for those wanting to do a one-stopper, though adjudged to be the third fastest strategy according to the boffins. Nevertheless, the top teams, if they are fast enough relative to the midfield, are likely to gravitate towards it which makes Albon's performance at the start everything. If he can stay close enough to the top three at the start then Red Bull will have a potent strategy weapon with which to torment Mercedes' drivers.
The run to the start is, as always huge, and last week's poor start by Bottas will have been well marked both by his rivals and Mercedes themselves, who will very much want to prevent a repeat of that episode. Meanwhile lottery winner Leclerc will very much want to keep all his rivals as far behind as possible as Ferrari will very much be hoping to backdoor their way into a podium, or, at the very least, stay respectably in the points after the twin disappointments of Spa and Monza. The safety car, too, is quite likely to play an important part as the gravel lined chaos generator of a track has already demonstrated quite adequately in the junior series races....
Ooooh and as the clock ticked down to the formation lap, it was engine cover off on the left side of Verstappen's car and mechanics pouring over his car as plumes of dry ice fog wafted up the grid amidst their fervid efforts. After a short period it the engine cover was refit and the team promised everything was perfectly fine....Kvyat and Raikkonen in P12 and P13 opted to start on Mediums and they were joined by Grosjean in P15 along with the Williams in P18 and P19, adding a wonderful dash of complexity in the always brutal battle for the midfield.
Lights Out!!!! It was a great start by Bottas as he rocked by Hamilton as Verstappen was nearly up into P2 and looking to challenge for the lead before his PU lost power and adding insult to injury he was rear ended by Raikkonen in T2 as he dropped through the field. Gasly was taken out as well as contact with Grosjean during an ill-judged pass which on replay looked to be the instigating incident for the Verstappen chaos. Sainz had a proper spin on his own (with maybe an assist from a Racing Point) after an amazeballs start. This wound up taking Vettel to the back as the increasingly Heidfeld-like luck of the former champion continued to assert itself, whilst Leclerc sneakily went up the inside and when the smoke cleared he was in P3. Ricciardo also with the good start had leapt up to P6 as the inevitable Safety Car was pressed into action.
During the multi-lap stint Russell, who had rocked all the way up to P11 was on the radio trying to get Ocon ahead to pit by saying his brakes were properly on fire, but Renault refused to believe the report and they rolled on as the lengthy clean up continued. Lap 7 and the Safety Car was announced as in that lap and a long wait by Bottas and even as he rocked onto the throttle there was a huge crash with Latifi, Magnussen, Sainz and Giovinazzi all out of the race and even before the leaders reached turn 1 here came the Safety Car. It was down to Giovinazzi smashing into the back of Magnussen after Latifi narrowly avoided him, with the very back of the pack evidently under the impression the race had restarted whilst Bottas was still in the act of backing the field up.
RED FLAG! and into the pits they came, the 14 that were left and Grosjean was on the radio vehement that the front of the field was responsible for the carnage and it was unacceptable. A reminder that tyres can be changed, cooling adjusted and accident damage repaired under the red flag so it was an interesting wait to see who decided to start on what tyres. One advantage of the lengthy delay was the chance to learn exactly why clearing the track took so long. Apparently, there were only a few entry points for the JCB and that was the issue. As the time dragged on, it was announced that it was going to be a standing start and they were going to get to play the same game all over again. Despite that, Mercedes seemed to be a bit unhappy with Bottas' restart, even though it was entirely within the rules.
Lap 9 for the restart with 35 minutes of clock time gone, with 50 laps left to go. Ocon's car was in the garage, never a good sign, to have his issue sorted. Given the time, a replay of the restart it was Russell who looked to have left the gap and then accelerated, which likely triggered those behind to think those at the front had gone. Ocon was out, with toasted brakes as it turned out that Russell wasn't kidding at all and that left just 13 cars left in the race. And, as it turned out, put Russell into P10
As they rolled out for the restart it was Mercedes on the Mediums along with Russell and Raikkonen with the rest on the Softs, which would certainly yield them an advantage at the start. Lights out!!! Great start by Hamilton, whose brakes were smoking rather furiously as they waited for the lights, and he dove across and covered the inside, and then took Bottas round the outside of turn 1 as Albon dropped all the way to P7, for no immediately apparent reason. Behind, Raikkonen nailed Russell for P10 as the actual racing finally got underway. Stroll was in DRS on Leclerc during the first lap and he maintained the pressure as they waited for DRS to be enabled.
Despite that, when they measured for the first time Leclerec managed to be just outside the margin, but behind Ricciardo was in DRS of Perez and making a serious effort to climb up the ladder. Russell took P10 back from Raikkonen as lap 14 got underway. Raikkonen was unhappy with his wing level, saying the change during the red flag made the car "horrible" as Stroll had managed to rock into DRS after a bit of trying. Even more fortunate for him, Perez' defense of Ricciardo effectively gapped him off from his teammate, giving the Canadian room to manuever. Ricciardo got the job done fairly easily on lap 15 and it was just 2 seconds up the road to Stroll, who was failing to find a way round the very wide Ferrari of Leclerc. Lap 24 was the new pit window, as it was adjudged that no one was going to one stop with their current tyres.
Lap 16 and Stroll had a bit of a go round the outside but was not successful and Ricciardo was now joining the party. By lap 18 he was inside DRS on Stroll, and apparently that was the motivation he needed and he was right on by, dropping Leclerc into the clutches of Ricciardo behind. Albon, who had been tracking down Perez, took advantage of a mistake and was able to get round the Racing Point on the outside through turn 1. Ricciardo nailed Leclerc lap 19 and the battle for 3rd was joined with the Renault just a second and a half back of the Racing Point. Albon, in his chase of Perez, had complained of a lack of power and it was evident, that the Honda was not delivering down the start/finish straight.
Despite that, he was closing rapidly on the Renault/Racing Point battle as Leclerc was already desperate to get onto a new set of tyres. He was in lap 22, after Perez rocked by him, and asked about plan C, to which he replied, "I don't care, we are so slow"... Out on the Hards he went as the battle for the last podium spot was joined, with Ricciardo just one second back of Stroll.
Raikkonen was on the radio to tell his team that at the next stop, the team WILL get the number right on the front wing, suggesting that somehow the team sent him off with the wrong angle dialed into the flap adjuster. AT the very front, Bottas was holding Hamilton within two seconds but looked to be losing a tenth or two a lap and it was Ricciardo, into DRS for the first time on Stroll. Further back it was Vettel, following Russell, into P10 as Raikkonen dropped down the field with his incorrect settings. Hamilton was not exactly happy with his tyres, but he was still ahead.
Lap 27 and Norris in P7 was just about in DRS and the radio talk was whether or not to undercut Perez, which meant, of course, that they were trying to dummmy Racing Point into pitting Perez. Their lovely strategem didn't work and on they went, waiting to see who would blink first. It was Ricciardo, in fact, lap 29 in for a set of Mediums and out in P8 and right behind Kvyat.
Perez was next up and he was out on the Mediums but Racing Point held Stroll out hoping that Kvyat would hold up Ricciardo enough to nullify the advantage. Vettel and Grosjean were in as well and out on the Hards they went, with Grosjean now in P12 ahead of rival Raikkonen after a bad pitstop.
Following lap was Norris, Kvyat and Russell in for Mediums and that was the end of Racing Points hope, they pitted Stroll and he was out nearly 3 seconds back of Ricciardo. Bottas pace had dropped suddenly, and as the midfield frenzy drew all the attention, Bottas was in nearly 8 seconds back of Hamilton.... So on lap 32 it was now Albon P2 but looking like he was still behind Stroll once he pits and Bottas emerged 5 seconds back of the Red Bull with a shiny new set of Hards to see him to the finale.
Lap 33 and Hamilton and Albon were both in, and both elected to rock the Hards as well as the final turn of the key was revealed. The next lap saw Norris by Leclerc, taking P6 from the hapless Ferrari. With the dust at the front settling, Bottas had gained nearly 2 seconds on Hamilton through being pitted first and was now just 6 seconds back of the leader. Raikkonen nailed Grosjean for P12 as on the radio McLaren told Norris that over the first stint Perez had 50% more tyre degradation.
Kvyat was next up to have a go at Leclerc and that brought him in lap 38 for a set of Mediums as apparently plan C was not working as predicted. Hamilton and Bottas both were warned to stay off the "high load" kerbs as Albon was now the quickest of the three way battle for P3 over the full lap. By lap 42 Albon was all but in DRS and Mercedes was thinking that the kerbs may have been responsible for Bottas' tyre issues in the first, post red flag stint.
Lap 43 and it was all to change as Stroll was off and into the gravel and brought out the Safety Car. Bottas and back were all in, but Hamilton fortunately was ahead of the Safety Car, meaning that he would get round and out before the Safety Car collected him. On replay it was a puncture for Stroll that sent him off, and out came the red flag. Looking at the safety car pit lane tyre lottery it was Merc on the Mediums, and the rest onto Softs and yet another standing restart, this time a 13 lap stint. The order minus Stroll was Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo, then Albon, Perez and Norris. Kvyat, Leclerc, Russell and Vettel rounded out the top 10 with Raikkonen and Grosjean the last two on the ever dwindling grid.
As it was being winched off the circuit by the JCB, the car burst into flames and there was dramatic footage of marshals ripping the bodywork off the Racing Point and emptying extinguisher after extinguisher into the guts of the car in order to suppress the fire. Worth remembering that Ricciardo nabbed two spots at the start of the race and he, along with Albon and Perez, were sporting a reasonably useful tyre advantage as the teams all awaited the 3rd standing start of the race. Also interesting, was the fact that on each start the polesitter lost out so there's that to be contemplated as well. Raikkonen was under investigation for a pitlane entry violation, to make life even more entertaining.
Raikkonen and Grosjean were sent round to regain their lost lap before the rest of the grid rolled out on their formation lap. Out went the rest of the field and it was Mercedes, having elected to switch to the Softs making it a clean sweep across the remainder of the field (and nullifying the tyre advantage earlier mentioned) though Grosjean and Raikkonen will have had an extra lap to get their tyres and brakes up to temperature as the sun began to dip and the track temperatures fall....
Lights Out!!! All Over again!! Great start by Ricciardo!!! Oh my he was by Bottas on the way into turn 1 as Bottas tried to take it back but couldn't get there as Albon, losing out to Perez at the start, stuck some wheels into the gravel to seize P4 back. Raikkonen and Grosjean were up to P8 and P9 but Raikkonen was sporting a 5 second penalty for his infraction, slightly complicating the maths.
The following lap Bottas got a massive run on the Renault, and was able to retake the spot round the outside of turn 1 as behind, Perez wanted to follow suit but was unable to get round the racy Red Bull. The laptimes did not favour Renault in the slightest as Leclerc reclaimed P9 from Grosjean. Albon was all over the gearbox of Ricciardo and the start of lap 51 saw him by the Renault and Vettel by Grosjean to boot, the HAAS driver right back out of the points. Raikkonen was livid about the penalty as apparently the team had failed to inform him of the outcome during the red flag, or, possibly, he'd just forgotten.
The following lap Albon was now just about in DRS on Bottas and suddenly P2 seemed not an impossibility with 6 laps left in the race. Bottas responded the following lap, setting fast lap with a 1:19.432 and clocking back nearly a second. Lap 55 and the defense from Albon had now brought Bottas within 2 seconds of Hamilton whilst further back Vettel had made a mistake and brought Russell into DRS on him for the final points paying position.
Albon nibbled a tenth back out of Bottas as Russell continued his quixotic pursuit, at least until Vettel pulled the gap back out and then George lost a further second to Raikkonen, now 7 seconds back and not in the window to be promoted thanks to Kimi's penalty. Two laps to go and the battle for P2 was well over and done, but the battle of the fast laps was not, and Hamilton lit the board up purple, going into the 1:18's to take the singular point away from his teammate. Onto the final lap they went and after the first sector it was clear that the victory was final, as Bottas first sector was 2 seconds off Hamilton and it was bring it home time, his one shot at glory spent. And across the line they flashed, 90th win for Hamilton, first podium for Albon and the sole saving grace for Ferrari being that both drivers managed to finish in the points, at least once the majority of the midfield had been unceremoniously retired due to the ridiculous level of carnage in the race.
Magnificent race for Mercedes and a stunning victory for Hamilton, while the depths of despair for Bottas who, having seized the win saw it all slide slowly and inexorably from his grasp, all while providing us with a thoroughly entertaining battle for the top spot. If you ignore the disaster of Verstappen, Red Bull have every reason to be thoroughly delighted as well, as their young protege finally delivered the result they sought, perservering through a terrible start and making the overtakes that mattered most late in the race, the reason he was brought up in the first place.
Equally, ignoring the loss of Ocon, Renault had to be pleased as at a track where they were not thought to be favoured, the clearly were the best of the rest and Ricciardo displayed very clearly why he was a highly sought after driver, with McLaren no doubt supremely happy he would be on their side soon enough. The tale of two cities continued with Perez salvaging a P5 for his team, while the loss of Stroll as he was chasing the last podium spot near then end of the race ruining an otherwise solid performance from the team. McLaren was in similar shape, with Sainz being lost to the carnage but Norris hanging on to achieve his P6.
Points for both Ferraris was the best they could do, and even to achieve that the need significant help, so cold comfort at best for the tifosi, even though early on Leclerc did give them a thrill by running up in the podium spots. Despite having an old man yelling at clouds kinda day, Raikkonen did pull some more points for Alfa which was the best they could hope for after Giovinazzi played demolition derby with the back of Magnussen's car (and yes, that was not really his fault) and even HAAS felt they had an OK day, despite Grosjean basically circulating at the back with 60 points of aero damage hampering his race.
Even Williams almost scored a point, though, frustratingly it remained just out of reach after Stroll's incident near the end of the race. Still, being that close has to be counted as a moral victory at least for the team as the new owner's were on hand to inspect their prize firsthand. The teams will be delighted with a bit of a break, a chance to rest their weary bones, heal their wounded and bury their dead before they head off to Russia, where they will do it all over again...
- Saturday, September 12, 2020
Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale takes a look over the qualifying session for the Tuscan GP at Mugello
Ambient 28.1° Track 43.5° Humidity 41.7% Wind 3.8 m/s
A shockingly blue sky edged by haze dominated a hot and windy day at Mugello, the kind of day that featured in movies and was promised by ads in the famed Tuscan countryside, as the imagination ran riot with drivers feasting on truffles and glorious spreads of salumeria and insalata gracing the paddock for all the teams to enjoy... Of course, at Ferrari's biggest celebration race, which was never going to be the success they wanted given their current troubles, it seemed perfectly natural that their now rival, Racing Point (soon to be Aston Martin) most naturally announced that they were booting their solid veteran driver Sergio Perez for outgoing Ferrari 4 time world champ and increasing disappointment (from the team's point of view) Sebastian Vettel. Though said cause of disappointment is open for rather vigorous debate....
The aesthetic delights of the track notwithstanding, there is more than a bit of concern that the old school nature of the track will put a premium on track position with little to no passing save in the pits, with again the one stop being the favored strategy but considered less likely to be possible given the high tyre wear drivers were encountering. Of course the pit exit being directly at the apex of turn 1 does promise some excitement, as adequately demonstrated by a lovely contretemps between Raikkonen on a hot lap and Perez exiting the pits yesterday in FP2. Two red flags during that session in fact, one for that incident and the other for Norris, who got a bit too much in the gravel and said hello to the wall as a result. So for those who enjoyed the standing restart of Monza, perhaps there will be a few of those on the morrow to liven things up a bit.
In terms of FP3, Verstappen seemed to be there or thereabouts with Mercedes, and Stroll, remarkably the ONLY Racing Point driver with the huge new update package, looking quick, whilst Russell missed the whole session with a brake issue. AS the start of the session crept ever closer, it was announced that there would be track limits after all, at T14, where one was now required to keep at least one wheel on the red and white kerb, whereas previously the drivers had free reign...
Green Light!! Russell was first out of the gate, no surprise really since he missed all of FP3 with a brake-by-wire issue and his teammate, Latifi was not far behind him. 15 minutes left and well into their laps and no one else had come out to play so it was a straight intramural battle. And quelle surprise, it was Latifi to the top by a tenth... AS he rolled onto his cool down lap, Lance Stroll was out followed by Raikkonen and Giovinazzi, with Perez the other piece of bread in that sandwich. McLaren and Mercedes were next, then Verstappen and Kvyat as the remainder looked to be waiting a bit longer before getting their velocity on. To the top went Stroll, all purples as the Mercedes, Lewis first this time, got their day underway.
First sector to Hamilton but second and third to Bottas and with that a miniscule margin for the Finn, P1 by the staggeringly small 0.029 seconds. Norris was bogged down amongst the Alfas and for Max it was the relatively encouraging gap of just 0.5 seconds to the Mercedes ahead. Perez, Kvyat and Sainz rocked up behind Stroll in P4 as the remainder of the runners were out, notably Renault and Albon along with the Ferarris...
Ocon was across the line just behind Sainz, whilst it was Albon up to P6, still far off his teammate by 0.7 seconds. Ricciardo nicked Ocon by a tenth for the last points paying position whilst Leclerc bopped up to 7th and Vettel wound up P13, which became P14 when Latifi, having had a second go, managed to best the Ferrari driver by 0.02 seconds.
As the field retired to make their last minute adjustments in an attempt to reach the glories of Q2, it was Gasly, Raikkonen, Russell, Grosjean and Magnussen on the outside looking in, with Norris very much in the hotseat as the teams began to roll out for the finale of Q1.
Perez was first up, well on his own, then Russell led the main train followed by Magnussen, Ocon and Grosjean. Raikkonen, Gasly, Giovinazzi and Latifi were the next quartet up as Perez managed to nick Stroll for P4 by a tenth.
Ricciardo was next up, then Sainz, Albon Vetlle Norris Leclerc and Kvyat, with Hamilton having snuck out as well. Russell was on a good lap but then went wide, dooming his chances. Behind, all the drivers looked to be improving, and it was Russell to P12, Magnussen out then Raikkonen went to P9 as Vettel was pushed out. Grosjean nocked P10 as Ocon went P6 with Ricciardo behind. That put Russell out and then Albon improved to P4, well done. Leclerc then went P6 with Stroll behind which dropped Ocon to P8 while Norris and Kvyat both hit the 0.2 second gap between the Renault drivers thus dropping Ricciardo to P11. This also dropped Gasly out and left Vettel in P15 by just half a tenth.
Thus it was that Gasly, Giovinazzi, Russell, Latifi and Magnussen were off in search of some Bistecca Florentine as the rest turned it around for the rigours of Q2. Bit of a kerfuffle as both Alfas apparently jumped the hapless Grosjean as he attempted to line up a gap for his final go and he was not a happy bunny on the radio afterwards...
Q2 opened with Hamilton leading Bottas, again, right out of the gate with a trio of Stroll, Verstappen, and Leclerc. Verstappen overtook the Racing Point by time they got to turn 3, and as that drama unfolded, it was Perez, Ocon and Albon as Ocon looked to be a bit in a hurry, overtaking all the way past Vettel to hit a gap behind Stroll as they got to the end of the lap.
Bang! Hamilton was off after nearly coming to a stop and the battle was joined. Sector 1 went to Hamilton but this time, sector 2 as well whilst it was Verstappen stealing a march and nabbing sector 3. This time Lewis held the upper hand by the vanishingly small 0.013 seconds on a 1:15.309 whilst Verstappen rocked up just 0.162 seconds off Bottas. Albon was in for P4 whilst Ricciardo this time edged his teammate by 0.2 seconds with Stroll followed by Leclerc sandwiched in between. Perez and Norris nabbed the last 2 transfer spots and as they retired to make their last, desperate refinements for their last shot to make the hallowed grounds of Q3.
Thus it was Kvyat, Sainz, Vettel, Grosjean and Raikkonen with it all to do as Sainz was on the radio complaining about management, presumably meaning traffic. All the drivers elected to use Softs so there was to be no messing about with fiddly tyre strategies on Sunday then....
Perez led Stroll out of the gate for the final tilt, then 20 seconds later, out came Vettel leading Leclerc. Raikkonen and Norris made an odd couple followed by the trio of Sainz, Ocon and Grosjean. Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Albon and Ricciardo all elected to sit it out as Perez failed to improve as he hit the line. Leclerc was making no progress, but Ocon leaped up to P7 as Norris confirmed his P10 with just his teammate, Sainz left on track and it was Sainz, doing the job and sticking the knife in deep, deep sixing his teammate and making the jump to Q3.
Thus it was that Norris, Kvyat, Raikkonen, Vettel and Grosjean were done for the day, off in search of a negroni to ease the pain as the rest turned it around for the ultimate palmares of Q3.
Stroll and Sainz were first out of the gate in Q3, followed by the Mercedes of Hamilton and Bottas. Verstappen and Albon were next to make their appearance, then the solo Ferrari, Leclerc, followed by Ricciardo. And that was it, the track stayed quiet as they got themselves underway.
The battle of the bankers again fell to the favor of Hamilton, with a 1:15.144 and 0.059 seconds up on Bottas, Verstappen was 0.4 seconds back in P3 and then Albon, another 0.4 seconds off. Stroll was best of the rest this time round, then Ricciardo, Leclerc and Sainz. Perez and Ocon, with just a single new set of Softs decide to bet it all on a single run...
Perez hit the gap as the rest of the teams were turning it around for their final shot at all the marbles, and after a serene and unhurried outlap he rocked up to P5 putting the rest of the midfielders down a step and leaving them all just that much more to do.
Hamilton led the way into the finale, followed by Leclerc and Verstappen before Bottas moseyed on along. Albon's car was up on the jacks as Sainz, Ocon and Stroll filtered onto track, then Ricciardo, who lost the rear on his first go according to his radio, so had room to improve, and Albon, issue sorted, was the lanterne rouge as the last laps got underway.
It was not the best of runs for Hamilton, and then Ocon brought out the yellows early in the lap and pretty much hanging Sainz, Bottas, Stroll Ricciardo and Albon out to dry, losing the rear and any chance he had at starting above P10. Leclerc, ahead of the fuss did manage to improve and knocked Perez out of P5 and so it was Stroll, Ricciardo, Sainz and Ocon behind with Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen and Albon on the first two rows.
Bitter disappointment for Valterri as he felt that he did have it in him to have improved so once again it will be very much down to the start and he will certainly want to make amends for his rather disastrous start last week, but another front row lockout for the team so job done. Naturally, his disastrous start last week will also be on his mind so....Good day for Red Bull, locking out row 2 of the grid and Max, in particular, looking like he may be able to shadow the Mercs a bit more effectively at this track. Granted his rivals behind being torpedoed by the yellows, Leclerc absolutely made the most of his moment, and that sets up quite the obstacle for the drivers behind, with better race pace and desperately impatient to get by and decidedly gives the Ferrari fans a bit of something to cheer for. Stroll behind Perez is its own mini drama and Ricciardo very much appeared to have P5 on his mind so there's no dearth of opportunity to be made up for when the lights go out.
An almost complete lack of data by the teams means that although they will all WANT to run one stops, whether or not they can won't really be answered until the blisters appear. If Verstappen is able to get amongst the Mercs at the start and really push them then it will be fascinating to see how the strategy plays out, especially if Albon can stay in touch and play a proper role in Red Bull's strategy. And as usual the midfield is pickup sticks, but in general during races both Renault and McLaren have had an advantage over Racing Point when tyres are being tested but are starting behind them which sets up the possibility of some unusual strategic moves, whilst the runners behind them likely starting on more durable tyres also sets up some interesting (unless you're in charge of strategy tomorrow) complications for the race...
- Sunday, September 06, 2020
Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale gives us a rundown of the events that unfolded on race day at the 2020 Italian GP.
Ambient 27.4° Track 43.9° Humidity 40.8% Wind 0.9 m/s
Hazy skies and sweltering heat hammered the grid as the teams got themselves sorted out, qualifying regrets and race hopes on full display as the massive hive of activity on the grid wrapped itself into a frenzy. The big news in some ways is the departure of the Williams family, at their last race running the team, having brought out the typical retrospectives and general benedictions. Also in the big news is the name change for Renault, now to become Alpine in 2021, which was apparently a surprise to the current team principal as he was still denying it less than 24 hours before it became a reality. Of course, sometimes one supposes they know things and can't comment, but regardless, not a good look for Abiteboul as the odd rumour about their continuance in the sport still pop up from time to time.
AS to the race, well, barring the malign intervention of the racing gods, it's between Bottas and Hamilton for the win, and the Finn's best chance to have a go will certainly be at the start and in the first couple of laps. If Lewis gets clear of DRS before it is enabled then it will likely be a long and boring ride at the front. Happily enough, with Sainz in 3rd, Perez in 4th and Verstappen in 5th there will be plenty of action to entertain the masses. One stop is the way to go, with the optimal lap predicted to be around lap 24, though Bottas went long last year and almost won the race. Kvyat on the Hards in P11 will be a problem and Vettel as well, with the rest from P14 down on the Medium. This means Leclerc and Ocon on the Softs will have a job to do to get round the Alpha Tauri driver...
Lights Out!!!! Great Start by Hamilton, but it was Sainz, getting towed ahead of Bottas and nicking P2 into the first turn. Bottas in fact was forced to defend from Norris and barely held on and then into the 2nd Lesmos he went wide after Norris got him going round the outside into the second chicane. Verstappen, too, had a terrible start and by the end of the first lap he had dropped down to P8, whilst Ricciardo was up to P5, around Bottas thanks to his loss of momentum exiting the Lesmos and then it was DRS all the way down, even though DRS had yet to be enabled.
It was not just Verstappen, Albon in the other Red Bull had dropped like a stone down to P15 and it was Ocon, having done the job and bopped up to P9, getting round Kvyat and Gasly to put himself onto the top runners in the midfield. Gasly and Albon had a bit of contact at the start which sent Alex straight on at the first chicane, and Bottas, after suspecting a puncture on the first lap, was told his pressures were OK and the recovery drive was on for the Mercedes driver.
By lap 6 Lewis had rolled out a 3 second lead over Sainz, and the battle looked to be between Ricciardo and Perez for P4, with the Renault inside DRS on the Racing Point, and just behind, Verstappen was lining up Bottas to have a go as well. Vettel had a brake fail and went straight on, his day, perhaps mercifully, over quite early. He reported a brake line explosion and no brake pedal and he limped it round the track to retire the car, although he did demolish one of the styrofoam barriers at the first turn rather spectacularly.
Albon got dinged for not leaving a car's width, a time penalty after squeezing Grosjean on approach to the first turn and Magnussen had some kind of off that brought an extended yellow in the first sector that put him 30 seconds back of the rest of the field. But not spectacular enough to make the replays one presumes as it got nary a mention.
By lap 11 Bottas had collected himself and was now on the gearbox of Ricciardo, who himself was seesawing in and out of DRS on Perez ahead. Norris was the one responsible for the train, as he was struggling a bit with his rear tyres and it was backing up the rest to Verstappen in P7. Stroll was the next conductor in P8, backing them up to P12 as Ocon in P8 continued to look for a way around the Racing Point driver.
Lap 14 and Albon was announced as having floor damage, not making his life any easier. Hamilton was short shifting to help preserve the rear left, but was told it would have a negative effect on the PU so he should think carefully about using that on the regular. 2 laps on and Verstappen looked to be making a move, but he was unable to make much of an impression in the DRS zone, to his bitter amusement, whilst Bottas was beginning to struggle with his PU temps from being stuck in the unexpected traffic, which has long been a bit of an Achilles heel for the Mercedes.
Lap 18 and Albon, after a bit of a battle took P13 away from the sole remaining Ferrari in the race and in came Leclerc, off went the Softs and out on the Hards he went, P17 and a lot of racing left to do. Also in were Raikkonen and Latifi and then, lap 20, Kmag pulled off the circuit as he radioed in something broke on his car and out came the Safety Car, as there was some oil on track and his car needed recovery. Hamilton took on tyres, but the rest stayed out, remarkably, save Giovinazzi. Lewis was out on the Medium and as it turned out, they closed the pitlane entry to recover Magnussen's car. Potential oopsies there.
That stop handed Lewis an extra 10 seconds, but it was perhaps all for nought as he and Giovinazzi were announced as being under investigation for entering the pitlane while it was closed... Oooohh the racing gods are playing with Merc for sport today....
Lap 23 and they opened the pitlane and madness ensued. Bottas jumped Perez and Ricciardo in the pits and having pitted earlier, Gasly Giovinazzi, Lerclerc and Raikkonen were legit P3-P7 at least until the race restart, when Latifi got hammered and dropped like a stone. Ocon, now behind Verstappen was under serious attack by Kvyat and then bang, lap 25 a huge off for Leclerc at Parabolica, hard into the barriers after losing the rear and here came the Safety Car again. Giovinazzi got dinged with a 10 second stop and go and looking at the running order, it was Hamilton, likely due the same penalty as Giovinazzi, then Stroll who had yet to stop, followed by Gasly, Raikkonen, Giovinazzi Sainz, Norris, Bottas, Latifi and Ricciardo rounding out the top 10. Hamilton's race engineer thought it likely they, too, would get a penalty and as the field lumbered around the circuit, the red flag was thrown and one by one all the cars rolled into the pits, as it was not just a car recovery, but barrier repair as well that was now on the menu...
This turned out to be a blessing for Stroll, who was now going to get an entirely free pitstop and get the restart in P2, which would within 3 laps would become P1 because Hamilton, too, got dinged for a 10 second stop go for entering the pitlane while it was closed... The red flag also gave the stewards an opportunity to catch up on business, and one of the first things they did was look at Norris, driving slowly in the pitlane, ostensibly to create a gap for the double stack, but nonetheless holding up Perez behind him as a chef's kiss. Toto Wolff was not exactly pleased at this point, since there was not necessarily an easy way for the driver to know if the pits were closed, yet, magically, every other team managed to not pit their driver illegally, save Alfa Romeo and Giovinazzi.
Taking advantage of the ability to work on the cars, Mercedes was going full on nuts to try and sort out Bottas' cooling, whilst Lewis was off to have a word with the stewards, presumably to complain about the signage, which, on a personal note, he's obviously never driven through New Jersey if he thinks that's bad. Or maybe just the restroom? A bit of exciting news was that it will be a standing start, which should enliven things a bit.
New tyres for all, natch, with Raikkonen, Giovinazzi and Ocon on Softs, as the cars made their way round on the 2nd formation lap. Mediums for the rest, save Hamilton, Albon and Grosjean on Hards. Onto the grid they rolled and up came the lights.
Great start by Hamilton with Gasly taking P2 and Raikkonen P3 as Stroll was proper shuffled down the order and then went straight on rather dramatically at the second chicane, though he managed to rejoin without further loss of pace. Verstappen was down to P14 as Ocon was up to P10 and right behind Ricciardo. Hamilton was in at the end of the lap and Stroll had managed to stop the bleeding at P5, as Sainz nicked P4 from him.
This left Gasly in the lead, being chased by Raikkonen. Giovinazzi in P3, due to have a penalty meant that Sainz was losing time and as the Alfa was in the following lap he had created a 2 second buffer for his teammate. Hamilton was out, 16 seconds behind Albon in P16 and 22 laps to see how much progress he could make. Annndd that was Verstappen done, in lap 31 and retired for reasons as yet unknown, being vaguely described as PU issues, and apparently present from the restart.
By lap 33 things were beginning to settle, and it was Bottas, in DRS on Norris looking much more racy now that the team had sorted his cooling, and Sainz in DRS on Raikkonen for P2 and a shot at the win. Confirmed that Hamilton saw the stewards by 5 Live as the weirdness continued. Lap 34 and Sainz got the job done, on the outside into T1 and some nice respect from Kimi on the way through the chicane. Sainz was then 4 seconds back of Gasly with 18 laps left in the race...
Stroll was next by Raikkonen and round the outside he went into the second chicane. Norris down the start finish continued to drop Kimi down the order, and at the front, Sainz was, in workmanlike fashion, chipping away at Gasly's lead by tenths here and there. Lap 37 and Bottas was by Raikkonen, leaving the pair of Renault's next up to have their way with the basically defenseless Alfa. Lap 39 and Hamilton, behind Albon, was unable to make any kind of impression, at least until Albon made a mistake and opened the door.
Ocon was stuck behind Kimi but ahead, Ricciardo had just about caught up to Bottas, who was lingering behind Norris, their lack of straightline speed doing them no favours as they attempted to carve their way through the traffic, being fastest across the whole lap being not necessarily the most important thing at this track. Lap 43 and Ocon got the job done, into the second chicane, but with a bit of wing damage from some earlier efforts at getting round the Alfa.
At the front, Gasly was slowly losing ground to Sainz, but not slowly enough for the liking of the Spaniard, 1.8 seconds back and 7 laps to go... Hamilton was up to P11 and was in DRS of Perez, who was in the process of getting round Raikkonen. Job done for the Racing Point and it wasn't much of an effort for Hamilton to follow him into the points, but the question of how much farther he would go with Perez in front of him was an open question.
1.3 seconds at the front as lap 47 kicked off with Kvyat slowly catching up Ocon for P7 as the other battle that looked to be on the way. 2 laps later and it was just over a second as there were just hundredths between the laptimes of Sainz and Gasly. Lap 50 and Hamilton got the job done on Perez as Gasly was continuing to keep the McLaren of Sainz at bay. Sainz was told to try and use the SOC (state of charge switch, i.e. extra battery) to try and get into DRS on Gasly. Lap 51 and the gap continued to wobble between 1-1.5 seconds at the front. Hamilton wasted little time with Kvyat and was chasing Ocon for P7.
Into the last lap and Sainz was in DRS, gap down to 0.3 seconds as the went down the front straight. Flashing out into Gasly's mirrors, Sainz was not quite able to close the gap and as they thundered down to the Ascari chicane it was the last toss for Sainz, but just not quite enough and out of the Parabolica, it was Gasly with the advantage and winning the race, the first non-Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull winner since Australia 2013 when Kimi Raikkonen took the top step in a Lotus no less. Though the obvious comparison would be Vettel for Minardi in 2008, of course. First French winner since Panis in '96 no less. The only real shame is that as an Italian team, bit of a shame the Italians weren't on hand to give him a proper show from the stands...
Utter heartbreak for Sainz, who looked dead on to win till the red flag and Giovinazzi staying out that extra lap, with Norris up for P2, no less. Still, in the fullness of time P2 in this era ain't bad and his second podium with a midfield team not to be sneezed at. P4 for Norris and a ridiculous haul of points for McLaren to ease the pain for the team, who defo will not be wanting to play the woulda coulda shoulda game.
P3 for Stroll was a happy enough result for Racing Point, but given his situation it really does seem that it was a lost win rather than a gained podium, especially taking into account the disaster of a pitstop for Perz that put him here. But given their general underperformance in races they'll certainly take what they can get, even with Perez just scoring the final championship point.
Bottas in P5 more than a bit of a disappointment, though his cooling issues up till the red flag played more than a small part in his inability to recover after his awful start. And Hamilton did manage to get Ocon on the last lap for P7 which is only one place short of what they thought he could achieve, along with the point for fastest lap. But the fact remains, the team told him to box and threw away another certain win, albeit to the delight of, well, pretty much everyone as even for Hamilton and Mercedes fans it was nice to see a completely different podium and remarkably youthful podium.
Bit of a what might have been for Renault, Ricciardo was in 5th till the silliness kicked off, and wound up 6th so not last week but not bad, and Ocon up to 8th (almost 7th) but on team radio Ocon felt that there was a missed opportunity for the team and the team were quite eager to not discuss it on the radio...Still, Ricciardo properly passed a Mercedes in race conditions and, well, mysteries abound in F1 one supposes.
P11 for Williams' last shout, for Latifi no less, which means he beat Russell for the first time since he joined the team and P12 for Grosjean, not a terrible result for the HAAS team and, well, tears for the rest, especially for Red Bull, with Verstappen's retirement the last thing he needed in the WDC chase.
Annndd we get to do it all again next week, at Mugello, one of the non-traditional circuits added to the calendar. Having noped out at Monza, it will be a bit harder for Ferrari to hide the damage as they are running out of excuses, but the fact that the track will be new to all the teams should liven things up a bit, and, naturalement, Mercedes and Red Bull will both be very much about redemption which should make things worth watching all by itself, never mind the midfield teams now being all full of piss and vinegar after taking it to the big boys...