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6 Sept 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

Prelude

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...

Summary

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...


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