I literally don’t know where to begin. After almost giving up on the idea last week that I would ever truly enjoy F1, today was a rollercoaster of emotions. Race day started with some useful facts (as always) from the commentators telling us that the average speed around this track is about 160mph including the chicanes. I couldn’t even process that.
Then we experienced the most exciting start of a race since the first GP of the season. Hamilton held 1st, Bottas was slipping down the grid because of a bad start which he tried to blame on a puncture (only to have his team confirm that it was just, in fact, a bad start) and McLaren were 2nd and 3rd for a short time which was just surreal to watch. Carlos Sainz had qualified in 3rdwhich already gave McLaren a good shot, and Norris had qualified in 6th but zipped into the top 3 with his teammate. This would potentially be the first time since 2014 that there were two McLaren cars in the top 3. Verstappen on the other hand missed his chance for a good start and dropped to 7th.
Sebastian Vettel started in 17th and by lap 6 he hadn’t gained a single place. This was only worsened by his brake line exploding (yes, we did see his brakes on fire) and so he had to end his Italian GP early. There was so much going on and I wasso busy trying to note everything down for this blog, that I missed the turn 1 incident between Albon and Grosjean, which later cost Albon a 5 second penalty. My thoughts on this: I didn’t even know that it’s an official rule to leave a car width of space for another driver. Also, does the time penalty get added during the race or afterwards?
Speaking of rules, today was the first race that the new engine mapping regulations were in place and I really wonder how much this affected the results. The race was so eventful that the commentators didn’t really have time to focus on engine mapping, but they did talk an awful lot about aerodynamics today, due to both Mercedes cars being caught in traffic for the first time in a while. It blows my mind that Bottas was struggling (and later Hamilton) because their cars aren’t designed to be amongst other cars in “bad air”, causing Bottas’ engine to almost overheat.
*Geeky side note*
Has anyone ever noticed that the McLaren team in their orange overalls look like Star Wars rebel pilots?
I’m also not sure I was supposed to laugh when Magnussen pulled off the track and said dopily “oh something broke”. I mean… no **** Sherlock. The yellow flag was announced, the safety car was deployed, and this is when the race really hit it’s turning point. Race control made the decision to close the pit lane as Magnussen’s car was being pushed down the length of it by the marshals, but Hamilton and Giovinazzi didn’t spot the signals on track unlike the other drivers. They pulled into the pits and this was to define the Italian GP. We were all on the edge of our seats as we realised what it might mean for Hamilton to receive such a huge penalty (the commentators had suggested 10 seconds). The man who dominates F1 had potentially been taken out of the equation for the battle of 1stplace.
Carlos Sainz was in the lead as the rest of the drivers obeyed the rules, but then we had the busiest pit stop I’ve ever seen as the pits re-opened, which caused Sainz to drop down to 8th. Before this double stacked pit stop things were even looking hopeful for my absolute favourite, Daniel Ricciardo, but he was pushed down to 11th due to traffic (although he finished the race in 6th). Today was the kind of race where absolutely anything was possible and there was no predicting who would win. I was praying for Ricciardo to pull it out of the bag but unfortunately it wasn’t his day.
As we came out of the safety lap the race was being led by Hamilton, followed by Stroll and Gasly. The atmosphere was electric as the drivers were raring to get back on track, but asquickly as they were racing again, they were stopped. Charles LeClerc careered into the barrier with such force that the red flag was signalled. It was such a relief (especially after the Anthoine Hubert anniversary last week) to hear that Charles was ok, but the poor race marshals were nearly wiped out by his car as it was lifted off the track. Both Ferraris were now out of the running for their home race.
Due to the red flag, the drivers were forced to pit and we received information that would shake the world of F1: Giovinazzi and Hamilton will receive a 10 second stop/gopenalty. Of course, Hamilton flew down the pits in a childish strop, highlighted in a comedic way by him manoeuvring his scooter past F1 officials. From what I understand he was trying to debate his penalty because he claims he couldn’t see the track signals for a closed pit lane. Well, I’m sorry Lewis, but as a professional racing driver being paid a hideous amount of money to be trained for this kind of circumstance, you don’t have a leg to stand on. I do agree with him that there should be an additional signal at the entry to the pit lane, which is easier to spot, but that should never have been an excuse for Hamilton. In my opinion he just needed to suck it up like Giovinazzi did and accept he was at fault. Meanwhile the other drivers were enjoying a “free” pit stop as they had 10 minutes of stoppagetime to change tyres and fix cars.
While I sat on the sofa in complete disbelief and excitement, it was lights out again and Hamilton received team orders to sit out his penalty in the pits. Pierre Gasly was now the race leader. It was amazing to be able to sit there and say “Wow, who the heck is going to win this race?” It could be Gasly or Stroll. It could even be Sainz if he drives hard enough. The best part was, we still had roughly half of the race to go, which left our minds running wild at the endless possibilities. See how exciting things are when Mercedes can’t dominate?
I didn’t think it was possible, but we had even more drama as Max Verstappen had to retire. We later learnt that his team had identified an engine issue and wanted him to end the race beforethe engine failed. As Hamilton finished his penalty and came back onto track, the tension and suspense increased tenfold. I think the majority of viewers were probably hoping for a podium without Hamilton just to see who could take his place, but the majority of them also knew that Hamilton’s skill could potentially bring him back up to the top of the race. I didn’t want Mercedes in the top 3 at all but both Bottas and Hamilton put on an almighty show. Although I was admittedly happy to see Hamilton at the bottom, I watched him climb back to 7th place, car by car, and it really did sink in for me how fast he is. It was much more exciting and telling of his abilities to see himspeeding up the ranks, than him starting in 1st and staying in 1stfor every. single. lap. If he had 10 more laps, I think he could have potentially won the race. I really was impressed. Imagine being a consistent midfield driver and seeing Hamilton in your mirrors, a sight you never get to see unless he is lapping you.
At this point I was extremely confused; I didn’t know who I wanted to win and I could not stop smiling. The topic of reverse grids also piqued my interest because that is something I would definitely be on board with to mix things up. If today’s race is anything to go by, Lewis Hamilton would still be a serious competitor/leader, but we would also be able to enjoy and appreciate the other drivers.
To prove my point beautifully, we saw an intense battle between Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly for 1st place, as Bottas lurked in 5th. In the end, Gasly became our glorious winner of the Italian GP, and it was extremely well deserved. After being dropped from Red Bull last year to be replaced by Albon (who is now under-performing) he has more than proved himself a worthy driver. To achieve his first ever F1 victory after his emotional tribute to his best friend last week was absolutely inspiring. Having to return to that track must have been so difficult, and he almost had me in tears when he sat on the podium after the ceremony, reflecting on the moment by himself. That, combined with his reaction over the team radio, showed me how down to earth he is and that means everything in my books. He is now the first French driver to win a GP since 1996, and he also gave a win to the Italians as well (Italy being the home of Alpha Tauri).
Overhanging this phenomenal race, is the sad fact that this would be Claire Williams’ last race as team principal. It was not something which was talked about until the end of the event, but Williams will no longer be a family run team. I honestly had tears in my eyes listening to the radio messages from Russell and Latifi, and seeing Claire choking with emotion in the pit wall. I’m absolutely gutted for her and her family, because the passion she has for that team is inspirational and I would love to lead as she has if I ever had the chance. Her genuine nature is so refreshing, and I think a lot of the teams could learn from her.
Bravo Gasly, and F1 will miss you Claire.
Sophie Middleton @MotorsportSoph