Behind the Headlines – Italy – Madness at Monza

Behind The Headlines Features

Pierre Gasly took his maiden Grand Prix win in Monza which was the first time in eight years that neither Mercedes, Ferrari nor Red Bull has won a race. The Frenchman becomes the first driver outside the top three teams to win a race since Kimi Raikkonen in 2013.

Going into Sunday’s race everyone I think was expecting Mercedes to take another easy win at Monza. But the race unravelled specularly for the top three teams, Lewis Hamilton had looked on course for another easy win until the red flag and his pit stop.

The red light came on when the Haas of Kevin Magnussen stopped in the pit lane entry, that caused the pit lane to be closed and the safety car to be deployed. Watching the replay’s, it appears Hamilton looked to follow normal protocol, and pit when the safety car was deployed.

The red light to tell drivers that the pit lane was closed before entering the pits was not in the natural eye line through the Parabolica, the light after that was then after you committed to the pit lane. This was the beginning of a series of events which cost Mercedes and Red Bull victory.

It is unusual to see a pit lane be closed but there was nothing the stewards could have done but give Hamilton and Magnussen a ten-second stop and go, which is about a half a minute total loss, including navigating the pit lane at 50mph

Ferrari were never going to be in contention for the win regardless of what happened to Red Bull and Mercedes were doing. The Scuderia had their worst race at Monza since 1998, which also was a double retirement. The team failed to qualify in the top ten with Sebastian Vettel seventeenth the worst qualifying at Monza since 1964 for Ferrari.

The race restarted on lap 22 when Charles Leclerc crashed heavily following a mistake through the Parabolica, that lead to the red flag, Vettel had already retired. The timing of the red flag and could have not been better for Gasly, this gave him the effect free air as Hamilton was awarded a penalty for pitting.

We then saw the first ever standing restart of a Grand Prix, Gasly on pole ahead of Lance Stroll and Hamilton, the six times champion wasn’t in the mix as he needed to serve the stop-go penalty in three laps. This is where Valtteri Bottas?

Hamilton then dropped to seventeenth but recovered ten places over the remaining twenty-four laps. Bottas was running behind in fourth. There will be questions about whether the Finn has done enough to capitalise and come back into the championship.

A factor in this could have been the fact that we have seen this season that Mercedes has been struggling in the dirty air, and these cars don’t react well in dirty air. Mercedes as a front running car has naturally they go for a set up not designed for overtaking.

This was the first race where we saw teams needing to fix to one engine mode for the race, whether that hampered Mercedes ability to fight through the field we don’t know that something we will need to watch to conclude later in the season.

In the closing stages, the race became a battle between the midfield teams not for best of the rest but the race win. Carlos Sainz had also found himself running well throughout the weekend and was comfortably running second in the early phases.

Sainz believes that he would have needed one more lap to catch leader Gasly and later acknowledged his team told him just in time about the pit lane closure which saw Hamilton receive his costly penalty. Also, he was lucky as he reviled, he almost followed Hamilton into the pits.

It’s believable that he could have taken McLaren’s first win since Brazil 2012, but the Spaniard feels he could have got more. He had the net lead going into the restart after Hamilton’s penalty, but pitting before Leclerc’s crash left him sixth on the grid for the second start.

The second start was the first time under the new regulations that there is an option to start the race from the grid following a red flag, which I say worked as it created some great racing with the top teams out of contention.

In the last decade, there have only been two freak results, Pastor Maldonado winning in 2012 and Gasly’s win. Although Lotus (Renault) have taken victories they had a car capable of winning in 2012, and that 2013 win could have been expected.

After the race, Gasly said he got a text from Anthoine Hurbert ahead of Spa last year saying “prove them wrong.” Gasly I think has but it’s a reminder of the torrid twelve months he has had of lows following Hurbert’s fatal crash, the podium at Interlagos was where you could say Gasly returned to the form we saw in 2018.

The race at Monza is one which Liberty Media wants to see more of under the 2022 regulations. In the first eight races of this season, we have seen how competitive the midfield has become this year, it was a feeling of change to see that battle take centre stage.

This will reopen the debate about whether qualifying races should be introduced, in his post-race de-brief Ross Brawn said that “We believe that yesterday’s race showed the excitement a mixed-up pack can deliver and with next year’s cars remaining the same as this year — our fans could be treated to the similar drama we saw this weekend at Monza.”

“A reverse-grid sprint race, teams will set their cars up differently. Right now, Mercedes set their cars up to achieve the fastest lap and then to control the race from the front. We will continue to evaluate new formats to improve the show but always maintaining the DNA of Formula One.”

I don’t think we have had a race where you didn’t know who was going to win halfway through the race. If it would have been Gasly, Sainz or Lance Stroll, it would have been incredible, but you have to believe that the Alpha Tauri was slower at that phase of the race.

As we head to Mugello this weekend the events of Monza will add an extra excitement. The questions will be was this a one off or can the midfield teams continue to cause headlines and shock results? McLaren, I think maybe able to if we get another perfect storm.

You could hear during the closing stages passionate exchanges between McLaren and Sainz about going for the win. Sainz we know is going to Ferrari, and that could have seen wild celebrations as an incoming Ferrari driver.

The aim of the 2022 regulations is to shake up the sport, could the race at Monza be the beginning of a new era of unpredictability. As we look into the transition period between young/next generation, we are looking a one of the most interesting midfield battles in years.

The question will be can they close that gap in a ‘normal’ scenario to Red Bull and Mercedes…

Jack

Jack is responsible for the day-to-day running of Formula One Vault. He brings you all the brilliant content. Has an obsession with all things Formula One and anything with an engine.