Boring Sunday afternoons do not seem to exist in the 2021 Formula 1 season. Every Grand Prix weekend is good for a new plot twist and has fans on the edge of their seats. In the Italian tombola, McLaren floated to the top and Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen jointly found their Waterloo. Motorsport.com traditionally looks back with the main winners and losers.
Italy GP winners
Finally it was time for another shoey and this time one on the highest step of the podium. The first months at McLaren have not been easy for Daniel Ricciardo, but the summer break has done him good, he says. In Monza, this has led to a rare triumph. With something big up for grabs for McLaren for the first time in years, it’s not Lando Norris but Ricciardo who is the man at the front. It’s a bit harsh for the young Brit who has been outperforming all year, though Ricciardo reacts with a wink: “What good is all those third, fourth and fifth places? I’ve just been sandbagging all year and now I’m doing it right the first time.” It should be clear: the smile is back with the man from Perth and that is good to see. Apart from that, he also just earned the past weekend. On Saturday he drove neatly from five to three and a day later the start was sublime again. He immediately took the reins and did not flinch under pressure from Max Verstappen. Of course the circumstances have helped, but you have to be there to strike. All in all, a tight win.
In addition to Ricciardo’s success, this is also the success of McLaren as a whole. It has only been four years since the team finished penultimate among the constructors. It was with Honda engines (aka GP2 engines), but the fact that things didn’t crescendo with Renault a year later either showed that there was a lot more wrong in Woking. McLaren was errant and in dire need of guidance. That guidance is now there. Zak Brown has realized that he has to outsource things and that has been good for the formation. With Andreas Seidl there is a very skilled team boss at the helm and under James Key the technical department is also properly. Furthermore, the Mercedes engine has proved crucial at Monza. In terms of race pace, McLaren still cannot compete with the two top teams – Verstappen rightly said that on Saturday and also proved on Sunday because the field remained close together – but top speed is an extremely important weapon at Monza. As a result, McLaren headed for the podium under its own steam and, after the incident, the team was allowed to credit the first one-two since Canada 2010. After all the setbacks, Lady Fortuna once played a positive role this weekend, although it is mainly pay for work.
Although his successor George Russell has also done a great job, the last spot in the winners must go to Valtteri Bottas. Normally he only comes to the surface in Russia, but in 2021 he will be in shape two weeks earlier. The Finn has had a tight weekend at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza. The pole lap without a slipstream was impressive, there was nothing to complain about in the sprint race and his catch-up on Sunday was excellent. Of course it helps that he’s in the best car on the field, but you still have to do it. The decisiveness that Bottas sometimes lacks in duels was now visible in the rapid advance. Bottas’ most beautiful momentdid not come during the race, but afterwards. When asked about the incident between Hamilton and Verstappen, he first tried to dodge the question. When the incident was shown on the big screens, his verdict was with a revealing laugh: “That’s unfortunate.” Bottas knows he will be driving for Alfa Romeo next year and thinks’ figure it out’. The next question is whether that attitude will also be visible on the track in the coming weeks.
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Italy GP losers
In a way you can call Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen both losers, although the latter has finished at the bottom. If you had said that to people in a Red Bull shirt beforehand, they would have signed immediately. It is quite simple: Red Bull sees the races in Monza and Sochi as survival. On the other hand, Mercedes has to score correctly in those races. The script was also ready: help Hamilton to win in the sprint race with a team order and score 25 points a day later. With a terrible start on Saturday, Hamilton has however, that is wasted. Whatever we say about the commotion afterwards, Hamilton should never have been in that position. Both men are to blame for the incident itself, although the zero score is more painful for the Brit than for Verstappen. Although the Red Bull driver has a three-place grid penalty, it won’t hurt much if Red Bull gets a new engine in Sochi. It means that one of the two chances to strike on a power circuit has been flushed down the drain for Hamilton. The fact that he came up with reproachful texts afterwards is very understandable given all the emotion, but after Silverstone it is no longer completely credible.
Where Verstappen has scored two points at the end of the stage, Red Bull Racing will not be completely satisfied. Yes, the biggest pain is with Hamilton, but for Red Bull there was so much more possible. Here too, the ideal scenario had already been written out after the sprint race: having a good start, making a gap to the McLarens and then using that as a buffer. After the first meters, that script could go out the window. Not a good start for Verstappen and a former teammate who came alongside. Red Bull’s race pacewas better, but you don’t buy much for that if overtaking turns out not to be feasible. Next up is the manual work to go for an undercut. Everyone should know this, especially the Red Bull tacticians. Instead, they allowed themselves to be surprised and undercut by McLaren. “That was just very bad”, Verstappen judged harshly but rightly. Once the stop followed, a human error right in front cost him his head. We can’t judge too harshly because the same men normally do top-notch work, but the timing was unfortunate. It brought Verstappen close to Hamilton and we all know how that ended. Because Christian Horner bet on damage limitation beforehand, two points is fine, but there could have been more. If ever there was a chance at Monza, it was yesterday.
That opportunity was there last year for the sister team of Red Bull Racing, or AlphaTauri. Pierre Gasly took care of one of the most beautiful victories in recent years, but a repetition of moves has not been possible for a second this weekend. That will be difficult anyway if you are done with both cars after three laps. The weekend actually went from bad to worse for the team from Faenza. Yuki Tsunoda was killed in Q1, but Pierre Gasly was able to keep the honor high on Friday with P6. However, on the opening lap of the sprint race, he made a big mistake. Not so much because he hit the back of Ricciardo, that was especially unfortunate. But because with a front wing at half past six he kept the clapper full down and thereby damaged more than he liked. It started the malaise for Sunday, although AlphaTauristill secretive about the exact issues before the start. In any case, it gave Tsunoda a DNS and Gasly came in after three laps. A disaster weekend in our own country, although that can happen once with a sister team.