The Italian Grand Prix started with one of the most confusing grids we’ve seen (well, at least since Spa two races ago) thanks to a slew of engine penalties. Still, it didn’t take long for reigning champion Max Verstappen to make his presence known.
By lap 5, he had worked his way from P7 to P2, but there was still a lot of racing left to go.
Once we finally had the official grid (several hours after qualifying) it seemed like that’d be in the cards.
A virtual safety car for what looked like a Sebastian Vettel engine failure. Leclerc pitted, while Verstappen stayed out to maintain track position.
From there Max took part off down the road and put in about 26 laps on his soft tires.
The Safety Car Ending Nobody Wanted
A late safety car looked primed to shake things up with all of the leaders diving in for free pit stops, but instead, the race ended under a safety car.
Which shouldn’t happen! Ever!
NASCAR has it right with overtime. I love a green-white-checker finish and F1 fans would too. (I know white flags in F1 don’t mean the same as they do in F1, but you get the point).
Ferrari’s two-stop strategy proved to not be the right one, though had the race restarted after the late safety car, Charles Leclerc would’ve had a real chance at winning.
Short of throwing marbles on the track, there was nothing they could do to catch Verstappen.
I think they went with the right strategy. They had to try doing whatever Red Bull didn’t. The RB18 is just on another planet right now, and most weekends Ferrari is going to need some luck on their side to beat it.
Mathematically speaking, Max can lock up the drivers’ championship at the next race in Singapore.
Perhaps unsurprisingly Red Bull, Mercedes, and Ferrari occupied the top 6 spots, but there were still some interesting storylines down the running order.
Russell Is Due
Even when Mercedes’ W13 has been at its lost unwieldy, George Russell has kept it in the top 5 more often than not.
Russell drove a great opening stint on the soft tires, and after putting for mediums he slotted back into P4.
The team is starting to get a hold on it now, and Russell is turning in consistent performance on both Saturday and Sunday.
It’s just a matter of time before he and Mercedes get a bounce for their first win of the season (which is a wild thing to be saying in September).
Lewis Hamilton has seen a huge jump in performance over the last few months compared to where he was in, oh, say Saudi Arabia, but I’d pick Russel to be the one who gets the Silver Arrows back on the top step.
Also, selfishly, I just want to see the preseason prediction I made about Russell getting his first win after the summer break come to fruition.
Sure, Alfa Romeo in P6 (I picked the wrong Alfa/Alpha) and no one has said Mercedes made the wrong choice with Russell, but everything else there is on the money.
Aston Martin Continues To Let Down
Sebastian Vettel had an unfortunate end to his final European race, retiring with a mechanical issue.
Teammate Lance Stroll retired later on in the race as well making it a double-DNF for Aston Martin.
This seems to happen all too often in F1. One of the greats ends up having to call it quits in a stellar career with a rough season and an underperforming team.
Vettel has shown flashes of his unquestioned ability (he was P12 in the driver standings going into the race at Monza), but more often than not, the AMR22 has let him down.
It’s hard to imagine the situation being too much better for Fernando Alonso next year. It’s tough to imagine his career going much longer than his multi-year deal with Aston Martin, and his second retirement may wind up like his first one from McLaren in 2018. A legendary driver stuck in an underwhelming car.
But speaking of McLaren…
McLaren Heartbreak At Monza
McLaren had a solid weekend at the same track where they had a 1-2 finish a year ago.
Norris had a slow stop that saw him stranded in the pits for just over 5.1 seconds, which dropped him behind Ricciardo,
Points finishes looked to be in the cards for both drivers, but then Ricciardo suffered a mechanical failure and got stranded on track, which brought out the late safety car.
It was a huge letdown for what could’ve been a race that helped them in their battle with Alpine for P4 in the constructor standings.
Alpine had a rough day with Esteban Ocon finishing out of the points and Fernando Alonso DNFing thanks to a mechanical issue.
The race for P4 has gotten tighter with that big weekend for McLaren. Expect that to be one of the best constructor battles for the rest of the season.
A Quick Tip O’ The Cap To Nyck De Vries
It was an impressive weekend for Nyck De Vries.
He got called into to sub for Alex Albon who is out with appendicitis, and only had one practice session to come to grips with the Williams. De Vries made good use of that session because he put the car safely into Q2 and thanks to the deluge of penalties, wound up with a top 10 start.
The Dutchman finished in the points with a stellar P9 and was even named Driver of the Day. A hell of a race overall.
The 2021 Formula E champ has been snubbed over the years despite a promoting junior career that included an F2 title.
His performance at Monza — one on which he outperformed teammate Nicholas Latifi, whose seat is blistering hot right now — should have caught Williams’ attention if they’re looking to make a change for next year.
Full finishing order:
Formula 1 now has two weekends off before they reconvene for a night race in Singapore.
Follow on Twitter: @Matt_Reigle