Can anything stop Max Verstappen? At the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, the champion-elect defied a grid penalty to take the win ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, in spite of an anticlimactic finish under the safety car.
11 wins in 16 rounds, and at Monza this weekend Max Verstappen made it five in a row. Qualifying on Saturday saw almost half the grid reprimanded for various grid penalties, including both Red Bulls, Lewis Hamilton, Yuki Tsunoda and Carlos Sainz sent to the back, while Valtteri Bottas’ luck in the second half of the season continued to wither away as he lost 15 places. This left Charles Leclerc almost the anointed pole-sitter, a role he gallantly fulfilled, while McLaren sought to replicate last year’s race opening by locking out the second row, both Lando Norris and Daniel Riccardo impressing in qualifying pace.
An early marker by Verstappen saw him barge four places forward in the very first lap, doing away with his grid penalty as quickly as possible. In response to the encroaching Dutchman, Ferrari gambled on an early VSC to move to a two stop strategy and pitted Charles Leclerc, yet the lethal combo of RB18 and its driver remained a bridge too far, as Leclerc’s second stop left him 20 seconds behind, a surely insurmountable gap. Debate has certainly raged, and will continue to do so, over the safety car controversy that finished this race, prompted by a mechanical failure from Daniel Riccardo’s McLaren, that muted the close of the race and led to a slow procession of cars over the chequered flag. Once again, the stewardship of Formula 1 races by the FIA has become the greatest takeaway of the whole weekend, much the status quo of races of the last two seasons, Lewis Hamilton noting the similarities of this Sunday to his own traumatic experience in Abu Dhabi last year.
But enough about the rules. As so often this season, it was in the midfield that the most battling racing was to be had, the McLarens scrapping with Pierre Gasly, Fernando Alonso and the debuting and impressive Nyck De Vries throughout. A special mention must be made to Carlos Sainz, who delivered one of his best ever drives in Formula 1 as he manoeuvred through the field to the very precipice of a podium finish. George Russell was the man who held him just off that precipice, once again driving exceptionally consistently and giving the impression of a seasoned veteran in his first year at Mercedes. With the championship battle all but wrapped up for 2022, a resurgent Mercedes in 2023 could do worse than bank on George over Hamilton.
An unfortunate three week break ends the post-summer break triple header, as Formula 1 decamps to Singapore in three weeks’ time.
1 Max Verstappen, Red Bull 2 Charles Leclerc, Ferrari + 2.446 3 George Russell, Mercedes + 3.405 4 Carlos Sainz, Ferrari + 5.061 5 Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes + 5.380 6 Sergio Perez, Red Bull + 6.091 7 Lando Norris, McLaren + 6.207 8 Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri + 6.396 9 Nyck de Vries, Williams + 7.122 10 Guanyu Zhou, Alfa Romeo Racing + 7.910 11 Esteban Ocon, Alpine + 8.323 12 Mick Schumacher, Haas + 8.549 13 Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo Racing + 1 lap 14 Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri + 1 lap 15 Nicholas Latifi, Williams + 1 lap 16 Kevin Magnussen, Haas + 1 lap
Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) Fernando Alonso (Alpine) Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin)