Words by Tony Robertson (Twitter: @TonyRob84).
Welcome back to Overtime Online’s F1 column Life In The Fast Lane.
This week saw the first-ever Mugello Grand Prix and man was this a chaotic race. Although this time it wasn’t necessarily for the actual racing like Monza was.
We were also treated to some more movement on the driver market with one driver confirming a seat for 2021 at the expense of another while Williams shuffled around with their backroom staff going into the weekend.
Now let’s get into the action of round nine of the 2020 Formula One season.
Saturday’s qualifying Lewis Hamilton take his 95th pole in the first-ever Mugello Grand Prix with his teammate Valtteri Bottas once again finding himself in P2 while both Red Bull’s locked out the second row with Charles Leclerc taking a surprise P5 for Ferrari’s 1000th race.
BREAKING: @LewisHamilton takes pole at Mugello! ⏱️
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 12, 2020
Q1 saw Pierre Gasly plummet back down to earth after the atmospheric highs of his race win last week, as he only qualified in P16, joining Alfa’s Antonio Giovinazzi, the Williams of George Russell and Nicholas Latifi and Kevin Magnussen as the first to go.
Despite the announcement of his future laying elsewhere (see more details below) Sebastian Vettel continued to disappoint in qualifying, once again only being able to muster a P14, making Kimi Raikkonen the fastest Ferrari powered car out of those who didn’t progress to Q3.
It also saw a below-par performance for McLaren who had struggled for pace all weekend and subsequently saw Lando Norris only get P11 while his teammate Carlos Sainz squeezed in ahead of him at P10
In Q3 a spin from Renault’s Esteban Ocon prevented anyone from improving on their first lap of the session meaning Bottas had no second chance to overtake Hamilton’s pole lap of 1:15.144. This likely allowed Ferrari to attain a rather fortunate top-five finish in qualifying as many of the cars below may have moved up places at the expense of 22-year-old Leclerc.
Tough times in Tuscany:
Two Italian Grands Prix, two bonkers races and two red flags for the race. The poetry is remarkable.
This race flat-out defied my predictions that it would be a boring affair, though it was certainly not in a way which fans want to see.
Just about the only normal thing about this race was the top two. #LH44 took yet another race win to move himself another step closer to the all-time race wins record and closer to his seventh World Drivers Championship while Bottas came in second once again despite getting the better of Hamilton on lap one causing the Brit to lose his 2020 record of not being overtaken on lap one.Embed from Getty Images
Bottas was very unfortunate to be subject to two red flags today, which ultimately hindered his ability to defend the race lead from Hamilton who was not likely to start badly more than once in a day. Max Verstappen, who sat in third from qualifying, initially also got off to a flyer, finding himself side by side with the blacked-out Mercedes, before a loss of engine power caused him to tumble down the order before even hitting turn one.
Enter turn two: the first incident. Carlos Sainz was the first victim of a collision when he bumped wheels with Sergio Perez, causing him to spin 180 degrees and face the oncoming traffic, clipping Vettels wing in the process.
But further back saw four cars come together and saw two retirees in the form of last years starting Red Bull racing partnership in Verstappen and Gasly. Gasly was unfortunate to be sandwiched in between Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean who left the Frenchman no space to move causing him to hit the front right wheel of Raikkonen who subsequently rear-ended Verstappen and sent him flying into the gravel trap where he failed to escape from. Gasly also hit the sidepod of Grosjean though by that point Gasly’s front left was out of action following the earlier collision.
After the safety car pitted at the end of lap six Bottas took his time on the restart by weaving to get heat into his tyres which caused him to go a bit slower than a typical race leader coming off a safety car. While the front of the pack saw this and waited with eagerness, the back of the pack didn’t catch the memo.
Enter pit straight: the first red flag. The back of the pack experienced a catastrophic pile up which saw four cars retire from the race.
Lap 7 restart at Mugello = carnage 😮 💥
Four drivers = OUT
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 13, 2020
Giovinazzi rear-ended Magnussen which caused the Alfa to smack into Latifi who was trying to overtake but had to brake because he had to stay behind Magnussen since you can’t overtake before you get to the line. This crash meant Sainz couldn’t get out the way and he also added his chassis to the pile smacking into Giovinazzi and Magnussen while doing so.
Following a red flag which caused a standing start like Monza the week before, the race resumed. This gave Hamilton the chance to get one back on his teammate and he did so in turn one and returned to the head of the race. Meanwhile, Alex Albon had a dreadful restart dropping down to P7.
Getting deeper into the Grand Prix Russell was now in P10 for Williams giving them hope of a first point of the season, while Daniel Ricciardo now found himself in a podium position in his Renault also giving hope that the infamous tattoo would be inked on.
However, lap 43 threw a spanner in the works, as Lance Stroll crashed out and into the tyre wall in similar fashion to Leclerc a week earlier.
Queue incident three and another red flag.
Two red flags in a race are very rare. The last time there were two was in Brazil 2016. But even then you would need to go back to Belgium 1990 for the last time there were three standing starts for a race.
This restart saw Ricciardo move up to P2 at the expense of Bottas, while Russell lost all the hard work from earlier by dropping down to the back of the grid.
But lap 51 saw Albon grasp his own podium dream by the scruff of the neck as he overtook the former Red Bull driver to move into P3. Raikkonen had been given a five-second penalty for crossing the pit lane entry line giving some hope to Russell who was desperately chasing Vettel to try and achieve a points finish, but it wasn’t to be for the 22-year-old.
Lewis Hamilton crossed the line nearly five seconds ahead of Bottas and behind them for his first-ever podium came Alex Albon who had been thwarted twice before when he had come so close. Ricciardo went P4, while Perez, Norris, Danii Kvyat, Leclerc, Raikkonen (moved below Leclerc due to penalty) and Vettel rounded out the top 10.
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 13, 2020
Williams get new principal:
Williams Racing have announced Simon Roberts as Acting Team Principal in the aftermath of Claire Williams stepping down in her duties as Deputy Team Principal.
Mr Roberts joined the team earlier this year as the teams new Managing Director, where he had responsibility of the teams technical, operational and planning functions.
“It is an exciting time ahead for the team, a new era for Williams and one that I am excited to be playing a part in. I look forward to the challenge ahead as we look to take the team back to the front of the grid.”#WeAreWilliams 💙
— Williams Racing (@WilliamsRacing) September 8, 2020
Now he will dual-wield these responsibilities with his role of acting team principal.
Perez confirms Racing Point exit with Vettel announced as replacement:
As with any big transfer rumour, speculation persists for what seems like forever.
However, some speculation was finally put to rest this week as Sergio Perez announced he would be leaving Racing Point at the end of the 2020 season after seven years with the team.
Tengo algo que anunciarles…
¡Gracias por su apoyo todo este tiempo!
— Sergio Pérez (@SChecoPerez) September 9, 2020
But F1, more than most sports, is a sink or swim environment and there isn’t much time for compassion amongst the teams owners and directors who need to be constantly looking ahead to what they can do next season.
Lawrence Stroll is one such person. Seemingly no sooner had Perez announced his long-anticipated departure did Racing Point, who will become Aston Martin racing next season, announce their new driver.
Four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel will be joining the team for 2021 and beyond as Mr Stroll looks to take his team to new heights going into the new era of F1.
The announcement also saw Aston Martins stock price go up meaning big things are expected of the team going beyond this year.
Since his announcement, Perez has been heavily linked with one of the vacant seats at either Haas or Alfa Romeo both teams yet to announce a driver for 2021.
Driver of the day for me rightly went to Danny Ric, who was very unlucky not to score a podium finish, though massive credit must be given to Albon for making his overtake stick. A lesser driver may have crumbled under the pressure but he held his nerve.
This podium could well mean we have a genuine player for Red Bull v Mercedes, where there is usually a two to one advantage. Only time will tell though.
Massive commiserations to Russell who i thought also drove a fabulous race and likely would have secured a point had it not been for the second red flag.
And my final note is to marvel at how far safety has come in F1 and to be thankful that all the drivers made it out in one piece. Had the crashes we saw today happened in F1’s early years there would have likely been a number of deaths rather than everyone being safe.
There will now be a week off for the teams and drivers before the Russian Grand Prix on September 27.
That concludes this weeks column but be sure to check out last weeks edition.