Mon. Sep 26th, 2022

Just kidding. The safety car was first to take the checkered flag at The Temple of Speed, followed by Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and George Russell—the same three drivers to stand on the podium in the Netherlands a week prior.

Daniel Riccardo’s McLaren triggered a safety car (SC) due to mechanical issues on lap 47 of 53. Because the car was stuck in gear at a difficult part of the track, the marshals could not get it cleared in time for a restart. Should the race have been red flagged to guarantee a green flag finish? Not according to the sporting rules as they stand. Formula One races do finish under SCs. It’s not ideal but it’s a reality of the sport. It’s not what we want to see, but that’s how it is. Incidentally, that’s how the 2021 season ought to have ended in Abu Dhabi with Hamilton taking the race victory and his record eighth world title. That said, the racing at Monza leading up to the SC was solid if not largely expected. While a restart would have been exciting to watch, I don’t think it would have changed the outcome.

The big headline of the 2022 Italian Grand Prix was the performance by Nyck de Vries in the Williams. He started and finished P8, scoring two points in his F1 debut and earning Driver of the Day as voted by the fans. This showed that Williams certainly has potential for double points finishes…provided both of its drivers are truly among the top 20 in the world.

De Vries is a Formula E and F2 champion. Based on that experience alone, he’s deserving of a F1 seat. If there was any lingering doubt, though, the Dutchman put it to rest this weekend. He was lounging in the Paddock Club on Saturday when he got the call to step in for Alex Albon in FP3. He jumped into the Williams car just hours before qualifying and stomped it. During the race, he was poised among the midfield while battling Alfa Romeo, AlphaTauri and Alpine throughout. This is a driver we want to see on the grid in 2023, if not sooner.

George Russell maintains his record as Mr. Consistency with another podium finish. This closes the gap to Perez in the driver’s standings to just seven points (still running in fourth place) and extends his advantage over teammate Lewis Hamilton (in sixth) to 35 points. Does this imply Russell is a better driver than Hamilton? Certainly not. This claim has no credibility given what Lewis has achieved in the sport. That said, Russell is among a handful on the grid who are on Hamilton’s level. Why is he beating the seven-time world champion? There are likely many reasons. The one that sticks out, though, is Russell’s ability to extract more performance from a car than should be possible. That was his hallmark at Williams and why he earned the seat at Mercedes. Hamilton just hasn’t had to wrestle performance from an under-performing car in a very long time.

How did Ferrari perform in front of the tifosi? It wasn’t a disaster. Let’s start there. Leclerc drove a great race to finish P2, while Sainz charged through the field from P18 to finish P4. But Verstappen jumped from P7 to P2 within the first five laps, and that pace was an early indicator of how the race would finish.

We can split hairs about whether pitting Leclerc under Vettel’s VSC was the right call. The track actually went green while he was rolling out of the pits, so that cut some of the time advantage he otherwise would have gained. Next, we can question whether going from soft to medium tires was optimal given how long he’d have to go and how Perez was already performing on the hard tires (quite well). I was surprised to see the medium tire, as it implied a two-stop on a track that should be a one-stop.

With the benefit of hindsight, Ferrari shouldn’t have pitted. Which might have triggered a Verstappen pit stop (doing the opposite of Ferrari) and burdened Red Bull with similar problems. Even if that didn’t happen, the soft tires ended up lasting longer than expected, so it would have been an undercut/overcut duel between Leclerc and Verstappen at some point. Since they did pit, however, Ferrari should have gone to the hard tires. Leclerc likely would have had track position with Verstappen chasing on fresher medium tires, certain to pass him in the final laps…just as the SC came out and locked the win for Ferrari and the tifosi by default.

My calculations might be off on this, as there are so many variables and I’ve done no actual calculations. One way or another, though, Ferrari had a chance for victory. This was not a guaranteed Verstappen win, as it was at Spa. But this excuse will certainly be easier for Ferrari to accept and for Binotto to use with his bosses.

Bottom Line: It wasn’t the result we all wanted to see at Monza. But it reinforced the themes of the 2022 F1 season: Verstappen’s dominance; Russell’s consistency; Ferrari’s underperformance; Mercedes’ steady progress; McLaren and Alpine trading blows for best of the rest; and Williams signaling it can compete in the midfield.

If you want more superb analysis from this race, check out the Dirty Side of the Track podcast. For this week’s episode, I offer my F1 bona fides in the “100 Seconds of DRS” segment and share the story of how I competed against Valtteri Bottas in a bike race with a fractured wrist.

We’ll see you in Singapore!

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