By Neil Leverett
- Daniel Ricciardo wins Italian Grand Prix at Monza completing sensational 1-2 for McLaren
- Former F1 giant win first race since 2012, after Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton again wipe each other out
- Briton survives with scare after Verstappen’s Red Bull lands on Hamilton’s car during bizarre incident
MONZA, ITALY – After Daniel Ricciardo claimed his first Formula 1 win since 2018, what can we take away from this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza?
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Just rewards for McLaren
Nine years is a long time to wait in Formula 1 for a race win.
When you have won no less than eight Constructors’ titles and 12 Drivers’ Championships already under your belt, that period can feel exhaustive. For McLaren though, finally, those days are at an end after winning the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
As Daniel Ricciardo edged home nervously to his take the chequered flag under the Zak Brown umbrella, the Australian also ended his own personal drought from Monaco 2018.
Followed home by his teammate – and up until this point statistically superior – Lando Norris to complete a stunning 1-2 finish, those donned in orange and blue in the pit lane celebrated jubilantly.
For the Perth driver it meant so much. After a spell down the grid with Renault and a nightmarish start to life with the Woking outfit, the past few races however, have seen Ricciardo make steady progress with a P4 at Spa and P5 in Britain.
Taking the front row at Monza this past weekend in Saturday’s sprint, Ricciardo then timed his dash to Turn 1 impeccably to snatch the lead and did not look back.
For McLaren meanwhile, a podium double is their fifth individual P3 or better of the season. After tricky times in transitioning from Carlos Sainz Jr. last term, the Italian GP has pointed however, to more headier times for McLaren to come. For now though, their rewards of Sunday are spoils that are richly deserved.
Verstappen and Hamilton suffer deja vu
With just nine races of the season to go before the start of the weekend, just three points had separated Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton in the World Drivers’ Championship standings.
With eight now left, that is still the state of play.
In what has been one of the most keenly fought title races in recent years, the still narrow margin remains after both drivers for the second time this term inadvertently took each other out of the race. This time however, the fashion is which it came was something a little more of the bizarre.
But it had been coming. Just like during their altercation at Silverstone, the duo had clipped on the opening lap here – with Hamilton this time dropping to fourth initially as a result. The main course then came mid-way through the race.
Shortly after Verstappen had endured an horrific pit stop to drop down as low as 10th, Hamilton had just exited the pits himself after stopping on Lap 26, when Verstappen came alongside him and tried to go around the outside of the Mercedes through Turn 1. Attempting to claim the inside line into Turn 2, the pair made contact, as Verstappen’s Red Bull was vaulted into the air and over Hamilton, coming to a rest on top of his W12 car.
As both drivers were left stranded both on top and under each other, both Briton and Dutchman were forced to retire once more, as a shaken Hamilton trundled off to consider what had just happened.
In the immediate aftermath Verstappen has been handed a three-place grid penalty for Russia later this month after stewards adjudged his taking an unfair racing line, with the latest chapter of the Verstappen-Hamilton 2021 novel now written with a rather familiar tale.
And there will surely be more to come from this particular and gripping story.
Halo again proves worth
Hamilton will be a relieved man. That is for certain.
Not only has his points deficit suffered no lasting damage, neither has the Stevenage driver himself after a coming together, which at first seemed like a racing incident, on replays showed it could have had far more serious implications for the Briton.
As footage showed Verstappen’s right-rear tyre heading for the cockpit area as his car was flipped into the air, the impact of the car’s chassis was fully taken by the halo system, protecting Hamilton’s head from what would have been a heavy impact.
Hamilton will leave Italy breathing a sizeable sigh of relief and as he told F1.com, is under no illusion that things could have been very different and with considerably higher consequences, had his car’s halo not taken the brunt of the damage caused by the vaulting Red Bull.
“Honestly, I feel very fortunate today.”
“Thank God for the halo, that ultimately, I think, saved me, and saved my neck… I don’t think I’ve ever been hit on the head by a car before and it’s quite a shock for me, because I don’t know if you’ve seen the image but my head really is quite far forward. And I’ve been racing a long, long time, so I’m so, so grateful that I’m still here.”
Motivated Bottas could again feature
As two men scrap for the title on (and off) the track, a forgotten figure in the Mercedes garage in Valtteri Bottas has reminded his team just what he is still made of.
Having come out in top of both qualifying and the Sprint at Monza, Bottas’ demotion to 19th on the grid for Sunday after exceeding his quota of engine components would have been a blow, but even then the Finn staged a sensational drive from the back of the grid to finish P3 and claim his second podium on the spin.
For the all the buzz in the paddock over George Russell‘s switch to Mercedes next season, Bottas has rather been forced to accept the consolation chip of a drive for Alfa Romeo next term, however, if the Italian GP is anything to go by, Bottas will not be a peripheral figure for the remainder.
Not only that. with a new team to impress before he even makes the switch, should the Finn even be feeling any sentiments of scorn to Toto Wolff, Bottas could make a serious statement as to what Mercdes are about to lose.
Up for grabs
Fourteen races down, eight to go.
Had even the possibility been posed of approaching the end of September with almost every place and major honour still up for grabs for the season, F1 fans would punched the air in anticipation and delight. That is where we are currently at and boy do we have a potentially thrilling finale to the campaign on our hands.
As F1 takes a fortnight’s break before reconvening in Sochi, three weekends of successive racing have done little to decipher the shape of the last third of the campaign.
With real needle starting to show between Verstappen and Hamilton and still only three single points the difference, the battle between Mercedes and Red Bull more widely is going down as one for the ages.
After the two constructors played their latest leapfrog act, it is now Mercedes who lead the standings over their rivals but only by some 18 points – the same margin as the prize for P2.
There really is little to separate that particular race, but with the battle for third between McLaren and Ferrari a lesser and potentially irksome gap of 13.5 points, only 43.5 is the difference between third and seventh in the individual standings also. So much is left to be decided.
Roll on Sochi.
The 2021 Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix takes place at the Sochi Autodrom between the 24th and 26th of September.
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