The Tuscan Grand Prix might have finished with two Mercedes drivers on the top of the podium, but the race was anything but predictable.
Here’s what we learned on an action packed day at Mugello.
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A TIMELY FIRST FOR ALEX ALBON
Outclassed in the season so far by stablemate Max Verstappen, the pressure on Alex Albon only grew after the man he replaced at Red Bull Racing last year – Pierre Gasly – won a chaotic race at Monza.
Despite the Thai driver finishing well outside the points that race and his wait for a podium continuing, Red Bull Racing chief Christian Horner insisted the factory would not be considering sending Albon back to AlphaTauri – formerly Toro Rosso – with Gasly coming the other way.
Nevertheless, after 17 races without a podium for Red Bull and none in 30 across his season and a half in F1, Albon must have felt the walls starting to close in going into the weekend.
He did himself plenty of favours, finishing third to pick up points for Red Bull on a day where Verstappen crashed out in the opening lap alongside Gasly.
With his car slow off the mark, Albon had to work hard for his first podium in a race that featured three standing starts.
“It was tricky out there,” he said. “We had to work for it. It was nice to finally get that podium, under the circumstances as well. We weren’t good off the line, so a lot of the overtakes had to come on track.
“When you lose positions at the start, you always feel it will be more hard work, but you never doubt you can get back up there. The first stint, I used a lot of my tyres to overtake, I think, two cars.
“On the mediums, we were strong, so I knew the pace was there, but I was a bit afraid with another red flag as I was happy to be in that position. The Renault was strong at starts, Racing Point, too. It fired me up when we lost another position off the start, but I knew we had the pace.
“It was more about patience during the race, and making sure you don’t use the tyres too early so you had something for overtakes later on.”
The need to push for positions in the race rather than at the starting line put Albon in an old and uncomfortable position. The past two times he has been in contention for a podium finish he has paid dearly for failed overtake attempts, falling back to 14th after making contact with Lewis Hamilton at Brazil last year and failing to finish after colliding with the same man in this year’s opening race.
A GOLDEN CHANCE GOES BEGGING FOR RICCIARDO
The man Albon passed to third place was Australia’s own Daniel Ricciardo, who seemed destined to end Renault’s long wait for a first podium since rejoining F1 in 2016.
Ricciardo was among the podium spots for much of the race and was sitting second after being fastest off the mark in the race’s third standing start.
However, that standing start proved more curse than blessing for Ricciardo, who was looking comfortable in third before the second red flag. Although the standing start gave him the chance to use Renault’s impressive starting speed to push into second, it cost him track position while Albon flew on the soft tyres.
“It’s at the end the last part of the race, that final restart, Albon showed more pace than he had all race and we didn’t have an answer for that,” Ricciardo said. “He was really quick on the softs, on lower fuel, and it looked like that suited them more than us.
“I felt really good in the car but third sector was where he had us and that’s where you latch on to the DRS. We didn’t have an answer really.”
“If there wasn’t a red [flag] for Stroll, I guess, we had track position at the time and the medium was looking pretty good for us – I felt a bit in control of the pace. It’s pretty crazy, three reds in the last week. But they all had reason, there was big accidents.
“We’ll keep coming back and we’ll try to do it. I don’t feel like we missed out today, we put ourselves there, we didn’t have the speed at the end,” he said.
LIKE LONDON BUSES…
It turns out red flags are like London buses. You wait forever for one, and suddenly three come at once.
F1 went more than three years without seeing a red flag, with its last appearance coming at Azerbaijan in 2017 – a race halted due to the amount of debris on the track. Ricciardo went on to win that race and looked odds on for another positive result this time around. Alas, it was not to be.
The three-year red flag drought came to an end last week at Monza when Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari lost its rear end, sliding into the gravel trap, badly damaging his car and the tyre barriers. That race also saw Lewis Hamilton and Lance Stroll serve 10-second stop-start penalties, with a chaotic set of circumstances catapulting Gasly to the front of the grid and eventually a well deserved win.
It seemed a safe bet that was going to be the most eventful race F1 would see for a while. A week later and it is not even the most eventful race of the month.
Only 12 of the 20 cars that started the race on Sunday finished it, with Max Verstappen and Gasly both crashing out in the first lap, bringing the safety car out early. The safety car had barely made it off the track when things got real ugly, with a terrifying chain of events seeing four crash out at the rolling start, bringing out the red flag for the second time in as many races. Before racing resumed, Esteban Ocon was also forced to retire due to an overheating brake.
The drama did not end there however. The race was suspended again on lap 46 as Lance Stroll suffered a heavy crash and an internal fire on his Racing Point had to be extinguished before stewards could take his car off the track. In the space of two weeks, F1’s three-year red flag count jumped from zero to three.
WHO’S NOT TO BLAME FOR STANDING START MADNESS
Fingers were pointed everywhere after the rolling start went wrong, with those at the front of the grid adamant they were in the clear and those in the middle of it either insistent the problems started ahead of them or simply mystified by what had gone on.
“That was f***ing stupid from whoever was at the front,” Haas’ Romain Grosjean said on the team radio. “They want to kill us or what? This is the worst thing I’ve seen ever.”
Valtteri Bottas, the man at the front, said on the Mercedes’ team radio: “What happened with a restart that way, chaos was happening.”
In the wash-up no one was hurt but all four of Carlos Sainz, Kevin Magnussen, Antonio Giovinazzi, and Nicholas Latifi were forced to retire after Sainz cannoned into the back of three cars that had come to a virtual standstill.
Ultimately, stewards laid the blame on 12 of the 20 drivers in the race, issuing warnings for “inconsistent application of throttle and brake”. The 12 drivers were Magnussen, Daniil Kvyat, Latifi, Albon, Stroll, Ricciardo, Sergio Perez, Lando Norris, Ocon, George Russell, Giovinazzi and Sainz.
Bottas was cleared of any wrong doing, with stewards dismissing the notion he was driving too slow, pointing out it was his prerogative to set the pace up until clearing the start line after the safety car left the track.
“Car 77 [Bottas] had the right under the regulations to dictate the pace,” stewards said.
A statement added: “The Stewards acknowledge the challenges the location of the Control Line presents at this circuit and the desire of drivers to take advantage of the restart.
“However this incident demonstrates the need for caution to be exercised in the restart situation and note that there was an extreme concertina effect which dramatically increased as it moved down the field.”
HAMILTON DOES IT AGAIN…
Right now, the only thing that seems to be able to stop Lewis Hamilton is the man himself.
Last week at Monza, Hamilton blew his own chances of a podium by illegally pitting, landing himself a 10-second stop-start penalty that saw him plummet to the back of the grid midway through a red-flagged race.
He did well to fight all the way to seventh, finishing just two spots behind Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.
At Mugello, he started the race in pole position but slid to second as Bottas got the jump on him.
The second standing start provided him the perfect opportunity to reclaim the lead and on the third he retained it. From there, there was only ever going to be one winner.