Posted on September 20, 2022.
Report by Nigel Bland.
To the disappointment of the Tifosi Sunday’s Italian GP at Monza was concluded under a safety car, enabling Max Verstappen to win his 5th consecutive GP victory without having to fend off a determined Charles Leclerc in a concluding sprint ‘race’; while rules may have been followed, the Italian crowd went home robbed of a potential Ferrari victory.
The race weekend commenced with the Scuderia announcing a new red and yellow livery for the team to commemorate 75 years since the team became an independent constructor; while the new livery was very TV friendly, yellow overalls for the drivers and team members was perhaps a step too far?
Other news in the paddock was centred on Red Bull, with the announcement that the anticipated collaboration with Porsche from 2026 is not going ahead as Red Bull only wanted to sell shares in their engine ‘division’ rather than the racing team; whatever the reasons in my opinion Porsche have avoided a potentially damaging partnership, as if the team continuous to be successful it would be as ‘Red Bull’, whereas if the victories dried up then Porsche engines would be the cause; just ask Renault …
Perhaps to dilute press attention from Red Bull’s failure to sign up with Porsche, their management continued to push the case for Colton Herta to receive a super licence for 2023, and thus be eligible for an Alpha Tauri drive” This would allow Pierre Gasly to move to Alpine and Red Bull receive significant compensation. Unfortunately for Red Bull, Herta does not have the required points to qualify for a super licence from his Indycar exploits. The FIA do not wish to change the rules, perhaps influenced by other teams highlighting that if rules can be changed, why should they finance expensive driver academy programs in F4/F3 and F2. Such programs are already in the spotlight following Oscar Piastri’s divorce from the Alpine academy, and as half of the current F3/F2 grids appear to be financed by such programs it is perhaps no surprise that the FIA postponed announcing their decision.
Mercedes do not run an extensive driver academy program, but their test driver Nick de Vries was the centre of significant press attention at the commencement of FP3, as he was a last minute replacement for Alex Albon at Williams. The latter required an emergency appendicitis operation, so Nick stepped in having driven for the Mercedes powered Aston Martin team in FP1 on Friday morning; this was the first time since Italy 1978 where a driver changed teams through the weekend, in that case being Harald Ertl.
A final feature of the build up to the GP was the number of drivers/teams opting to take grid penalties as a result of excessive use of mechanical components. Monza due to its long straights is considered as a circuit where overtaking is possible, so nine drivers or 45% of the grid had opted for such penalties which meant qualifying was an indication of outright performance, but not necessarily the grid order. Indeed only 1 driver qualified where they started, and thankfully for the tifosi that was Charles Leclerc in his Ferrari who was fastest in qualifying.
Charles’ performance reflected practice over the two days, with Carlos Sainz and himself being fastest in the two sessions on Friday, followed by a close 2nd to Max Verstappen in FP3. The close competition continued in Qualifying, with Max and Carlos topping the first two portions before Charles mastered the final session as he so often does. Max was two tenths slower, and his normal arrogant way suggested the Red Bull could have been quicker if set up for qualifying, but with a five place grid penalty they had concentrated on race performance…with the penalty Max would line up 7th, much better than Carlos, who despite qualifying 3rd would start from the back in 18th. Perez and Hamilton followed Sainz in qualifying, but they were penalised to 13th and 19th respectively, leaving George Russell to share the front row with Charles. The Mclarens would be 3rdand 4th on the grid, neither taking penalties, before Gasly and Alonso and then Max, with the top 10 rounded off after an excellent showing by de Vries, Zhou and Latifi.
Race day was unseasonably warm and sunny, and the race quickly became a Charles v Max duel, as the latter was 4th by the end of lap 1 and 2nd by lap 5. Unfortunately tyre temperatures were favouring the Red Bull, so Max was quickly closing the gap to the lead Ferrari which was already suffering on its soft tyres, until a virtual safety car was introduced on lap 12 as Vettel’s Mercedes engine cried enough. Ferrari chose to pit, although the full benefit of a safety car stop was not realised as the caution period ended while Charles was still in the pits. Whatever Max made his ‘soft’ tyres last until lap 26 by which time Charles had closed the gap down sufficiently to retake the lead, but his Medium tyres already needed replacing so the Ferrari was soon in for another tyre stop. While this went smoothly, even on fresh tyres Charles could not make significant inroads into the Red Bull lead. A safety car 6 laps from the end gave Ferrari some hope, but with insufficient time to restart the race Max won his first Italian GP and the Italian fans booed the FIA’s incompetence for not ‘creating’ a short sprint race at the end, in best Abu Dhabi traditions.
Carlos Sainz provided the race with significant interest as, despite starting 18th, he quickly moved through the field by completing some excellent moves into the first chicane, so that by the time of his first pit stop he was running 4th. He moved onto the soft tyres for the final stint, catching the hard-tyred Mercedes of Russell by around 1 second per lap, and a podium seemed probable. Unfortunately, the safety car ended the chase and he finished 4th while Hamilton and Perez completed the top 6. The result again emphasises the gap between the top 3 teams and the rest as only three of their six drivers started in the top 10, yet they were all in the top six by the end.
The top 10 was completed by Norris, Gasly, the excellent on debut de Vries and Zhou, finally earning another point for Alfa. The remaining Ferrari powered cars had days to forget with Schumacher 12th for Haas, Bottas 13th and Magnussen 16th (and last).
So ended the European GP season, with many commentators questioning the safety car operation. I believe a race should be red flagged and restarted if less than, say, 10 or 20% of the race remains. Unfortunately, the teams cannot agree, possibly due to potential race manipulation – think Tsunoda at Zandvoort. (Our solicitors insist it was completely above board – ed). The need to reform the rules was emphasised by not just the GP; both the F2 and F3 races also suffered, with Oliver Bearman, the Ferrari academy driver, the potential winner of the F3 Championship if the rules were applied more appropriately.
Nothing changes the result though, with a driver’s championship for Verstappen a formality, but Leclerc leads the fight for 2nd, 9 points ahead of Perez, 16 in front of Russell and 32 to Sainz. In the manufacturers, Ferrari trail Red Bull by 139 points, but are 35 clear of Mercedes, with six rounds left. Roll on Singapore.