Wow. Monza was amazing.
Just when it looked like Formula One was back to its boring best – or worst – the Italian Grand Prix was a thriller with a first-time winner, a controversial penalty for Lewis Hamilton, a giant Ferrari crash and the best real racing in living memory.
No-one would have bet on Pierre Gasly before the race, yet there he was – the driver punted out of Red Bull for under-performing – on the top step of the youngest podium in F1 history as only the second winner in the history of the team now known as Alpha Tauri.
The other, also at Monza in extraordinary circumstances, was a kid called Sebastian Vettel on a wet track back in 2008.
Gasly drove brilliantly and held off a late charge by Carlos Sainz in a McLaren, with Lance Stroll in third for Racing Point.
Where was Lewis Hamilton? Only seventh, just two places behind his Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas, after being slammed with a stop-and-go penalty.
Max Verstappen was put out by a mechanical failure, Charles Leclerc was never a contender and crashed, and the regulation running in Formula One was completely upended in a three-part lottery that put some surprising drivers – including old-timer Kimi Raikkonen – into the leading battle pack.
“I never expected this,” says Gasly, the first Frenchman to win in F1 for 26 years, in an unintentional understatement.
“Honestly, it’s unbelievable. It was such a crazy race.
“I’ve been through so much in 18 months, I struggled to realise this. The team has done so much for me and now they’re giving me my first win.
The stunning sequence that delivered a memorable race started with Bottas blowing his front row-start alongside pole man Hamilton and dropping back to sixth. This allowed the McLarens of Sainz and Lando Norris, Sergio Perez in the Racing Point and Daniel Ricciardo through while Gasly banged wheels with Alex Albon in 10th through Turn One.
Ferrari’s dreadful weekend of woe continued when Vettel, starting from P17, became the first retirement when his brakes failed on Lap Six, sending him crashing through foam bollards at Turn One, while Leclerc suffered a high-speed crash on Lap 23 when the back end broke away on the fast Parabolica curve.
He was admitted to hospital as a precaution but cleared with no injuries.
“I lost the rear, so it was my mistake. We were struggling with the balance and it was very hard to drive. It’s a difficult situation but I’m just happy to get out of the car without injury,” he says.
Vettel, meanwhile, says it’s probably a good idea that the passionate Tifosi could not get tickets to watch Ferrari’s demise.
“It’s mega frustrating, I don’t know what to say. It’s poor where we are, especially at our home race and it’s probably a blessing that there’s nobody in the stands today.”
When a Safety Car was called to ease the retrieval of Kevin Magnussen’s broken Haas it became the pivotal moment as race director, Michael Masi closed the pitlane but not before the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi and race leader Hamilton stopped for fresh rubber.
The 10-second pitlane penalty for Hamilton took him out of contention, but only because he had to serve it after a Red Flag stoppage and re-start after Leclerc’s massive crash. His 15-second lead became last place following the penalty but the six-time world champ was soon back, lapping three seconds faster to steal a few more points for seventh position, just two places behind his off-form teammate Bottas who struggled with overheating and a general lack of pace.
“This race win wasn’t meant to be mine today. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but huge congratulations to Pierre. I’m genuinely really happy for him,” says Hamilton.
The re-started race turned into a torrid battle, first as Raikkonen led on soft-compound tyres, then as the youngsters realised they were fighting for first.
“I was so close but yet so far. I needed one more lap but I can’t be too disappointed with P2,” second placed Carlos Sainz admits.
Third-placed Stroll is happy to be the highest finisher for Mercedes for the first time.
“It was such a crazy race. I’m so happy for Pierre, he deserved it. It was a bit of a bummer as it was mine to lose but I had a ton of wheel spin at the start but it feels good to be back on the podium.”
Gasly’s win means Alpha Tauri is now just 14 points behind Ferrari in the Constructor’s Championship with Ferrari facing the possibility of finishing 2020 in seventh place. Verstappen’s retirement means Bottas is back into second in the driver’s point-score but Hamilton still has a 47-point margin in front and looks a near-certainty for his seventh world title despite the results of the Monza lottery.