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Memorable Mugello Crash Fest

There were three races for the price of one at the Tuscan Grand Prix in Italy.

As Lewis Hamilton drove to yet another predictable win for Mercedes-Benz, over a third of the field crashed out in three incidents which resulted in an unprecedented three standing starts and a Safety Car rolling re-start.

What should have been a 59-lap test of endurance was split into a series of sprints between red flags and spread over two-and-a-half hours.

The crash carnage at the high-speed Mugello circuit resulted in 12 of the 20 drivers in Formula One being warned by officials about their driving.

And there was nothing fairytale about the 1000th grand prix for Ferrari, despite huge celebrations and Mick Schumacher driving his father’s car on demonstration laps.

Charle Leclerc was up to third for a time in a burgundy-livered car, but he and Sebastian Vettel were only eighth and tenth at the finish.

The record books will show it is another Lewis Hamilton win from his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas with a Red Bull third. The difference this time is that it is Alex Albon collecting the silverware for Red Bull after team-mate and regular front-runner Max Verstappen crashed out on the first lap, triggering the first Safety Car.

Verstappen had an engine problem on the run to the grid, triggering frantic repair work, but he got away very badly at the first start and was hit from behind as he struggled in the pack.

“Before the race on the out lap, the engine was idling and I had an anti-stall on the formation lap. I don’t know what happened,” Verstappen says.

“I had a good launch so I went around Lewis but once I went flat-out, there was no power. Then you get into this situation where you are in the middle of the pack and that is quite easy to get involved in a crash.

“I don’t even know what happened, I just got hit from behind. I’m not disappointed because we shouldn’t have been in that position.”

So the first nine laps were run behind the Safety Car, but there was much worse to come on the first re-start.

Bottas was leading but weaving and slowing to out-fox Hamilton, but the mid-field was already up to full speed and there was a giant multi-car crash. George Russell backed his Williams up to get some clear air but inadvertently created a concertina effect which caught out team-mate Nicholas Latiffi, Antonio Giovinazzi, Kevin Magnussen and Carlos Sainz behind.

Sainz ploughed into the back of Giovinazzi’s near-stationary Alfa Romeo, accelerating in fourth gear at over 250km/h and lucky to be alive with the halo over the cockpit doing its job as Giovinazzi’s Alfa rode up over the top of Sainz’s McLaren.

“I was stuck behind an Alfa [Giovinazzi] and we were both getting the slipstreams and racing already,” Sainz says.

“As soon as everything opened in front, suddenly I found three or four cars completely crossed in the middle of the straight and I just took a couple of them with me.

“It was a very dangerous situation and reminded me of very nasty things from the past, so I don’t want to say something, but something definitely needs to be analysed to find out what happened.”

Just under 30 minutes later, the field gridded-up for Mugello V2 as a lights out, standing-start, re-start.

This time it was Hamilton who got the better of Bottas into Turn One and the race slipped back into a more familiar pattern until Lap 40 when Lance Stroll caused a second red flag with his Racing Point when he punctured his left-rear tyre and crashed into the fast double left-hander Arrabiata complex.

The field once again stopped in pitlane until the catch fence was repaired and, with just 12 laps remaining, drivers took advantage of the break to change to the soft-compound Pirelli tyre to make Mugello V3 a no-holds-barred sprint to the finish.

At this point Daniel Ricciardo had worked his way up to third and was looking to give Renault its first podium of the year, passing Bottas for second off the re-start as Hamilton sailed off into the distance for his 90th GP win.

But Ricciardo’s rhythm was destroyed despite the brief run on Bottas and he was soon swamped by the charging Albon for the final podium place.

“I felt that we’ve never been closer,” Ricciardo says.

“Alex had a lot of pace at the end on low fuel and those softs. His car came alive more than it was in the first part and we didn’t have an answer.

“The restarts were fun because standing starts are always a little hectic, but we’ve been having good ones and every start today, I felt I had improved. The last one we got Bottas and even though it only lasted a lap and half, it gave me some separation from Albon. I thought that was all we needed to hang on to the podium, but Alex came on so strong, we didn’t have an answer.”

The multiple crashes meant only two teams got both of their cars to the finish – McLaren and, surprisingly, Ferrari.

“The race itself was quite fun. I was happy every time there was a standing start because it was an opportunity for us to try and fight for positions,” says Leclerc.

For race winner Hamilton, Mugello is one of the best tracks he’s raced an F1 car on but also one of the most physically demanding.

“It was like three races in one day so it was all a bit of a daze to be honest,” Hamilton says.

“This was incredibly tough. Keeping Valtteri, who has been quick all weekend, behind was not easy and I was behind in the beginning. All those restarts, the focus that’s needed during that time, it’s really hard but this track is phenomenal.”

Grand Prix teams now have a one-week break to mark the half-way point in the season, after competing in nine races across 11 weeks, before returning for the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi on September 27.

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