What an overall excellent experience was the Tuscan Grand Prix at Mugello.
The track and race reminded me of a few decades ago of high-speed corners, gravel traps waiting for a wayward, and a few endings. But unlike those days, the lack of finishes was largely due to accidents rather than a combination of accidents and unreliability.
The latest F1 cars looked great around fast corners, more than fast enough to demand precision, commitment and courage from the wheel makers.
The track and event challenged everyone in terms of uncharted conditions, strong winds and a relentless series of 15 angles followed by a very long straight crater in extremely hot conditions.
All skills were challenged and the victor would need a calm head and a heavy right foot to win in what turned out to be a two-hour, 19-minute race. Lewis Hamilton won first place while scoring the point on the fastest lap just by scratching his teammate’s nose in it.
Valtteri Bottas in Sister Mers first excelled and led well. He also got a safety car restart after multiple detour on the first lap that included golden boy Monza Pierre Gasly and fast boy Max Verstappen, with supporting roles for several others including Kimi Raikkonen who appears to be bulletproof.
For the second Sunday in a row, and for the third time in nine races, Verstappen has had power unit issues that almost certainly will lead to retirement anyway, and he’s understandably unimpressed. Strangely, the same units in the car of his colleague Alex Albon and the brother team Alfa Tore of Gasly and Daniel Kviat seem more reliable.
Although many drivers weren’t at all impressed with the very late Bottas’ Safe Car Restart technology. Among his powers was to control speed as a captain and accelerate when he wanted. Those in the second half of the network were observing each other so much that they were on their way ahead of the leaders and encountered a dreadful energy in the middle.
It was the perfect storm somehow. The safety car lights go off reasonably late, but we don’t want it on the right lane one time too much after the accidents are cleared up, and in any case, the distance from the finish line down to the first corner ensures that no one driving even at the last minute From proven knowledge they would be immersed in sliding skis machines on other turns.
There was also a green flag and green lightsaber flashing away at the line, but you couldn’t pass up to that point anyway. Those in the second half of the field saw the opportunity and the risk rightly, so they were eager to hurry hard once they thought the group was away.
They are blindsided behind the hind wings of other drivers as they breed racers. Perhaps the walls of the hole should have reminded them that the point of acceleration might be late, and perhaps they should have known. The hosts officially warned the 12 in the back and cleared Bottas.
It was another big multiple shunt and luckily no one was hurt. Carlos Sainz in particular had a huge impact and so we had a red flag to de-clutter. There was an enormous amount of damage the teams could not handle in this rapid fire season, and on lap six we lost seven cars.
At the start of the second half, Hamilton ruled everything perfectly until he slipped into a lead that he would never lose. He is such a smart street fighter that you wonder how he could get hit in that car.
There was more of a connection here and there but what soon became apparent, just like in the F2 and F3 races, is that with strong headwinds and streams to assist, the DRS drag reduction system was very powerful down the straight 1 km hole. Maybe a little too strong.
Daniel Ricciardo looked fair on his first podium behind Merx in his Renault but would eventually lose to Red Bull.
For most of the race, George Russell would look good on the first point or two of the World Series. His qualifying ride through gravel and grass at 170 mph was one of the most impressive driving passes I’ve seen all weekend. A little crazy actually, it could have been a plane crash, but his instinct was to keep it fixed and I love it.
On lap 42 Lance Stroll, who had run extremely well up to that point, experienced a back left failure of sorts and hit the hurdles hard for a second red flag. It was also a devastating amount of damage including new air parts that the team could not handle. Then we got 12 cars running.
Bottas, a few laps earlier on his radio set, wished for a safety car which kind of duly came in the form of a third parking starter as he had the opportunity to repeat Lewis’ previous maneuvering on the ramps and outboard braking. However, he spoiled the start and temporarily fell to third.
We saw the same thing on the Monza just seven days ago when drivers had to judge a steady start with new tires and carry much less fuel than usual. Some outdid her better than others.
Albon had the mighty Red Bull put on his shoulders after Verstappen retired and it didn’t disappoint with some pretty cool excesses around the outside of the first round. It looks like it’s best to judge his risk-reward ratio now and the podium was very timely and worthy of it.
“Thanks for staying with me,” he said on the radio in the embrace of slowing down. It was a pivotal moment in his career which we hope will clear the mental congestion and allow him to fulfill his potential for the rest of the season.
I was looking forward to having Ricardo “shoey” on the stage, but it wasn’t the case. The rest were Sergio Perez, who scored points again for Racing Point in fifth place, Lando Norris, who scored a solid sixth for a surprisingly struggling McLaren, and Kavat in seventh for the Avatore as one of 12 braves.
It was a bleak day for Ferrari to finish eighth and tenth as they celebrated the 1000 races in their backyard. It wasn’t their worst race, but it definitely wasn’t the best, and it hurts to witness it.
Raikkonen came home to score his first points in the World Championship this season in ninth place despite all his adventures and a five-second penalty kick for crossing the lane lines.
In the final wave, Russell squandered a golden opportunity for Williams points despite good driving that kept Vettel Ferrari’s business more than the sincerity of all races.
If this is Mugello’s only GP, it’s worth it. Let’s hope we’re back, and that also makes me very looking forward to getting back to old school Imola in a few weeks too.
To Sochi in Russia after that. We may keep the same winner, but the road to victory is wonderful and different for sure.
Lewis topped the most points for Michael Schumacher after finishing with 222 at the weekend, and Michael’s record of 91 wins and seven world titles is sure to be beaten and matched in succession in the next few races.
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