Yes, this happened in 2020:
Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix
Duncraig Dan 2020, Chapter 8: Let It Tow, Let It Tow, Let It Tow!
From historic Spa last weekend, to the 70th Formula One Grand Prix to be held at the Tifosi stronghold of Monza in the Lombardy region of Italy, and the major news since Belgium:
Sir Frank and Claire Williams, having sold Williams to Dorilton Capital, were standing down from the team after this weekend at Monza, ending the family’s 51-year involvement in Formula 1 that started with Frank Williams Racing Cars in 1969, and continued through Frank and Sir Patrick Head founding the current Williams team in 1977, bringing some 16 Championships (7 Drivers and 9 Constructors) and 114 race wins in 739 races, although sadly only 1 of those wins was in the last 15 seasons.
Speaking as an Aussie, it’s sad to see Frank leave, especially with that history of Alan Jones winning the team’s first World Championship in 1980, plus Mark Webber driving for them in 2005-06, right as their fortunes took a sharp turn south after the BMW partnership broke down, which was also the time a young me seriously got into Formula 1.
While Claire has performed most of the team principle duties since 2013, I would contend that Sir Frank was the last of the legendary team bosses in F1 history:
Ferrari had Enzo Ferrari, Lotus had Colin Chapman, Brabham had Bernie Ecclestone, Tyrrell had Ken Tyrrell, McLaren had Ron Dennis, and Williams had Sir Frank.
Saturday was also 50 years to the day since championship leader Jochen Rindt was killed in practice for 1970 Italian Grand Prix, when the inboard brake shaft failed on his Lotus 72 at the Parabolica, and in the violent impact with a support post, Rindt suffered fatal neck injuries thanks to his own harness buckle.
It wasn’t until a month later in the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen that Rindt was confirmed as the World Champion, and not only was he Austria’s first F1 World Champion, he became the sport’s only posthumous champion.
With engine ‘party modes’ now banned (Thanks Red Bull, what a lick of difference that’s going to make), getting a tow behind the car in front was now even more important than ever, given it was worth some 3-5 tenths on a flying lap of the fastest circuit in Formula One, such is the speed of these current big fat turbo-powered monsters.
It reached the point where drivers were slowing down on the racing line trying to get a tow, which was a rampant issue in Formula 3 qualifying (And led to a mass of grid penalties), and nearly led to a massive accident for Lewis Hamilton at the end of FP3.
Many fans will also remember the utterly stupid scenes at the end of Qualifying for last year’s Grand Prix because of the tow-tussling, which were pretty much repeated to finish Q1 this year.
On their final runs, Esteban Ocon found himself giving a tow to Kimi Raikkonen down the pit straight, while George Russell was in a horrible sandwich position, because behind the Williams was Sebastian Vettel, followed by Alex Albon (Who had a lap deleted for exceeding track limits) and Antonio Giovinazzi, who were all effectively racing each other and engaging in Mutually Assured Destruction.
Summing it up, Vettel nearly hit Russell at the Rettifilio and doomed himself to another Q1 exit, while Raikkonen predictably got blocked by Ocon at the Curva Grande due to the massive speed difference, as Albon barely escaped Q1 in 15th.
Despite out-qualifying his teammate for the umpteenth time, Russell was frustrated, commenting that “We need to be ones capitalizing from these *** ups, NOT THE ONES IN THE **** UP!”, then on Dutch TV, Gorgeous George channeled the spirit of Guenther Steiner and commented to Jack Plooj that “We looked like a bunch of wankers out there.“
With no Tifosi around to throw fruit on the track, Vettel’s 17th on the grid was the worst qualifying for a Ferrari driver at Monza since Giancarlo Baghetti started 16th in 1966.
Seb subsequently spent the rest of the afternoon playing Inspector Seb, watching the action at the Parabolica like a hardcore fan.
In Q2, Lewis Hamilton broke Raikkonen’s 2018 Monza lap record with a 1.19.092, which was bettered by Valtteri Bottas with a 1.18.952, setting a new benchmark as the fastest single lap in F1 history.
In what would’ve been classic Renault luck, Daniel Ricciardo was almost knocked out in Q2 when he dipped two wheels in the gravel exiting Roggia, leaving his 9th-fastest time at the mercy of the cars with the tow on their final laps, but he somehow survived, while Charles LeClerc completed Ferrari’s misery by only managing 13th on the grid, making this the first Italian Grand Prix without a Ferrari starting in the Top 10 since 1984.
At least Michele Alboreto charged through the field and finished 2nd to Niki Lauda in the race… this Ferrari was going to be lucky to charge up to 12th.
Continuing the Mercedes domination in Q3, Hamilton was immediately fastest from Bottas, as the fight for 3rd place was between Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz, Ricciardo was only 7th fastest, while Albon had his lap time deleted again for a track limits breach at the Parabolica.
Avoiding last year’s chaos, every car went for a second run with 4 minutes remaining.
Bottas almost broke the track record again on his final lap to set the provisional pole, but it was only fleeting, as along came Hamilton seconds later to to claim his 94th Pole Position by 0.069s, once again setting the fastest lap in F1 history – A 1.18.887, with an average speed of 264.362 km/h.
That pole lap was set without a tow, and the Mercedes were one of the slowest cars in the speed traps – Yet, they were still a good 7-8 tenths faster than everyone.
Liberty were apparently so confident about Sunday’s result, that they put up “90th Race Win” for Hamilton instead of recognising his 94th pole.
Like a smooth operator, Carlos Sainz jumped to start a career-best 3rd for McLaren, vindicating his strong Practice performances, Perez qualified 4th for the eighth time in his career, having never started inside the Top 3, and Verstappen could only qualify in 5th, as it looked like the Red Bull-Honda had ironically been hurt the most by the Party Mode ban.
7th on the grid was slightly disappointing for Renault after what they achieved at Spa – Daniel made a fair assessment that the car had “Lost a tenth, whereas everyone found a tenth,” which is what made the difference between 7th and a potential 2nd Row.
In fact, his time from Q3 was actually 0.025s slower than his Q3 time to start 5th in 2019.
So the major story thus far: Mercedes don’t need a party mode to kick everyone’s arses.
Two more major pieces of news dropped on Sunday:
RENAULT are bringing the Alpine brand into Formula 1 from next season!
There’s a funny bit of history there – Renault’s original Formula 1 team in 1977 was formed from the combination of Alpine and Gordini.
And, Racing Point dropped the appeal against their brake duct penalties, in “The wider interests of the sport”, which left Ferrari as the only team protesting against the legality of the Racing Point, but the Scuderia effectively closed the matter by dropping their appeal on Sunday afternoon.
I suppose after the FIA gave the teams clarity about how much ‘copying’ could be achieved by teams & designers in 2021, it was enough to settle the matter.
Race (53 Laps)
This was also Alpha Tauri/Toro Rosso’s 50th Grand Prix with Honda as their engine supplier…
What an afternoon they were about to experience.
At the clock struck 3:10 local, Hamilton jumped into the lead and was off and gone to what looked like win No.90, Sainz jumped into 2nd, while Dan The Man nearly had a repeat of Australia 2019 by dipping 2 wheels between the grass and the service road trying to round up Verstappen.
Thankfully, the earth was flat enough for the front wing to stay intact, and our anti-hero was on the rear of Perez in 6th out of the Curva Grande.
Verstappen’s podium chances were looking toast after he dropped to 7th, while Bottas had a deadset Barry Crocker, dropping to 4th after both McLarens barged past by the Roggia chicane, then the Finn went too wide exit out of the second Lesmo, allowing Perez past, and the difference in speed allowed Ricciardo to make a slick cutback and pass at the Ascari Chicane!
A Renault straight up passing a Mercedes.
What a time to be alive.
Further down, Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon banged wheels at the first corner, forcing Albon onto the grass and down to 14th behind the Ferrari of LeClerc, and it got even better for the Red Bull driver when he was later given a 5-second time penalty for not leaving Romain Grosjean enough space at the same corner on Lap 2, an incident that also took a chunk out of the left side of the Red Bull’s floor and affected his performance all afternoon.
Bottas had also reported a puncture after his slow start, but the Mercedes pit wall didn’t notice any drop in pressure, and he carried on in the purgatory of 6th place behind Ricciardo in what was a DRS train.
After 6 laps, the first retirement just had to be a Ferrari, with Vettel, still languishing down in 17th, had his rear brake assembly catch fire and disintegrate, causing him to miss the Turn 1 chicane and smash through the polystyrene barriers.
Having to trickle around, Vettel got back to pit lane and retired.
A dominant Hamilton kept extending his lead over Sainz past 10 seconds, the Top 9 were pretty much holding position because of DRS (Bottas remarked he couldn’t pass anyone with the current engine settings), while in the Alpha Tauri battle for 10th, Gasly was holding up Daniil Kvyat, who had started the race on the Hard tyre.
Williams called in Nicolas Latifi pitted on Lap 16 and dropped him to last, LeClerc was called in by Ferrari on Lap 17, and Alfa Romeo pitted Raikkonen to end Lap 18.
At the same time, Kevin Magnussen became the latest Ferrari-powered casualty, pulling over just short of the pit entry on Lap 18 for the leaders, bringing out a local Yellow Flag.
If you like talking about Butterfly Effects, by gee by jingo by crikey, THAT DNF CAUSED AN ALMIGHTY BUTTERFLY EFFECT.
In what would unknowingly turn out to be a race-winning move, Alpha Tauri pitted Gasly on Lap 19, barely a minute before everything changed.
Because the gap in the rail wasn’t big enough to push the Haas into, the marshalls had to push the car up to the pit lane, which forced Bernd Maylander and the Safety Car to make an appearance on Lap 20, due to the proximity of the recovery crew to the pit entry, which also forced Race Control to close the pit lane.
And now begins the next phase of chaos.
Alfa Romeo brought in Antonio Giovinazzi, but more importantly, Mercedes made a massive unforced error by bringing in Hamilton from the lead, not sighting that there was a flashing orange light with an X at the Parabolica, signalling that the pit lane was closed.
Lewis and the team argued they couldn’t see the light, but the judge, jury and executioners at Race Control were sharpening their axe.
Hamilton’s stop also briefly left Sainz in the lead, which was the first time a McLaren had been in the lead of the race since Jenson Button led at Hungary in 2014.
Eventually, the pits reopened on Lap 22 behind the SC, and in the frantic activity, Mercedes got Bottas ahead of Ricciardo, who jumped Perez thanks to a slow Racing Point right-rear tyre change.
The SC completely shook the race order, because the likes of LeClerc, Raikkonen, Giovinazzi and Latifi, who had all stopped, were now running in the Top 10, Gasly had rocketed into 3rd from 10th, Stroll stayed out in 2nd, while the likes of Sainz, Norris, Ricciardo, Ocon, Verstappen and Perez had been utterly screwed.
The SC peeled in on Lap 24, and immediately after the restart, LeClerc, who had moved up to 6th, suffered a monster accident after going straight into the tyre barrier at the Parabolica, and the initial thought was another Ferrari brake failure, but it seemed more like the rear just snapped, and Charles couldn’t regain control.
The good news was LeClerc was fine and actually got out for a jog, but it was the most brutal ending possible to Ferrari’s worst visit to Monza in living memory – Their first double DNF at Monza since 1995.
At the same time the SC immediately returned, Giovinazzi in 5th received a 10 second stop/go penalty for his pit lane breach, but on Lap 26, the barrier damage from the LeClerc accident brought out…
THE RED FLAG.
For context, here was the order at the stoppage:
David Croft on Sky F1 was predicting this could be the shortest completed race in history.
History said otherwise.
While the world sat and waited for some 25 minutes, the drivers got out for a rest (Except Bottas, who is a robot), while Hamilton finally got his stop/go penalty, which led to him visiting race director Michael Masi to argue his case, all to no avail.
If you like a laugh, someone on /r/formula1 made a Wide Hamilton meme from the TV footage, a nod to that Wide Putin Walking meme with Song For Denise on full blast:
Norris was also investigated for driving unnecessarily slowly on the in-lap to avoid a McLaren double stack (Think what DJR did at Bathurst last year with Fabian Coulthard), but he avoided a penalty.
The other big factor of the Red Flag – All teams were allowed to change damaged parts (With FIA approval), and change tyres, a slightly bullshit rule brought up many times in the last 9 years, but never actually changed.
That meant Lance Stroll and Racing Point, who didn’t pit during the original Safety Car and didn’t have to pit at all during the resumption, were just about favourites to win a Grand Prix that was a good chance of FINALLY being won by someone other than Mercedes, Red Bull, or Ferrari!
Repairs were completed and the race restarted at 4:20 local time, with the standing start from the grid leaving the door open for some deadset carnage.
Lap 27 counted as the parade lap, and the race officially restarted on Lap 28, as Hamilton launched off the line trying to build a gap, Gasly stuck on behind to go to 2nd and the effective race lead, while Stroll, so often a great starter, fell behind both Alfas to 5th, and to cap it off, he locked up at the Roggia and came out the other side, eventually losing another spot to Sainz.
Hamilton peeled in for his penalty straight away, leaving Gasly in the lead, as the Brit dropped 30 seconds down to stone motherless last, some 23 seconds off Albon in 16th.
Still, Lewis is the current greatest driver in the fastest F1 car ever seen, so ripping out 2 seconds a lap in clear air was a piece of piss.
Further down, Verstappen had an awful restart, and he randomly pitted at the same time Giovinazzi served his penalty on Lap 31, but capping off what had been a day to forget for Red Bull, the Dutchman retired with an engine problem, ending his run of 6 consecutive podiums.
On a day where Mercedes shot themselves in the leg, their nearest rivals did absolutely nothing.
With the victory now Alpha Tauri’s hands, Gasly led by 3 seconds to Raikkonen (Who had changed on to Soft tyres in the Red Flag), doing a darn good job at age 41 in a relative crapbucket machine, but The Iceman went wide at the Parabolica to end Lap 33, inviting Sainz to latch on down the pit straight, and the Spaniard stuck on through Turn 1 to retake 2nd place.
After that, Raikkonen slowly began falling back through the pack, as Stroll, Norris, Bottas and Ricciardo went past, and it was like watching Pinocchio get turned from a little boy back into a puppet.
Hamilton had caught up to the back of Albon by Lap 40, but Lewis was now experiencing the same problem as Bottas, because not only was engine cooling an issue behind other cars, with the extra downforce on the rear wing, the Merc was getting out-dragged by the Honda engine, but a mistake from Albon at Turn 1 finally gave Hamilton the chance to move up to 14th with 14 laps to go, and soon after that, Russell and Grosjean fell with consummate ease.
In his pursuit of McLaren’s first win since Brazil 2012, Sainz was slowly cutting into the Gasly lead, reducing the gap to only 2 seconds with 10 laps to go, while Stroll wasn’t totally out of the picture, sitting a further 2 seconds behind the McLaren.
In the long-running battle for the minor placings, Bottas was seemingly always within DRS range of Norris, but thanks to those car issues, the Merc never even looked like passing the McLaren-Renault in a straight line, while Ricciardo spent the rest of the afternoon directly behind in 6th, as the DRS train was in full effect.
I think that pretty much summed up Dan’s afternoon – The Safety Car and Red Flag pretty much ended any hope he had of a podium, because he was comfortably holding Bottas, but on the bright side, he did actually record a Top 6 finish.
Still charging back, Hamilton had moved up to 11th after reeling off fastest lap after fastest lap, and he passed Raikkonen at Ascari on Lap 46 to move back into the points, he whipped past Perez with the DRS on Lap 49.
To cut a long story short, Ocon and Kvyat, whpn had held 7th and 8th for so long, didn’t quite finish in 7th and 8th after the Black Silver Arrow said “hello, Goodbye.”
Meantime, the gripping fight for the lead reached it’s crescendo, as Gasly had extended the lead to 1.8 seconds, with 4 laps to go, before Sainz reeled it back to 1.1 seconds on Lap 52, crucially getting within DRS range as the pair rounded the Prabolica for the penultimate time.
Finally getting the benefit of the open rear wing, the McLaren-Renault charged at the Alpha Tauri, but Sainz was never truly close enough to make a lunge, as the ice cold Frenchman never even flinched, and capping off one of the most memorable races of the Turbo-Hybrid era of F1, Pierre Gasly became the 109th Grand Prix winner!
YES, YOU READ THAT CORRECTLY.
PIERRE GASLY, DEMOTED FROM RED BULL FOR APPARENTLY NOT BEING GOOD ENOUGH, IS A GRAND PRIX WINNER IN AN ALPHA ****ING TAURI.
AND OF COURSE, THE LITTLE TEAM FROM FAENZA THAT WAS ONCE MINARDI, THAT BECAME TORO ROSSO AND WON AT MONZA IN 2008, HAD DONE IT AT HOME AGAIN!
For the purposes of statistics, Alpha Tauri and Toro Rosso are considered different constructors, despite essentially being the same team, which meant this was their second first win.
It was officially a 4-tenth margin to Sainz in a career-best 2nd, Stroll was 3rd, which is also Racing Point’s first podium since taking over Force India, and then came the DRS train of Norris, Bottas and Ricciardo in 4th, 5th, and 6th, Hamilton’s championship lead is still 47 points thanks to his comeback 7th with a fastest lap bonus point, as Ocon, Kvyat and Perez rounded out the Top 10, and Nicolas Latifi couldn’t quite make Claire and Frank’s final weekend a fruitful one, but 11th is still by far his best-ever finish.
The first French winner since Olivier Panis won the epic 1996 Monaco Grand Prix, the first winner not driving a Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari since Kimi Raikkonen for Lotus in Australia 2013, and this was the first podium to feature none of the ‘Big 3’ teams since Hungary 2012.
What a year for French motorsport – First, Fabio Quartararo ends their MotoGP drought, now Pierre Gasly ends their Formula 1 drought.
Funnily enough, in Toro Rosso’s only win, a McLaren also finished 2nd, and Lewis Hamilton finished 7th.
It was also the first time La Marseillaise, known to some Australians as ‘The Fitzroy & Brisbane Lions Club Song’, had played on a Formula 1 podium since Renault’s last win at Japan back in 2008.
Of course, we have to thank those who made this possible – God bless Kevin Magnussen… and the Mercedes pit wall.
You know, I think this race revived something great about F1 that used to happen every couple of years in the old V10 and V8 eras.
THE SURPRISE WINNER.
I think of Panis for Ligier in that 1996 Monaco race where 3 cars finished, Damon Hill for Jordan in the soaking rain of Spa in 1998, Johnny Herbert winning for Stewart at the Nurburgring in 1999, Giancarlo Fisichella winning Jordan and Ford’s last race in 2003, Jenson Button’s maiden win for Honda at Hungary in 2006, Sebastian Vettel winning the aforementioned 2008 Monza race for Toro Rosso, and Pastor Maldonado getting Williams’ most recent win in 2012, after they’d gone winless for 8 years.
Of course, the tobacco money did help plug the gap, but in this age of Mercedes-Benz making a mockery out of everyone, it’s something we never see anymore, and in this batshit crazy year, it was goddamn fantastic to see it again, even though we all know deep down it’s a 3,720/1 chance of happening ever again.
Of course, Gasly is also added to the list of French drivers who have won for Italian teams – Patrick Tambay, Rene Arnoux, Didier Pironi, Alain Prost and Jean Alesi all saluted for Ferrari, and in the polar opposite, Giancarlo Fisichella won for Renault.
You know, I do love a good moan and a cry about the state of Formula One, but on weekends like this, you remember why you love it.
Let’s savour this moment, before Mercedes go back to killing everyone at Mugello this weekend.
What a memorable 1000th Grand Prix it’s going to be for Ferrari…. mostly for the wrong reasons.
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