The past couple weeks have played host to some excellent television spectacle in motorsport, as this season’s two back-to-back F1 Grand Prix in Italy saw anything but conventional racing. At Monza, a poor start from Bottas and an illegal pit stop from Hamilton, which saw him get a stop-and-go penalty, opened the field up for the unlikely narrow victory of Pierre Gasly in the Alpha Tauri over Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll. At Mugello, a twice-red-flagged race, only 12 cars finished following an enormous pileup. Despite this chaos, the dominance of Hamilton in the driver’s championship and Mercedes in the constructors only solidified.
The records keep stacking up for Hamilton – his victory in the inaugural Tuscan GP at Mugello sees him both tie Schumacher’s record of most race wins (90) and exceed Nick Heidfeld’s record of most consecutive F1 points places finishes (42), a record he valiantly equalled at Monza with a charge up the field into 7th from the back of the pack following his stop-and-go penalty. Whilst he has arguably been heavily helped with the former record through having the fastest car on the grid since 2014, his impressive consistency, exemplified by the surpassing of this latter record, and enduring pace that have continually allowed him to overshadow teammates prove he is well worthy of being strongly considered the greatest British racing driver of all time. Moreover, with his inevitable victory in this season’s driver’s championship and equalling of Schumacher’s record seven world championship titles, quite possibly the greatest the greatest racing driver to have ever lived. After all, Schumacher’s Ferrari was arguably just as dominant of a car in the early 2000s, and it is easy to forget that whilst Mercedes appear unbeatable in 2020, Hamilton on more than one occasion overturned a points deficit to a highly competitive Vettel in the Ferrari in the mid-2010s to win the championship.
Something that can be in no doubt, however, is the entertainment presented for viewers in these two races in Italy. Following a procession-like race at Spa, we should be glad of seeing two races with enough action to warrant three red flags and a healthy amount of excitement and overtaking. Indeed, the spectacle of seeing Hamilton charge back up the pack in Monza prompted optimism about the ‘reverse grid’ system that some have proposed for F1 in the future in an attempt to improve the viewer experience. The unexpected victory of Gasly at Monza and his last-minute tussle with Sainz prompted edge-of-your-seat entertainment and delight in seeing Gasly attain his first ever race win. Mugello also saw a first, with Alex Albon achieving his first ever podium in what has proven a troubled season for him. Sadly, however, George Russell was again denied his first points finish as the two restarts bunched up the pack and pushed him down into eleventh place. Nobody, though, will have likely been quite as entertained as the Finnish man who placed a 20 cent bet on a Gasly-Sainz-Stroll podium at odds of over 1-160,000.
It is concerning, however, that either of these were firsts. In fact, not only was this Gasly’s first win, but this was the first victory in a Grand Prix for a non-Ferrari/Red Bull/Mercedes team since the start of the Turbo-Hybrid engine era in 2014, a statistic that lays bare the wild unbalance in the sport. Even the Premier League has a higher proportion of teams capable of winning contesting championship titles. The FIA, and most F1 fans, will surely be hoping that the new regulations coming in in 2022 and financial fair play rules will tighten the group.
Out of all these unlikely events, however, the greatest shock must be the horrendous performance of Ferrari at both their ‘Home’ Italian GP at Monza and at Mugello, a track they own. At Monza neither Ferrari car even managed to finish, and at Mugello they scored a combined dismal 5 points (Mercedes scored 44 with their 1-2 finish). They remain in the bottom half of the constructors’ table, behind Renault, an embarrassing place for a team whose contract with the FIA sees them receive more money for competing that any other manufacturer, including Mercedes. One wonders how long Ferrari leadership will be willing to maintain faith in Matteo Binotto, the team principal.
This McLaren fan, though, will not exactly be losing any sleep over Ferrari’s misfortune.
As the wins continue to stack up for Mercedes, who now enjoy an over-150 point lead on Red Bull, their victory this season seems completely inevitable, especially when the aforementioned Red Bull fail to take victory, or even a podium, when Mercedes eventually dropped the ball at Monza. And after failing to properly capitalize on Hamilton’s penalty at Monza and having the lead taken back from him after the restart at Mugello, Bottas will feel his chances at a driver’s championship slip ever farther away as Hamilton takes an even more commanding lead. There might yet be an interesting battle brewing for taking the title of ‘King of the Midfield’ in the constructor’s championship, and second place in the drivers’, but even racing as chaotic as that seen in the last couple weeks seems unable to shake the might of Toto Wolff, Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes team.