By Sean Kelly, C4F1 statistician
It was less than three months ago – around the time Lewis Hamilton won the processional French Grand Prix in June – that seasoned F1 fans and pundits alike were wondering where the excitement was going to come from as Lewis Hamilton moved inevitably towards his sixth world championship.
Since then, F1 has looked a totally different beast. Charles Leclerc’s breathless and emotional victory at Monza on Sunday capped a run of six races split equally between three drivers (Hamilton, Leclerc and Max Verstappen), all driving for different teams. In fact, had the championship begun in Austria rather than Australia, the sport would have a totally different complexion:
World Championship since Austria
1 Lewis Hamilton 97
2 Charles Leclerc (-2)
3 Max Verstappen (-12)
4 Valtteri Bottas (-27)
5 Sebastian Vettel (-39)
Leclerc’s maiden victory at Spa last weekend was long overdue, but by winning at Monza as well the Monegasque has shown that the floodgates may now be well and truly open.
The list of drivers who took their first two victories consecutively is relatively short – only eight other drivers have done it – but it includes quite a few title-winning notables (Alberto Ascari, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton).
Leclerc became the 11th driver to win for Ferrari at Monza in the world championship era (Can you name the other 10? Answers at the bottom), and took the Scuderia’s 19th overall championship race win at Monza, further extending their record for most wins by any constructor at a single circuit.
There was a lingering sense during the post-race scenes that Monza had seen a firm shift in the balance of power at Ferrari, and it was more than subliminal. Leclerc had won the team’s most important race of the year from pole – outqualifying teammate Sebastian Vettel for the seventh consecutive time in doing so – and then moved ahead of him in the championship as a consequence.
Meanwhile, Vettel spun all on his own on lap six, and then compounded the error by rejoining the track so recklessly that he took out Lance Stroll in the process. In contrast, Leclerc resisted enormous pressure from both Mercedes drivers without making a single costly error.
Having been hounded to the line by Hamilton at Spa, Valtteri Bottas provided the chief opposition late on Sunday as Hamilton’s medium compound tyres faded. Leclerc’s victory may have been influenced the decision to evaluate hard compound tyres in FP2, the only frontrunner to do so. Never assume that Friday running is inconsequential….
Bottas’ second place meant the Finn finished on the podium for the third year in a row at Monza without winning, a statistic that is becoming a problem. Of Bottas’ 41 career podium finishes only 5 of them are wins, a disappointing 12% wins-to-podiums ratio. For context, Hamilton’s ratio in this category is 55%, with Vettel at 44% and Verstappen 26%.
That Hamilton was on the podium is not exactly news unto itself – it is the 6th consecutive year that he has stood up there at the Italian GP, and the 8th time overall in his career – but what made this one unique was that he’d never previously finished third at Monza. Not that it stopped the tifosi from heartily booing Ferrari’s bogeyman of modern times….
By their own admission, Renault have had a disappointing season, as the acquisition of Daniel Ricciardo has not translated into a jump in performance…. at least until Monza. Thanks in part to the penalties suffered by Max Verstappen, Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg both qualified in the top six this weekend, the first time two Renaults had done so since Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen at the 2007 French Grand Prix.
As nice as that was, the team then saw their drivers finish in the top five, something not achieved by Renault since Fernando Alonso delivered their last victory to-date in the 2008 Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji, with teammate Nelson Piquet finishing fourth. Of the team’s 65 points this season, they scored over one-third of them in this race alone!
Just as Verstappen’s absence from the sharp end of qualifying was notable on Saturday, the AWOL Red Bulls would again be a story during the Grand Prix. Starting from the back, Verstappen’s day was seriously affected by a broken front wing when he literally ran into a traffic jam at the first chicane.
The Dutchman recovered to finish eighth, but given that the first lap pitstop alone cost something in the region of 26 seconds and he only finished 29 seconds adrift of fourth-placed Daniel Ricciardo, it’s not hard to see how things could have worked out differently but for that incident.
Teammate Alexander Albon probably left Monza with similar sentiments. Although the race saw solid points again in his second Red Bull outing, a costly collision with Carlos Sainz and a five-second penalty meant that he only finished sixth.
A mechanical failure accounted for Sergio Perez being eliminated in Q1 at Monza for the second consecutive season, but at a circuit on which he finished 2nd from 12th on the grid for Sauber back in 2012, the Mexican bounced back from a low starting position to finish 7th on Sunday, continuing an excellent streak of results at this venue – he’s finished 9th or better at the last six Italian GPs in a row.
Racing Point’s afternoon might have been a lot better had Lance Stroll not been taken out by Sebastian Vettel’s ludicrous rejoin from his spin at the Ascari chicane. This was particularly painful for Stroll as Monza is something of an anomaly when it comes to his single lap pace.
Prior to Italy he had only progressed from Q1 once all season (Hockenheim), but in spite of this he qualified ninth on the grid this weekend. It was only the third time that Stroll had reached Q3 in the last 47 Grands Prix stretching back to mid-2017, and ALL OF THEM have been at Monza!
We had a quick car today and really should have brought both cars home inside the points. Checo drove a very strong race and was always under pressure. It was very unlucky with Lance: he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time!#MakeItCount #F1 #ItalianGP pic.twitter.com/29RjSsFAmk— SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team (@RacingPointF1) September 8, 2019
Speaking of qualifying, Saturday saw Antonio Giovinazzi become the first Italian to start in the top ten in his home Grand Prix since Tonio Liuzzi, ten years previously. He translated this into a ninth-place finish, which perhaps surprisingly is Giovinazzi’s best yet, having originally been eighth at Hockenheim before being disqualified, and then crashing out of ninth on the penultimate lap in Belgium.
Tenth place gave Lando Norris his sixth points finish of the year at the expense of the unfortunate Pierre Gasly, the man who was taken out by Lance Stroll’s rejoin from being taken out by Sebastian Vettel! A promising home event for Toro Rosso saw them leave empty handed, with Daniil Kvyat’s retirement while running sixth being a particular blow.
So while Lewis Hamilton might have got this championship all-but-sewn up in the first half of the season, Charles Leclerc has at least proven that there is still plenty of entertainment to be had in the remainder of 2019. Stay tuned….
(Trivia answer: The other Ferrari drivers to win at Monza are Alberto Ascari, Phil Hill, John Surtees, Ludovico Scarfiotti, Clay Regazzoni, Jody Scheckter, Gerhard Berger, Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello and Fernando Alonso).