Formula 1 Uncategorized

Albon Claims First F1 Podium Amid Mugello Chaos: F1 2020

The Mugello circuit is the first special track for this year’s Formula 1 calendar. In fact, F1’s never raced here before even though Mugello is more of a home to Ferrari than Monza and this track has hosted the Italian round of Moto GP for many years now. So, this would be a new experience for everyone involved but the track width and layout wouldn’t lend itself to much wheel-to-wheel F1 action. Yet, we still got one of the most bizarre and chaotic races in recent years.

The race was being celebrated as Ferrari’s 1000th GP and so the Scuderia cars featured a special burgundy livery to pay tribute to their original racing colours. Even the Mercedes-Benz AMG GT Safety Car was red for this one race.

While the SF1000 looked fantastically pretty, it couldn’t distract from the fact that both cars were still off the pace. Sebastian Vettel was only 14th fastest in qualifying, behind teammate Charles Leclerc who managed to secure a P5 start on the grid. A last-minute spin from Esteban Ocon for the final hot lap in Q3 forced everyone else to slow down in the first sector and not be able to improve on their times.

It was yet another Mercedes front-row lockout with Lewis Hamilton on Pole position but wasn’t much quicker than Valtteri Bottas. The Tuscan GP was expected to give favour to Red Bull due to its fast, sweeping corners. Max Verstappen was third fastest as usual but was finally accompanied on the second row by teammate Alex Albon. Racing Point’s Sergio Perez was sixth fastest but received a one-place grid penalty for an incident in free practice on Friday. That allowed his teammate Lance Stroll to start ahead of him. Renault showed promising pace again with Daniel Ricciardo qualifying 8th fastest and Ocon settling for 10th on the grid. They were split by the solo McLaren of Carlos Sainz that made it through to Q3.

As the cars lined up for a noisy afternoon in the Tuscany region of Italy, Bottas parked his Mercedes at an angle, ready to pounce at Hamilton down the slightly curved straight into the first corner. The Finn had a great start and was able to get ahead, well before the turn. Verstappen had a great start too but his Honda power unit just bogged down and he dropped back like an anchored ship. This allowed Leclerc to move up into P3 as the pack rounded up the first corner, just ahead of Albon. Verstappen was already at the back by the time he reached the Turn 2. This is where the first big incident happened. 

Kimi Raikkonen was on the outside line out of Turn 1 and Roman Grosjean was down the inside line with Pierre Gasly between them. The No.7 Alfa Romeo’s rear kicked out a bit as they approached braking for Turn 2 (to the left) which made the front end turn too far inwards and into the path of Gasly. The Frenchman got bounced into his compatriot in the Haas while Kimi’s car ended up punting into Verstappen sending the No.33 deep in the middle of the gravel trap and out of the race along with last week’s race winner Gasly. That’s 2 DNFs in a row for the only non-Mercedes front-runner on the grid of 2020. Carlos Sainz got loosely caught up in the chaos as well and spun which left him stranded in the middle of the track. Despite his best efforts, Vettel ended up colliding too and losing his car’s front end so he had to pit for a fresh one. That was a Safety Car incident two corners into the first-ever F1 GP at Mugello. But things were about to get a lot more intense.

Bottas was leading the train behind the Safety Car and since Mugello has a really long main straight, he decided to leave the restart (on Lap 7) till the very last moment (which he is allowed to do as the race leader). However, everyone was new to this circuit and I’m not sure anyone had practised for unusual race restarts which leaves room for mistakes. That’s what happened when Bottas held everyone up till the last second and the middle order guys were accelerating and decelerating a bit too jaggedly. It was fine up until Ocon in P10 who rushed ahead and almost passed Kvyat in P9, which made the bunch of drivers behind him think the race was underway again. But it wasn’t. So when Kevin Magnussen (P11) slowed down a lot to back off from George Russell (P10) to his right, Nicholas Latifi (P12) had also put his foot down. While the Canadian was able to swerve left to avoid the Haas, Antonio Giovinazzi (P13) had also floored it but had nowhere to go except straight into the back of Kevin’s car. It was almost the same story for Sainz (P14) who ended up driving into the airborne Alfa Romeo of the Italian driver and the two ended up collecting Latifi anyway. That was a classic highway pileup on the main straight of the Mugello circuit which claimed four cars and brought on the first red flag of the race. 

While Magnussen may seem the one to blame at first glance, I feel that the burden lies equally with Ocon who caused the cars behind him to accelerate too. You can watch the whole replay in detail here and let me know in the comments who you thought was responsible for the incident.

The race restarted from the grid once the debris was cleared up and this time it was Bottas on Pole position. There were still 49 laps to go in the Tuscan GP and 7 cars were already out of the race. Ocon had to retire as his brakes melted while the cars were parked in the pitlane during the red flag period. 

The lights went out for a second time at Mugello that Sunday and Hamilton had a better start this time, using the slipstream from the Finn to get past him and complete the overtake around the outside of Turn 1. Miraculously, Leclerc was in P3 ahead of the two Racing Points while Albon’s poor start put him in P7 after the first couple of corners. It soon turned into a regular snooze as the two Mercedes drivers pulled away from the pack with Lewis in the lead and out of DRS range. All the overtaking action was happening in the same spot: into Turn 1 after the long straight where the car behind got the advantage of DRS and slipstream. Still, it took Lance Stroll around 8 laps to get ahead of the slower Ferrari which triggered the Monegasque’s backward slide down the order as he got passed in the same spot a few more times over the next few laps. 

On Lap 43, Lewis was 6 seconds clear of Valtteri and Ricciardo was another 17 seconds behind in P3. The Renault was being hunted by the Red Bull which wasn’t far behind but it looked promising. That is until one of the rear tyres on Stroll’s car gave out as the car was rounding a fast right turn and sent him into the barriers. While the crash didn’t look too bad, the officials decided to red flag the race once again to clear the crashed car from a high-risk run-off area. 

With 13 of the 59 laps to go, the driver’s lined up on the grid once again. Hamilton on Pole, ahead of Bottas, with Ricciardo, Perez and Albon just behind them. The defending world champion isn’t one to get a race restart wrong on this third time. Lewis simply took off with Bottas’ hopes in dashed in the wind. Ricciardo did manage to get up into P2 as they headed into Turn 1 and stayed there till the end of the lap before being passed by the quicker Mercedes down the main straight. At the same time, Albon moved up into P4 and seemed to have a lot more grip. The Honey Badger tried keeping the Bull at bay but with DRS advantage down the main straight, Albon was able to pass him on Lap 51. 

Lewis took the chequered flag, nearly 5 seconds ahead of second-place Valtteri. Meanwhile, Alex Albon finally claimed his first F1 podium with a P3 finish at the Tuscan GP. It’d been a long time coming with the first glimpse of it at Brazil last year. He’d been struggling to deliver the kind of results he is capable of, the kind that earned him his seat at Red Bull and many were doubting his worthiness. It came through chaos, but the young driver finally has an F1 podium to his name. 

Dani Ric had to settle for P4, just missing on that podium spot after another phenomenal drive. 12 cars crossed the finish line with only Russell and Grosjean out of the points in P11 and P12 respectively. Perez secured a P5 finish which is still satisfying on the weekend after knowing you’ve been dropped by your team for the next season. Norris was able to get more valuable points with his P6 finish despite the lack of pace for McLaren. Another consistent point-scoring result from Daniil Kvyat in the Alpha Tauri as he finished P7, ahead of Kimi. Charles and Seb finished P9 and P10 respectively. All the Ferrari-powered cars behind everyone else, again (except Williams of course). Kimi got a 5-second time penalty for cutting the line at pit entry so that put him between the Ferraris in the final standings.

While the track itself did not lend itself to any exciting racing, we did get a lot of action from the Tuscan GP at Mugello. However, I’m willing to let this circuit be a one-off for now and enjoy it more when MotoGP rolls around. The racing action takes a short break next weekend before heading to Russia for another boring race from a circuit that doesn’t offer much excitement. 

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Final race standings

  1. L. Hamilton Mercedes — 2:19:35.060
  2. V. Bottas Mercedes +4.880
  3. A. Albon Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +8.064
  4. D. Ricciardo Renault +10.417
  5. S. Perez Racing Point BWT Mercedes +15.650
  6. L. Norris McLaren Renault +18.883
  7. D. Kvyat AlphaTauri Honda +21.756
  8. C. Leclerc Ferrari +28.345
  9. K. Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari +29.770
  10. S. Vettel Ferrari +29.983
  11. G. Russell Williams Racing Mercedes +32.404
  12. R. Grosjean Haas Ferrari +42.036
  13. L. Stroll Racing Point BWT Mercedes DNF
  14. E. Ocon Renault DNF
  15. N. Latifi Williams Racing Mercedes DNF
  16. K. Magnussen Haas Ferrari DNF
  17. A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari DNF
  18. C. Sainz McLaren Renault DNF
  19. M. Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda DNF
  20. P. Gasly AlphaTauri Honda DNF

2 replies on “Albon Claims First F1 Podium Amid Mugello Chaos: F1 2020”

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