Sky Sports F1’s Martin Brundle delivers his expert verdict on the Italian GP weekend after Max Verstappen made it 10 consecutive race wins in Monza.
That was one of the best Monza F1 Grands Prix and I thoroughly enjoyed it. For Max Verstappen to win 10 consecutive races, along with Red Bull taking all 15 races so far this season, it’s truly something to behold.
What an achievement to faultlessly keep up that level of performance and reliability on many different track layouts and in varying weather conditions, up against mighty opposition. Congratulations to each and every one of them.
If a tennis player or football or rugby team for example was so utterly complete and dominant, they would rightly be globally lauded at the highest level. As should this pairing be. Sport can and should be tribal, but you must surely also appreciate a level of excellence in others.
So I was a little surprised and disappointed that Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff played down this achievement over the weekend, because they rightly received their due reverence and appreciation during their years of total domination from 2014 to 2020.
At the same time Max and Red Bull will no doubt reflect on a few past actions and words which have diluted their current appreciation levels in some quarters. But it’s all to be expected when you put so many intensely competitive people into the same space.
Sainz the real star of Monza
The star of the Italian Grand Prix was undoubtedly Carlos Sainz. It was clear early on that Ferrari had really focused on Monza with their aerodynamic package and fresh power units.
This one mattered and Sainz was on form from the off. He threatened to be the one to deny Verstappen pole position, and when the pressure was on, he delivered.
Most people in the paddock thought Red Bull would have the faster race car and look after its tyres better on longer race stints, and that included Ferrari. Their drivers Sainz and Leclerc knew they would have to give it everything they had, and they surely did. Ferrari and their fans love an aggressive, passionate, and never-say-die driver, and have many former heroes such as Gilles Villeneuve as a benchmark.
Sainz’s defence against Verstappen and later Sergio Perez in the sister Red Bull, as well as his own team-mate Leclerc was brilliant, if right on the limit. He positioned his car perfectly and aggressively resisted moves around the outside, particularly at turn one. Sometimes his defensive moves were a touch late, he occasionally pushed the rules on moving more than once and also on the need to leave space on the outside of a corner. It was great to watch and full credit to the FIA stewards for allowing hard racing.
Rules sometimes not as clear as they seem
The rules are basically this: if your rival is trying to pass on the outside line, should they be fully alongside, front wheel to front wheel, then you have to give them space, which in effect means let them pass.
It’s not always easy to define exactly where the apex is in some longer corners, but in the 90-degree right/90-degree left first chicane, it’s clear enough.
The problem there is that it’s so narrow that two compliant drivers can barely pass side by side, and the driver on the inside will not have enough command over their front tyres to simply dial in even more steering angle. There will be contact along with drivers claiming to have been run out of road.
Both Ferrari drivers defended against both Red Bulls with guile and determination, but it was inevitable they would end up fighting each other for the final spot of the world’s best podium in front of the passionate Ferrari fans.
So they set about racing each other with plenty of aggression and a few near misses which was enthralling. Both drivers said they thoroughly enjoyed proper racing, Leclerc said it reminded him of his karting days. If the drivers love it and are allowed to race, then the fans will love it too.
Had the Ferrari boys wiped each other out and put George Russell’s Mercedes on the podium instead, there would have been chaos and recrimination all round. But they didn’t.
Perez race craft made him another standout performer
Sainz was the best non-Red Bull driver – 11 seconds behind Verstappen which is better than the half a minute or more in some races this year. Having said that, Max had to cruise at the end of the race to protect some car temperatures which were getting high.
It was also a standout performance from Sergio Perez. Slightly off the pace again in qualifying, his race craft to navigate past Russell, Leclerc and Sainz was top drawer.
That puts him 49 points ahead of Fernando Alonso in second place in the drivers’ championship, but I think much more importantly will give him great confidence heading into the final eight races. I sense he’s mentally back in control after some difficult races.
Russell had a strong weekend for Mercedes at a track where they were stronger than McLaren and Aston Martin. Lewis tripped over Oscar Piastri’s McLaren with a squeeze into the second chicane, for which he impressively took full responsibility and apologised to the Aussie rookie who was having a solid weekend again.
Alex Albon and Lando Norris travelled side by side in the same road car from and back to Monaco, and would spend the entire race nose to tail finishing a third of a second apart. Norris simply couldn’t find a way past the speedy Williams of Albon, who once again soaked up the pressure without error. This fight was typical of the battles throughout the field.
Liam Lawson once again impressed standing in for Daniel Ricciardo at Alpha Tauri, and it appears he will have a couple more chances yet before Ricciardo’s difficult hand fracture has sufficiently healed.
Elsewhere it was a weekend to forget for Alpine and to a lesser extent Aston Martin who could only manage ninth for Fernando Alonso, which would have been 10th without Piastri’s contact with Hamilton. However next up is Singapore, which is an altogether different challenge and will shuffle the pack again.
Stick with decision on tyre combinations
This was the second trial for the Alternative Tyre Allocation (ATA) where drivers would be limited to 11 sets of dry tyres comprising of three hard compounds, four medium and four soft. This is two overall sets fewer than usual and also means just four sets of soft tyres instead of eight.
It would be a dry weekend and so a true test, which went well enough. It does make the Friday practice running even more difficult to decipher, especially as those not expecting to get through Q1 or even Q2 to take a completely different approach to the practice sessions tyre-wise. And it will surely always promote fewer practice laps rather than more.
I don’t mind which way we go as long as a decision is made and we stick to it. We simply have too many tyre combinations for the various qualifying and race formats and many of us in the paddock struggle to remember them without reading up each time, and I suspect the fans really can’t be bothered with it all either. The teams will adapt as required.
And so to the humidity and relentless floodlit corners of Singapore. I can’t wait.
Formula 1 returns in two weeks’ time with the Singapore Grand Prix and all sessions will be live on Sky Sports F1 from September 15-17.