Formula One thrilled without the spoils at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, reports PETER COSTER:
The Italian Grand Prix at Monza, the famed Temple of Speed, will be remembered as one of the greatest races in the history of Formula One.
The racing on Sunday was wheel-to-wheel, the drivers fearless and although he finished 12th after being hit by Lewis Hamilton, Oscar Piastri has emerged as a future champion.
The seven-times world champion apologised to Piastri after the race “because that’s what gentlemen do.”
Even so, the Mercedes driver could hardly describe his pass on the Melbourne rookie as “gentlemanly,” having sent the McLaren into the pits for a new front wing.
“That’s racing” might be a better description of the driving we saw on the world’s fastest circuit on Sunday.
The Monza race no longer has the terrifying banking where drivers often lost their lives. It’s there, with weeds growing through cracks in the concrete, but it is not part of the circuit.Embed from Getty Images
But Monza still demands the utmost in courage from drivers, with Oscar Piastri setting the fastest lap on Sunday and causing team boss Zac Brown to describe him as “a big balls driver.”
Testosterone aside, the 22-year-old who replaced fellow Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the McLaren this season, remains calm, cool and collected, telling commentator Martin Bundle, yes, he thinks he can win a world championship.
And, no, it wasn’t bravado. If you don’t believe you’re a winner as an F1 driver, you should be driving your grandmother to church on Sundays.
The only criticism of Piastri this weekend came from McLaren principal Andrea Stella who said the collision at the first corner chicane should not have happened.
Stella at first blamed Piastri but later included teammate Lando Norris. The stewards, however, decided there was nothing in it.
Piastri had the inside racing line and may have slid into Norris on cold tyres but it was Norris who kept trying to cut in when lifting off might have been the better part of valour.
Big testicles are not restricted to Piastri with Norris also seen as a future F1 champion.
In Piastri’s favour it is not only his points-scoring successes in his first year in F1 that has impressed even Norris, but his clean sweep of all the F3 and F2 world championships.
Meanwhile, the rise and rise of race winner Max Verstappen reached new heights at Monza. It was his 10th straight GP victory.
The Red Bull driver has won 13 of this year’s GPs with teammate and Sunday’s runner-up Sergio Perez winning the other two.
It also made it close to a certainty that Verstappen will win his third world driver’s championship this year.
A win at the Singapore Grand Prix, or Japan and Qatar will make it mathematically impossible for him to lose.
Monza on Sunday was a sea of Ferrari red after the race as tens of thousands of fans holding banners that stretched across the track gathered to cheer for Ferrari.
They would have preferred Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc to have finished one and two instead of three and four behind Verstappen and Perez, but the Italian cars scrubbed out their tyres fending off the dominant Red Bulls.
It was more than enough to put a smile on the face of Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur, who has been looking like a man walking towards the gallows in recent races.
That has not been the fault of the drivers in Sainz and Leclerc. At the Dutch Grand the week before it was the team that didn’t have the right tyres ready, and not for the first time this year, when a downpour hit the circuit.
The sprint races the Saturday before the traditional GPs will resumed with the Qatar race next month followed by the US GP and the Brazilian in November.
Drivers are paid millions of dollars to drive but many complain about what is yet another move by the owners of F1 to maximise their profits.
The issue is the risk of damaging cars on Saturday before the real race on Sundays.
The drivers are already driving in double and triple headers this year with a record 24 races confronting them next year.
The mood among the tifosi had one of the red cars been unable to race at Monza on Sunday can only be imagined.
Daniel Ricciardo is unlikely to return to his AlphaTauri seat for the Singapore Grand Prix on September 17 and may be missing for the Japan race on September 24.Embed from Getty Images
There are a reported five breaks in the bones of his left hand, which have had to be been pinned and plated.
It may be that Ricciardo will be unfit to race in the Qatar Grand Prix on October 9.
That would mean the Australian driver would not race until the United States GP on October 23.
Ricciardo’s crash in practice for the Dutch GP followed the crash by Oscar Piastri.
Piastri, who took Ricciardo’s place at McLaren this year, hit the wall giving Ricciardo no choice put to follow him or run into the back of the McLaren jutting onto the track.
Ricciardo made the mistake of not taking his hand off the wheel before he hit the barriers, not that he had much time in which to do it.
New Zealander Liam Lawson took over the car at Zandvoort and Monza and will continue if Ricciardo cannot drive at Singapore or Japan.
Lawson finished just out of the points at Monza and has impressed Red Bull, which uses AlphaTauri as a feeder team.
Lawson is now the youngest driver of the grid, a year younger than Oscar Piastri and the 10th New Zealander to drive in Formula One.
The McLaren team, which has given Piastri his chance at the elite level, is named after Bruce McLaren the New Zealand champion killed in a testing accident in a McLaren sports car of his own design in 1970.