Morning all. I just had some extremely delicious chilaquiles. For those of you who have not yet been fortunate enough to visit Mexico or try authentic Mexican cuisine, chilaquiles is a traditional breakfast dish consisting of tortilla chips, beans, red onion, grated cheese and cream. Everything is plonked in a bath of green salsa verde. A fried egg on top is an optional but recommended extra. It is one of the many reasons I fell in love with Mexico and is one of the world’s great hangover cures.
As I killed time before leaving to play tennis yesterday, the Grand Prix at Monza was just about to start. To be honest, I haven’t been watching many of the races this season after it became obvious that Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes would dominate once again. It’s just not that interesting to watch sport if you know who’s going to win. While I’m a big fan of Hamilton, I am also a big fan of other sports that offer some kind of drama and intrigue. Formula One simply has not been providing that in 2020.
Until yesterday. Given that there was nothing better to do as I slurped my pre-tennis cereal, I turned on the race. For the first half, Hamilton appeared to be heading for a simple victory, gradually extending his lead in depressingly familiar circumstances. But around the mid-way point, everything suddenly changed. A couple of safety cars in quick succession bunched the cars up and shuffled the order entirely. Hamilton, still leading, was then handed out a 10-second stop/go penalty for entering the pit-lane when it was closed. The British driver suddenly found himself in last place with his hopes for a 90th Grand Prix win all but over.
At the other end, Pierre Gasly of all people found himself out in front. I’m still not quite sure how it happened, but there he was leading the way in his Alpha Tauri. In a frenetic and tense final few laps, the Frenchman held off the challenge of McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and Racing Point’s Lance Stroll – who had gained a free pit stop thanks to the red flag – to claim his first GP victory. Hamilton eventually fought his way back to seventh, just two places behind teammate Valtteri Bottas who had a disappointing race in the sister Mercedes. Ferrari and Red Bull scored a total of 0 points between them.
First off, I’m really happy for Gasly. The Frenchman has had a roller-coaster ride in his relatively young F1 career so far. He joined the sport with Torro Rosso in the latter stages of the 2017 season, and he immediately showed his speed despite having no pre-season behind him. Strong performances throughout 2018 earned him a promotion to Red Bull, but after struggling to match Verstappen’s results he was ruthlessly demoted after just 12 races for the Milton Keynes-based team.
Gasly was not the first man to fall victim to Red Bull’s free-swinging axe (given the struggles of Alex Albon this year, he may not be the last). Having worked so hard to earn his promotion only to have it taken away after just six months, it would have been very easy for him to feel unlucky and harshly treated by his employers. But unlike others before him, Gasly quickly bounced back, booking his first podium finish at the Brazil GP in November and bringing that form into this season; the 24-year-old has consistently outperformed his teammate Daniil Kvyat and was already putting pressure on Albon and Red Bull before this stunning victory. He is a young, talented driver who surely deserves another shot at a front-line team.
All in all, it was a quite mental couple of hours. For Formula One, it came just in time. Yesterday’s race was the eighth of this truncated 2020 season. Every one has been a procession for Mercedes, with the exception of last month’s 70th Anniversary GP at Silverstone when Max Verstappen brilliantly took advantage of the Silver Arrows’ tyre punctures. The German team, which has won each of the last six constructors championships, has claimed every pole position, sometimes with a gap of more than one second to its nearest challenger. The sport really needed a race like this to remind everyone that it is capable of producing great theatre despite the continued domination of one team.
The issues remain. We are less than half way through the season and Mercedes already lead the constructor’s championship by 122 points, while Hamilton is 47 clear in the driver’s standings. Regardless of their two DNFs, Ferrari were miles off the pace again this weekend at their home GP. Red Bull, in theory Mercedes’ closest challenger, also lagged woefully behind. Were it not for Hamilton’s freak penalty and Bottas’ disastrous first lap, we would be talking about yet another entirely dominant display for the German manufacturer. There is, sadly, no reason to think that next weekend things won’t get back to normal.
But instead of lamenting the lack of competition in F1, let’s just try to enjoy what was a thrilling and memorable race. Here’s hoping for more of the same next week when the paddock visits Mugello for the first ever Tuscan GP. Ferrari will also be celebrating its 1,000th F1 race in Italy. No pressure.
Right, that’s that for today. Remember to subscribe to the Sporthought Weekly newsletter to receive all of the latest posts direct to your inbox every Saturday morning. Have a great start to the week and I’ll be back here with more on Wednesday.