Verstappen Makes F1 History With A 10th Consecutive Victory
Just a week after the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, which took place under a real mix of dry and wet conditions, the next race on the 2023 calendar was at Italy’s famous Monza circuit this afternoon, and it was Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who claimed the right to stand on the top step of the podium after a thrilling race at the Temple of Speed. He also set a new Formula 1 all-time record by winning ten races in a row.
The record-breaking Max Verstappen was peerless at Monza
The main news from Monza last Thursday was the announcement that Sir Lewis Hamilton has at last signed a new contract to remain with Mercedes for the next two seasons, by which time he will be 40. His teammate George Russell’s current deal has also been extended by an additional year, meaning that they are now both set to remain together at Mercedes until at least the end of the 2025 season. This is good news for the team and its drivers, if not bad news for any other leading driver who might have been looking to head to the Brackley-based outfit before 2026.
On the previous Monday, it was also confirmed that 21-year-old F1 rookie Liam Lawson, who made his race debut at Zandvoort, will continue to deputise for AlphaTauri’s injured Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo until the latter is fit to return, and the highly promising Kiwi really needs to grasp this unexpected opportunity with both hands. Ricciardo had already had surgery on the fractured metacarpal bone in his left hand in Barcelona last Sunday and is fully focused on reclaiming his seat as soon as possible, but he accepts he must make a full recovery before doing so. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner hit the nail on the head when reflecting on how long this might take:
The recuperation period for any normal human being might be around 10–12 weeks, but we know that these guys aren’t normal!
The longstanding Monza track on the outskirts of Milan is the exact opposite of venues like Monaco, as it is all about ultra-high speeds and low downforce, and the red-clad and highly passionate Ferrari fans always make their presence very much felt, just as their counterparts in orange had done for Verstappen a week earlier. Race interruptions at Monza are always likely, with the last five dry Grands Prix there having featured both safety car and Virtual Safety Car interventions, which provided advantageous opportunities to pit. The best overtaking spot has also tended to be into the opening chicane at the end of the long start/finish straight. Sadly, Monza looked a little different this year compared to the past, as recent storms had led to many trees being damaged and felled, with around 10,000 now missing.
George Russell is set to partner Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes for two more years
The Ferrari cars bore a revised livery for this weekend, commemorating that of the team’s 499P Hypercar, which was victorious at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hour race in June, with Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz, and the crew also wearing suitably amended race suits. Alfa Romeo altered its car livery for Monza too during its final year in partnership with the Swiss-based Sauber team.
Verstappen’s Monza weekend started well on Friday as he topped the timesheets after the opening free practice session, with Sainz, Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez, and Leclerc the best of the rest. However, come second practice later the same day, the reigning champion was only fifth fastest after suffering from traffic issues on his fastest lap and being denied permission to have another attempt by his experienced race engineer, Gianpiero Lambiasi.
2023 Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix
1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1hr13m41.143s
2 Sergio Pérez (Red Bull) +6.064s
3 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +11.193s
4 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +11.377s
5 George Russell (Mercedes) +23.028s
6 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +42.679s
7 Alex Albon (Williams) +45.106s
8 Lando Norris (McLaren) +45.449s
9 Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) +46.294s
10 Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) +1m4.056s
11 Liam Lawson (AlphaTauri) +1m10.638s
12 Oscar Piastri (McLaren) +1m13.074s
13 Logan Sargeant (Williams) +1m18.557s
14 Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo) +1m20.164s
15 Pierre Gasly (Alpine) +1m22.510s
16 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +1m27.266s
17 Nico Hülkenberg (Haas) Lapped
18 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Lapped
19 Esteban Ocon (Alpine) Retired
20 Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) Did Not Start
This left Sainz, McLaren’s Lando Norris, and Pérez to lead the way. The latter caused a red-flag stoppage, though, after a driving error left the Mexican flying at high speed through the gravel trap to the barriers at the lap-ending hairpin, now known as the Curva Alboreto but better known for decades as the world-famous Parabolica. Lance Stroll had also previously forced an earlier delay after his Aston Martin stopped on track with a fuel system issue. In yesterday’s final free practice session, Sainz edged out Verstappen by just 0.086s, with a significant half-second gap behind them between Hamilton, Leclerc, and the rest. Pérez was forced to abort his run when his RB19 developed an oil leak, and the mechanics immediately set about getting it repaired prior to the ensuing qualifying hour.
Ferrari’s renowned tifosi fans were in high spirits as qualifying began, buoyed in particular by Sainz’s pace around the Italian parkland circuit, and they hoped that their team would be able to challenge the Red Bulls for pole position. Looking to reduce the previously experienced problematic qualifying situation where drivers would sometimes slow to almost a crawling pace on the circuit in order to create a clear track ahead of them before starting a hot lap, the FIA introduced a maximum lap time at Monza with the aim of stopping such deliberate dawdling. However, both Ferrari drivers soon found themselves under investigation for unduly slow final out laps during the first part of qualifying. As history has shown, though, it takes brave stewards to take any action against Ferrari and its drivers at a Monza packed with tifosi, and both drivers escaped any subsequent sanction! The race officials gave no formal explanation for their reasoning, but the Ferrari team principal, Fred Vasseur, later explained that its drivers had not been penalised because they had slowed to let other cars pass on hot laps, increasing their own times.
In a gripping top ten shootout, Sainz and Leclerc set the early pace, sending the home fans wild, and, following the completion of everyone’s second attempts, it was the Spaniard who snatched pole position for today’s Grand Prix from Verstappen by just over one hundredth of a second. Leclerc and Russell claimed the second row on the grid, with Pérez and Williams’ excellent Alex Albon set to start just behind them. Ominously, though, Red Bull was confident that its wing set-up would be better suited to today’s race than yesterday’s qualifying.
Carlos Sainz did his best to resist the Red Bulls but had to settle for third
The atmosphere at every Formula 1 race day is always special, but some are more special than others, and Monza certainly sits in that extra special class. An iconic old school high-speed circuit, which demands bravery as well as skill and reliability, and a packed crowd paying homage mainly to Italy’s second religion, Ferrari, make for a truly heady cocktail, and, as the 3pm local time start of the formation lap neared, the hairs on the back of your neck truly stood up. It’s a long, flat-out sprint off the grid to the opening right-left chicane, providing potential slipstreaming opportunities, but we ended up with something of a false start when Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri ground to a halt trackside on the formation lap, with his race over before it had even begun. A second formation lap was held to allow time for the stricken car to be recovered, but this was insufficient, and so the remaining 19 cars returned to the grid for attention from their pit crews before a third formation lap became due, with the race distance reduced from 53 to 51 laps.
After a clean start, Sainz led Verstappen, Leclerc, and Russell, but the reigning champion was soon closing the gap to the Ferrari out front, while Russell began to come under pressure from Pérez. However, come lap 15, Sainz locked up in Turn 1, and Verstappen swept into the lead around the Curva Grande. More joy then followed for Red Bull, as just one tour later, Pérez got the better of Russell at the first chicane for fourth. Soon Verstappen started to extend his lead and make the race his own, with the gap back to Sainz approaching six seconds by lap 19. A series of pitstops followed for the frontrunners as medium rubber was replaced by the hard alternative before a first chicane incident between Russell and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon earned the former a five-second penalty. Norris and Oscar Piastri banging wheels at Turn 1 no doubt caused a moment of anxiety on the McLaren pit wall too!
On lap 32, Pérez passed Leclerc for third position into Turn 1, while out front Verstappen had built a 7.4s lead over Sainz. Soon after, Hamilton and Piastri collided at the first chicane, requiring the young Australian to pit to replace his damaged front wing and resulting in the veteran British driver earning a five-second penalty. As the Grand Prix progressed towards its conclusion, second-placed Sainz came under increasing pressure from Pérez, and the latter eventually found a way past at Turn 1 on lap 46. Sainz then had to fight off the close attention of his teammate as they fought hard over the final podium position, but the Spaniard clung on. Come the chequered flag, Russell and Hamilton completed the top six finishers, and Albon deserves a special mention for his seventh-place finish for Williams, while Piastri set the fastest lap of the race but didn’t earn the additional point after finishing outside the top ten.
Alfa Romeo ran a very Italian livery for their home race
Next up, F1 returns to its longhaul travels with a visit to the Singapore street circuit in a fortnight’s time and then the iconic figure of eight Suzuka track in Japan just a week later. It is not for nothing that Formula 1 is rightly known as a truly world championship.
2023 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship
1 Max Verstappen 364
2 Sergio Pérez 219
3 Fernando Alonso 170
2023 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship
1 Red Bull 583
2 Mercedes 273
3 Ferrari 228