At a race where Mercedes were expected to romp to victory, Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff was forced to watch as neither of his drivers featured in the top three for the first time since the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix. But Wolff managed to be magnanimous in defeat, as he said that Pierre Gasly’s victory for AlphaTauri had been a win for Formula 1.
Mercedes’ race unravelled at Monza, as first Valtteri Bottas suffered a poor start, with the Finn then unable to make progress as he came home fifth. Then race leader Lewis Hamilton unwittingly entered the pit lane while it was closed, receiving a 10-second stop/go penalty that left him P7 at the flag, as Gasly won from McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and Racing Point’s Lance Stroll.
You don’t often see Formula 1 drivers queueing up to lavish praise on one of their rivals if they win a race. But there was a raft of bonhomie in the paddock as Pierre Gasly scooped up his maiden victory at the Italian Grand Prix for AlphaTauri.
Lewis Hamilton played a significant role in both Gasly’s maiden podium at Interlagos and then his maiden win at Monza. And the six-time champion was quick to pay tribute to the Frenchman, and his sometime Call Of Duty partner – while not failing to miss an opportunity to take a crack at rivals Red Bull for having “unfairly” demoted Gasly midway through last season, in Hamilton’s words.
IN PICTURES: The best shots of Pierre Gasly’s historic maiden victory in Monza
“Congratulations to Pierre,” said Hamilton after the race, where he finished seventh after receiving a stop/go penalty. “I think that’s an amazing result, considering he was dropped from the top team, from Red Bull – unfairly I think.
“I’ve obviously seen what he’s been through, from being dropped from the top team and now he’s beaten the top team. I think it’s just fantastic to see him recover and to see him grow. I’m generally really happy for him… It’s been good for him to build up, to build confidence and get a fantastic result today, so huge congrats to him.”
Max Verstappen endured a stinker of a race in Italy, retiring on Lap 30 with a power unit issue – but the Dutchman was nonetheless gracious enough to praise both his former Red Bull team mate, and the Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri squad with whom he began his F1 career in 2015.
“I’m of course very happy for Pierre,” said Verstappen. “The whole weekend they were very fast, and then of course to win the race here was, I think, very emotional and a great result for them. It’s a great group of people and I hope they’re going to enjoy this one tonight because they deserve it. So, great – also very happy for Pierre.”
Perhaps no driver in the paddock was happier than Gasly’s fellow Frenchman Romain Grosjean, who practically ignored his own performance in the post-race interviews to gush about Gasly’s achievements, as he claimed France’s first win since Olivier Panis’ Monaco Grand Prix victory in 1996 – the year Gasly was born…
“I’m pleased with my race but I’m very, very pleased for Pierre,” said Grosjean, whose reaction to finding out that Gasly had won is worth watching in the video below. “He’s been showing all year long his pace, his racecraft and today was the day when the stars were aligned and he took the opportunity.
“He’s a great guy, and it’s an incredible day for France – 24 years that we haven’t had a race winner, and there he is, standing on the podium, with the Marseillaise [France’s national anthem]. I’m so happy for him.”
Gasly was moved up to Red Bull from Toro Rosso at the start of 2019 when Daniel Ricciardo switched over to Renault. And with Ricciardo’s own maiden win at the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix having also come on a day when Mercedes were expected to cruise to victory, the Australian could understand better than most Gasly’s emotions.
“Pierre deserves a congrats,” said Ricciardo, who finished the race in sixth, sandwiched between the two Mercedes. “He held on, and it’s not easy – the red flags really mess with your rhythm. Mentally, it’s pretty chaotic in your head so to hold strong, I think he deserves that.
But Wolff – his mood perhaps brightened by the fact that Mercedes’ closest competitors Red Bull failed to score at all at Monza – was able to see the bigger picture of what had been an incredible Italian Grand Prix.
“This is a loss for Mercedes and a loss for the other big teams, but this is a victory for the sport,” said Wolff. “There was great entertainment today, with a call that took the leader out, which we can debate.
“[But] I think it is so refreshing to see the podium and the young guys fighting in front. I looked at the podium and it was great. They all deserved it. Their teams made the right calls, they drove very well, the battle for the victory was good and seeing them up there is very good news for the sport… You have to see it from that side and they provided great entertainment.
Valtteri Bottas was at a loss to explain the reason behind his poor Italian Grand Prix getaway and nightmare first lap, which saw him drop from P2 on the grid to P6. The Finn eventually finished fifth in Monza, but was left to rue a missed opportunity on a day where he could have made up ground on Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton in the title race…
Hamilton’s 10s stop-and-go penalty, for pitting when the pitlane was closed, put him down to last at the race re-start and would have given Bottas a prime chance of winning on any other day. But a poor start coupled with engine overheating issues left Bottas to endure a frustrating outing.
“It was a long afternoon and the start – not quite sure yet what really happened. In the first lap I had some contact and I actually thought I had a puncture because I had big understeer in [Turns] 6 and 7 then out of [Turn 7] the car was pulling to one side.
“Going to Turn 8 I was cautious because I thought had a puncture but it turns out I didn’t,” explained Bottas.
It was a puzzling beginning to a tiresome race that left Bottas seeking answers.
“After that it was just engine overheating issues, so running too hot with the engine water temperature, so that meant I couldn’t follow any cars and that way I couldn’t race them – it felt long,” he said.
For the first time since 2012, neither a Mercedes, a Red Bull nor a Ferrari finished on the podium – and the Finn had an appropriate description for the Italian Grand Prix.
“It’s a crazy race and I don’t understand how some of the guys got ahead of us, so. I don’t understand what really happened today,” he surmised.
Next, Mercedes head to Mugello for Ferrari’s 1,000th Grand Prix with Bottas now second in the championship as Max Verstappen retired in Italy. Even though he outscored team mate Lewis Hamilton for the first time since the season opener in Austria, Bottas sits 47 points behind the defending champion.
“I obviously know Lance very well and he really deserved to be there,” Wolff added. “It’s his second podium, he’s been on the front row here in Monza, so it’s a track that suits him. And for the others, congratulations. AlphaTauri, previously Toro Rosso, had a win here with Seb [Vettel, in 2008], so it seems to be going well for them here too, and for Carlos, it was overdue to be there. He was on the podium already, but I think for McLaren a fantastic race, and seeing these three teams up there – well deserved.”
It was only the second time in the eight races this season that Wolff has failed to see a Mercedes driver finish on the top step of the podium. But with the Austrian currently considering his future in the sport, Wolff was asked after the race whether achieving a perfect season – which Mercedes came closest to when they won 19 out of 21 races in 2016 – was a motivation that could keep him in Formula 1.
“Win all races? As a competitor, obviously I would like to have this record and say we’d won all races,” said Wolff. “But I think Formula 1 would suffer a great deal. I think we all need races like today where the pecking order is different, where new faces appear on the podium, because they simply raced well and the team took the right decisions. I like this shaking up the order and in that respect, as I said to you before, Mercedes lost the race, but all of Formula 1 won and this is very important also.”
Meanwhile, Mercedes’ “loss” still saw the team net 17 points – the third highest tally of any team at Monza – to increase their lead to 123 points over Red Bull.