The Tifosi’s roars resounded throughout the world as Formula 1 returned to Monza for the 2022 Italian GP. The Italian Grand Prix is one of, if not the most important races on the F1 calendar. It is the only race to have remained in every single season of Formula 1 since it became a World Championship in 1950. This gives the Autodromo Nazionale Monza the record for the most F1 Grands Prix hosted, with 72 to its name. The only year when Monza didn’t host the race was in 1980 when Monza went under major renovations. The race took place in Imola that year.
The Italian GP will now forever be one of the most memorable races for me after I visited The Temple of Speed during the summer break. The fact that I stood on the same podium as the most coveted drivers in Formula 1 history was mind-blowing. I wrote about my experience and posted a video of the track tour I did in my recent post.
The historical significance of the race combined with thrilling action made the 2022 Italian GP a race to remember. With Ferrari getting (somewhat) back to their winning ways, the Tifosi’s hopes rested on the Scuderia’s shoulders. Could Charles Leclerc do what he did back in 2019, and hold off the championship leader to win in Monza? Or could Carlos Sainz take the 2nd win of his career at Ferrari’s home turf? For the Tifosi, this race took a darker turn, with Max Verstappen careering to victory in Ferrari’s backyard.
For once, Ferrari didn’t riddle the race with foul-ups and mistakes. In the race that was more significant than any other for them, they actually made the right calls and strategy decisions. But then why were they simply unable to usurp the reigning champion? That’s one of the key elements of this race that I will analyse. After that, I’m going to look at what was a disappointing ending. We did not get the ending that fans and drivers alike wanted and deserved.
To end the race review, I’m going to analyse some performances from the 2022 Italian GP that didn’t just stand out to me but stood out to people all over the world. I’m especially referring to a Dutch driver, who won a World Championship last year. The man of the moment, Nyck De Vries. His points finish gained incredible recognition and are solid proof that he should be driving in Formula 1. Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton also did very well, with both finishing in the Top 5 despite starting at the back of the grid. These performances were unique and unprecedented, and I can’t wait to start picking them apart.
Ferrari’s Strategy Was Not The Problem For Them
Just like he has been in almost all of the recent races, Max Verstappen was simply unbeatable. For example, at the 2022 Belgian GP, despite starting in P14, Verstappen stormed to a win, and he won by a country mile. In addition, Ferrari made countless errors and blunders throughout the season that allowed Red Bull and Verstappen to fly away with points. Yet at the 2022 Italian GP, we saw a different Ferrari. The team knew how significant the race was, with hundreds of thousands of Tifosi attending the race.
They didn’t just take calls that didn’t make any sense. The team did not make strategy calls that made no sense to the drivers. It’s clear that it was better thought out and that they had planned to deal with every scenario and to deal with them better than before. The only time where Ferrari seemed to be making mistakes was when they kept Sainz out for so long. He was worryingly slow on worn tires, but Ferrari kept him out. Apart from that, they didn’t really make any grave mistakes.
Let’s break down their strategy decisions. The first decision they made was to bring Leclerc into the pits during the Virtual Safety Car period. That was the right decision – pitting during a VSC means you lose 10 seconds less than you would normally lose. Furthermore, Verstappen was catching up, and pitting gave Leclerc the tire advantage and protected him from losing pace on worn tires.
While it was very early in the race, and it dropped Leclerc to P3, it was a good decision for Ferrari. Unfortunately for Ferrari, Red Bull and Verstappen reacted well. They decided to stick to the one-stop strategy and stretched their first stint. Leclerc pitted on Lap 11. Verstappen came in on Lap 26 and came out 10 seconds behind Leclerc. It was now a race to the finish line.
Leclerc could win if, by some miracle, he could remain faster than Verstappen for the rest of the race without blowing up his tires. It was the very opposite. Verstappen was closing up that 10-second gap at a remarkable rate. In 6 laps, he had gained nearly 5 seconds. That’s when Ferrari knew that they couldn’t win this race on the one-stop. They called Leclerc back into the pits for a scrubbed set of softs.
Once again, this was probably the best they could’ve done given how fast Verstappen was. On the superior soft tires, Leclerc had to gain a second per lap to win the race. Sadly, Leclerc completely fell short of that goal. It was very ambitious in the first place; gaining a second per lap on the championship leader is a tall order. But Leclerc was slower than expected, and Verstappen was faster than expected. Towards the end of the race, a sliver of hope remained for the Tifosi when Ricciardo retired and Race Control deployed the Safety Car. But it’s safe to say, those hopes were dashed…
The Underwhelming Ending To The Race
A Safety Car ending is probably one of, if not the worst scenario to end a race on. It’s painfully boring and anticlimactic for fans and drivers alike. Unfortunately, there are some situations where a Safety Car finish is simply unavoidable. The situation that comes to my mind is the 2019 Bahrain Grand Prix.
I remember Lewis Hamilton crossing the line to win the race under SC conditions, which was disappointing, to say the least. Yet now I understand that there’s nothing the Race Director could’ve done to avoid it. 2 cars had gone off at Turn 1 towards the end of the race, meaning that the race had to end under the Safety Car. But at the 2022 Italian GP, this Safety Car finish was not unavoidable at all.
Let’s backtrack to when Race Control first deployed the Safety Car. On Lap 47 of the race (Lap 46 for Ricciardo since he was lapped), Daniel Ricciardo retired from the race. He had an engine failure and stopped on the side of the track, which meant that Race Control had no choice but to deploy the Safety Car. Keep in mind that the race was 53 laps long, so this was incredibly close to the end of the race.
The Safety Car came out, but the Safety Car needs to move slowly and wait for the race leader to catch up to the Safety Car. And at the same time, all cars had to maintain a slower-than-usual pace when catching up to the Safety Car. Since the field was so mixed up, it took a long while for Verstappen (the leader) to catch up to the Safety Car. That was ultimately a lot of time wasted.
In addition, Daniel Ricciardo’s car was stuck in gear, meaning the marshals were unable to move it to safety. They had to wait for a crane to arrive, and then load the car onto the vehicle, and then the incident would be clear. More time wasted. However, the incident was still clear in time for one lap of racing to take place. It would’ve been a blockbuster ending, with both Leclerc and Verstappen on soft tires (although I think Leclerc’s were used). Frustratingly, fans were denied a memorable ending.
There are two scenarios that Race Control could’ve followed. Even the F1 commentators agree that these scenarios should’ve taken place. The first is that since the incident was cleared, the Safety Car could’ve come in to allow one last racing lap. That’s the one that makes the most sense to me. While the other option is also favourable, and perhaps better, it’s less practical. The other scenario would be if Race Control Red Flagged the race.
However, there must be 3 laps remaining in the race for Race Control to Red Flag the race. At that point in the race, it was clear that Ricciardo’s car wasn’t moving, so a Red Flag makes sense, right? But the main impracticality that hindered the Red Flag was the fact that the incident wasn’t significant enough for a Red Flag. One car having an engine failure doesn’t mean Red Flag conditions should take place, and that’s what the FIA said when justifying their decisions.
While a Red Flag could’ve made sense due to how jumbled up the field was with lapped cars and whatnot, the FIA’s explanation makes perfect sense. That’s why I strongly believe that allowing that one final lap of racing would’ve made more sense, and it would’ve been a much more wholesome ending to the 2022 Italian GP.
Nyck De Vries The Super-Sub
Nyck De Vries blew the world away with his achievements this weekend. De Vries’ career has already been illustrious. He became the F2 World Champion in 2019, but no teams offered him a seat in F1, so he went to Formula E. In Formula E, he raced with Mercedes and finished in 11th in his first season. And in his 2nd season, he became a Formula E World Champion, winning the championship in the incredibly intense final race of the season.
Leading up to the 2022 Italian GP race weekend, Nyck De Vries had already had 2 outings in a Formula 1 car, since he is a Mercedes reserve driver. The first was in FP1 at the 2022 Spanish GP, and the second was in FP1 at the 2022 French GP.
In Spain, he replaced Alex Albon for the session and was able to beat Nicholas Latifi. In France, however, he replaced Lewis Hamilton and got a chance in a Mercedes. He didn’t perform as well and was half a second off his teammate. Considering how it was only his 2nd outing in an F1 car, that was still quite a strong performance.
At the 2022 Italian GP, De Vries once again got the opportunity to replace a driver for FP1. This time, he would drive the Aston Martin in place of Sebastian Vettel. De Vries didn’t really show any pace – he struggled to get to grips with the Aston, and also had to do some aero testing. For a while, his car had an aero rake on it.
While that Practice session was supposed to be the end of it, suddenly, news broke that De Vries would make his F1 race debut! Alex Albon couldn’t race after being diagnosed with appendicitis. Williams could then bring De Vries as a replacement. He was already in Monza and is a reserve for Mercedes, Aston and Williams.
Bringing in a replacement at such short notice is difficult for the driver and the team since there are a lot of adjustments that the team has to make. The seat fitting, getting the driver to be familiar with the car, the steering wheel, and more. It’s a huge ask, but they pulled it off. In FP3, De Vries performed better, since he already drove around Monza in FP1.
But Quali was where he started to shine. He got into Q2 and qualified in P13, 3 places ahead of his teammate. Due to the plethora of grid penalties, De Vries started the race in P8. He did well at the start and maintained his position. However, he fell to P9 after Carlos Sainz charged through the midfield. While his position went up and down during the race thanks to varying strategies and retirements. Nevertheless, he was still able to keep a similar net position.
That means on-track, drivers weren’t overtaking him, and after all of the pitstops, he only dropped one position. He had dropped to P10, and this is where things started to get difficult. Guanyu Zhou was behind him and was breathing down his throat. Zhou was in an Alfa Romeo which is faster than a Williams.
On top of that, Zhou has been racing in F1 in each of the races leading up to the 2022 Italian GP. With a more experienced driver in a faster car trying to overtake him for the final points position, De Vries gave it everything he had and more. He pushed as hard as he could, placing the car perfectly every time Zhou tried to overtake him.
After Daniel Ricciardo retired, De Vries finished the race in P9, scoring points in his debut F1 race. He didn’t just show his racecraft, but he also showed consistency by keeping up with the midfield pack throughout the race. After the race, he was so drained that he needed help to get out of the car. It truly was an incredible performance, and I’m glad I got to watch it.
Crazy Comebacks Of The Day
With top drivers suffering from grid penalties, we got to witness some extraordinary comebacks. The first comeback came from the reigning champion and race winner, Max Verstappen. He jumped up the order astonishingly fast, gaining 3 positions on the opening lap itself. By the end of Lap 2, he had overtaken Daniel Ricciardo for P3. On Lap 1, Verstappen overtook George Russell, and for the rest of the race, all he had to do was come through and secure the race win.
The largest and most entertaining comeback was from Carlos Sainz. He did the exact same as Verstappen, gaining 4 positions in the first 2 laps of the race. However, it was a lot longer a journey for the Ferrari. He started in P18, which means that it was a lot taller of an order for him to recover to the top spots. Regardless, he kept the fans on the edges of their seats for the first quarter of the race. On Lap 7, he reached P10. And then, between Laps 7 and 13, he gained a position for each lap. It was a spectacular streak.
Once he reached P4, his progress slowed. The Top 3 had created a gap to the midfield, meaning gaining more positions would be a lot more complicated. That’s why he finished the race in P4. With 14 places gained, this was truly damage limitation taken to the next level. During pit windows, Sainz did lose a few positions, but he gained them back when other cars made their pitstops. Apart from that, he kept P4 in his hands for the rest of the race and brought home some good points for Ferrari.
The last major comeback came from the 7-Time World Champion, Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton, like Sainz, is familiar with comebacks. He made a major comeback in Brazil last year, just like Sainz did in Brazil in 2019. And both of them gained 14 positions at the 2022 Italian GP. For Hamilton, the race was a lot less straightforward. Mercedes and Hamilton played the long game, as they usually do. They played the long game in the 2022 Dutch GP, and they did the same in Italy.
In the first 15 laps, he only gained 6 positions. It was during the pit window when Hamilton gained 5 or 6 positions and made it into the Top 10. Like almost all of the field, Hamilton started the race on Medium tires. He managed his tires really well and extended his stint on the Mediums, with a monstrous 33 laps on the same set. However, he came out of the pits in P12, which is not where he would want to finish. This is where Mercedes’ strategy team, combined with Hamilton’s supreme driving, showed their strength.
He came out of the pits on a set of soft tires, which gave him superiority over the midfield pack ahead of him. That allowed him to finish in P5. A Top 5 finish after starting in P19 is truly impressive. And lastly, before ending this post, I want to appreciate how difficult the race would’ve been for Sergio Perez. Red Bull tried a radical strategy with him that landed him dead last in the early parts of the race. Nevertheless, he persevered and secured a P6 finish.