Red Bull driver Max Verstappen set a new record by claiming his 10th F1 victory in a row at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
The reigning World Champion took another step closer to a third consecutive title and was joined on the podium by team-mate Sergio Perez, who completed Red Bull’s sixth one-two finish of 2023, and Carlos Sainz, who secured his first podium of the season after setting pole position for Ferrari’s home race.
Here are our conclusions from Monza…
The key difference between Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel’s winning runs
Verstappen may keep insisting that he cares little for records and statistics, but the fact that his first act upon climbing out of his Red Bull in parc ferme was to hold up 10 digits for all to see strongly suggested otherwise.
Having equalled Sebastian Vettel’s winning streak at his home race at Zandvoort last weekend, Verstappen’s latest victory means he now has a little piece of F1 history all to himself.
It is a great credit to the standards maintained by the Red Bull team over the years to have enjoyed such historic stretches of dominance with two different drivers, yet there is a clear distinction between Verstappen and Vettel’s winning runs that does not bode well for the short/medium-term future of F1.
Whereas Vettel’s 2013 streak came at the conclusion of a rules cycle, Verstappen’s perfect 10 has come within two full seasons of F1’s most recent regulations overhaul.
If a decade ago Vettel and Red Bull were at absolute peak performance – extracting the last remaining little drips from the blown-diffuser car as others, notably Mercedes, gave up hope and turned their attention to the arrival of V6 turbo powertrains in 2014 – Verstappen and Red Bull feasibly have still more to come.
How much more performance could they find, how much better could they get, into 2024 and 2025? And who’s to say it will all come to a shuddering stop when the new engine rules arrive in 2026?
For all Mercedes’ vocal optimism about a title challenge in 2024 and all Ferrari’s confidence in their new car concept for next season, the truth remains that a single, lucky win would be a something of an achievement for these teams given the current state of play.
Gradually, more are coming to the realisation that Red Bull will not be caught until 2026 at the very earliest with Charles Leclerc remarking at Zandvoort that it will be “very, very difficult” to close the gap.
If Seb in 2013 was merely a final flourish at the end of his last title-winning season, this Max-a-thon is threatening to march on and on.
Fred’s new Ferrari blueprint? Treat every race like Monza
In the buildup to this weekend, Fred Vasseur spoke repeatedly of the need for Ferrari to stay calm and treat the Italian Grand Prix just like any other race.
Then he arrived at the circuit on Thursday and saw the colour, heard the noise, felt the passion and emotion for himself and by his own admission realised everything he had been saying all week was “bulls**t.” When in Monza…
Third and fourth may have been the ultimate limit of their ambitions, but at a circuit well suited to the low-drag SF-23 car there was a general sense that Ferrari had thrown utterly everything at this attempt to win their home race.
The attempt to rub a genie out of the bottle had started as early as Tuesday, when it was announced they would compete at Monza in the colours of their Le Mans 24 Hours-winning team – a Ferrari performance so efficient, so self-assured it was as if the World Endurance Championship operation belonged to an entirely different entity to the F1 crew.
And when Sainz then stuck the car – complete with its yellow flashes – on pole on Saturday, it was hard to avoid thinking back 35 years to this very race in 1988 when, in the first grand prix after the death of Enzo Ferrari, the red cars finished first and second to end McLaren’s unbeaten start to the season.
Could it happen all over again? Could Ferrari rain on yet another parade and party like it was 1988?
Try as they might, it wasn’t to be – yet the spirit and defiance shown by the team, Sainz and Leclerc in attempting to hold back the Red Bull tide in front of the Tifosi would have surely made the Old Man proud.
The contrast to Zandvoort last weekend couldn’t have been more striking and here was the archetypal Ferrari performance – full of heart and desire and pride with the car’s pace built on the foundation of its speed in a straight line, just as Il Commendatore liked it.
And with Ferrari now ahead of Aston Martin into third in the Championship, has Vasseur’s eye-opening experience at his first Italian Grand Prix as team principal seen him chance across a new blueprint?
Rather than treating Monza like every other race, why not treat every other race like Monza instead?
Call it Fred’s redprint.
Lewis Hamilton’s clumsiness in combat is a growing concern
It was around this time last year that the frustrations of Lewis Hamilton’s first winless season started to float to the surface.
In a patchy spell of races after the summer break came his airborne collision with Fernando Alonso on the opening lap at Spa, two costly mistakes in the wet in Singapore and a floor-damaging clatter over the kerbs at the start in Abu Dhabi.
Marginally more comfortable in this year’s car, particularly since the W14 sprouted sidepods in Monaco, Hamilton has generally been closer to his usual reliable self in establishing a decisive pace advantage over team-mate George Russell.
Yet his clash with Oscar Piastri’s McLaren under braking at Monza’s second chicane was another worrying incident to add to the list, marked by the same lack of spatial awareness that triggered his incident with Alonso at Spa – the kind of mistake Hamilton at his 2017-2020 peak would surely not have made.
Hamilton said all the right things upon the signing of his new contract last Thursday, talking of taking Mercedes “back where we belong” and refusing to stop “until we do.”
With his latest deal taking him to the brink of his 41st birthday, however, the prospect went ignored that Hamilton may find himself running out of time in his hopes of making his dreams reality.
The decline of a great athlete is one of the most poignant sights in sport and, in motor racing, the waning of a driver’s powers can manifest itself in a variety of ways.
For Vettel, it happened almost overnight; for Kimi Raikkonen, it came as a blunting of his once-unholy natural speed; Michael Schumacher’s arrived in a flurry of uncharacteristic incidents in the Mercedes; for the evergreen Alonso, on the podium for Aston Martin at half the races this year at the age of 42, the sands of time somehow remain still.
Hamilton referenced Alonso’s longevity as an inspiration at Monza, claiming “it just shows that your talent never really leaves you” as long as a driver’s “passion and commitment” never does too.
That may be true for some, but not for all. This sort of thing is not an exact science and Hamilton will hope his collision with Piastri does not come as part of a wider downward trend as the first tiny hints of decline.
In case it wasn’t already obvious, not every driver can be Fernando Alonso. Much in the same way not every driver can be Lewis Hamilton.
Why Mattia Binotto can save Alpine’s stuttering F1 project
From the podium at Zandvoort to having both cars out in Q1 at Monza – just who would have seen that coming for Alpine?
Pierre Gasly, actually, who explained to media including PlanetF1.com’s Thomas Maher after qualifying a lowly 17th that the team had arrived in Italy braced for their “toughest weekend” of the entire 2023 season.
The long straights of Monza, he explained, target the weaknesses of the team’s current package, with GPS traces making it “very clear” where the Alpines are losing time.
This pitiful performance comes as Alpine are pushing hard for some kind of engine equalisation in F1, with their Renault power unit still lagging behind Honda, Ferrari and Mercedes almost a decade since the V6 hybrid regulations were introduced.
Estimates vary when it comes to the exact numbers, but former team principal Otmar Szafnauer commented at the Hungarian GP in July that Renault’s engine is “significantly down” compared to their rival manufacturers.
Szafnauer was ruthlessly fired the following weekend at Spa and it sums up this stuttering project, in a near-constant state of turbulence ever since Renault repurchased the Enstone team in late 2015, that Alpine returned from the summer break without a new permanent team boss in place.
But might that be about to change?
Heavily linked with the role, former Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto entered the Monza paddock on Thursday with a Netflix camera crew in his slipstream – coming to a screen near you in February 2024, no doubt – sparking speculation that an announcement could be imminent.
Binotto only achieved a modest level of success in his four seasons in charge of Ferrari before resigning (ahem) at the end of 2022, but it is the path that led him to that lofty position that will surely be of most interest to Alpine and Renault.
Over the course of a career at Maranello spanning almost three decades, Binotto was renowned for his expertise in the engine department and twice in the V6 hybrid era he transformed Ferrari’s powertrain from a position of clear weakness (in 2014 and 2020/21) to an area of standard-setting strength.
Ferrari’s means may not have always been by the rulebook – their 2019 engine was the focus of an infamous settlement between the team and the FIA in early 2020 – but few could have argued with the potency, the power and, for a time, the results too.
Apply all that knowledge – all that genius – to Alpine and it is clear why Binotto is the outstanding candidate, not only bringing a boost in the short term but establishing a framework for Renault to approach F1’s next engine rule changes in 2026 with confidence.
If – when – he is appointed in the coming weeks, Binotto will be so much more than just another team principal.
All the power will rest in his hands. Literally.
Aston Martin are not blameless in – and may benefit from – Lance Stroll’s struggles
“No, there is not a marked gap in performance – there is a marked gap in points. It’s important to separate between the two.
“We as a team are analysing the season from both perspectives, from both drivers, and I think we as a team need to do a much, much better job on that side of the garage come race strategy – but also we had reliability issues and it was always hitting that car, so that is something we need to do much, much better.”
Mike Krack, the Aston Martin team principal, was predictably protective of Lance Stroll amid his struggles alongside Alonso on Thursday at Monza – and the nature of his driver’s weekend seemed to prove his point.
At a time he is low on confidence, at a circuit where he has shone in the past, Stroll saw his car handed to Aston Martin’s reserve, Felipe Drugovich, for FP1 as the team fulfilled the obligation to run a young driver in practice.
It was not exactly ideal but would have been recoverable had Stroll not then suffered a fuel system problem at the very start of FP2, leaving him without a timed lap to his name on Friday.
The team tried their best to salvage the situation on Saturday morning as Stroll registered the most laps of any driver in FP3 with 31, but the damage was already done.
With great inevitability, Stroll – hardly the most adaptable or resilient of drivers at the best of times – fell in Q1 as the slowest driver of all with a lap three tenths slower than Kevin Magnussen in P19 and eight tenths adrift of Alonso, going on to finish only ahead of the Haas cars in 16th on race day.
Some will argue that Aston Martin would have already sealed second place in the Constructors’ standings by now if they had two drivers capable of making consistent contributions to the team’s total with Stroll now 123 points off Alonso’s tally, yet to place such an importance on points overlooks two key factors.
The first? Such is the wealth and ambition of Stroll’s father and team owner Lawrence that he would probably not be particularly interested in the Constructors’ Championship until his team are in a position to win it.
And at a time when F1 is booming – in a year when just 24 per cent of the Alpine team has been sold for an eye-watering $218million – an extra position or two in the Championship is not quite as valuable it once was from a financial perspective.
And second? The team may actually benefit from the distance between Alonso and Stroll in the long term, for finishing behind Mercedes and Ferrari this year would allow them more development time on the 2024 car and create more runway to come again at the established leading teams from a stronger baseline next season.
Stroll to sack his own son? Not a chance. Blood runs thicker than World Championship points.
And in a perverse sense, Lance’s difficult season might actually be doing the team a favour.