Formula 1 history continued to be made at Imola as Mercedes became the first team to win seven consecutive constructors’ World Championship titles.
Here are our conclusions from the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix as Lewis Hamilton led home Valtteri Bottas in yet another one-two finish for the sport’s dominant manufacturer.
Hamilton earned his slice of luck
— Planet F1 (@Planet_F1) November 1, 2020
“The harder I work, the luckier I get” was a quote attributed to South African golf legend Gary Player. It could also have applied to Lewis Hamilton at Imola when the Virtual Safety Car was deployed.
We are not saying this was a fortuitous victory for Hamilton, because it was fully deserved. The blistering laps he put in before his pit-stop, which made the overcut possible on Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen regardless of what subsequently happened, were those of a soon-to-be seven-time World Champion.
But the way in which the VSC period fell, following Esteban Ocon’s retirement, was the perfect example of someone receiving a slice of luck they had completely earned. It meant all the pressure was off the pit-stop as it cost Hamilton only 17 seconds instead of 27.
Hamilton would most likely have won anyway, with Bottas having suffered floor damage to his Mercedes which cost him pace and Verstappen spinning out after sustaining a sudden right rear puncture on his Red Bull. It was never in doubt even when the Safety Car itself appeared towards the end.
And this was a fitting way for Mercedes to wrap up title number seven in a row. It’s been an autumn of continual celebration for them and Hamilton who, of course, equalled and then surpassed Michael Schumacher’s race wins record.
It’s 93 victories now for the 35-year-old Briton and it would be no surprise if the 94th resulted in his own seventh World Championship title being clinched in Turkey on November 15.
Another team who can be delighted with their weekend’s work at Imola are AlphaTauri, even though they suffered the abject disappointment of having to retire Pierre Gasly’s car as early as lap nine due to a coolant leak – an issue first having become apparent on the grid.
However, a second-row start for the Frenchman represented a big step forward and his team-mate Daniil Kvyat showed Gasly what may well have been possible in the race as he was challenging Daniel Ricciardo at the end for the final podium position.
Passes by the Russian on Sergio Perez, Alex Albon and Charles Leclerc after the Safety Car restart – albeit on fresher tyres than the latter pair – highlighted how quick the AlphaTauri was around this circuit and there is no question now that the Italy-based team are making big strides in the midfield battle.
It was also a timely reminder of Kvyat’s talents just when it looks like his seat will be taken by Japanese rookie Yuki Tsunoda next year, while Gasly’s weekend further enhanced his own reputation.
Despite appearing to have missed out on a promotion back to Red Bull, the Italian Grand Prix winner must be feeling pretty chipper about the prospect of being the undisputed team leader at an improving AlphaTauri outfit next year.
Strategy scuppers Perez podium
Sergio Perez knew, when he spoke immediately after the race, that Racing Point’s decision to pit him under the Safety Car had cost him a first podium finish since Azerbaijan in 2018.
It certainly was a pity, given the Mexican had worked his way up from a starting position of P11 after a long first stint – albeit he was helped considerably when Kevin Magnussen, on a similar strategy, had held up some of his eventual rivals for ‘best of the rest’ behind the Mercedes duo.
Giving up track position under the Safety Car proved to be the wrong move, yet once more Perez showed it is unfathomable why he does not yet have a drive lined up for 2021.
Martin Brundle described it during the race as “a travesty” – and especially considering Perez is P6 in the World Championship, 13 points off Daniel Ricciardo in P4, having missed two races when he tested positive for COVID-19.
Early trouble for Magnussen (spin) and Stroll, who pits to repair damage to his front wing 👀
Bottas gets a great start and is P1
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 1, 2020
Sorry, Lance Stroll, but we couldn’t resist that play on the name of the Salfordian painter of matchstick men (LS Lowry, that is).
Racing Point boss Otmar Szafnauer said Stroll would be back to his best at Imola after missing the Eifel Grand Prix and having a race to forget in Portugal when still a bit ring-rusty after recovering from illness.
But it was something of a Halloween weekend horror show for the Canadian who qualified in P15, was involved in first-lap contact with Ocon when he lost a piece of his front wing and later blamed “cold brakes” for knocking over one of his pit crew when stopping for new tyres.
We said this last week but it bears repeating – Sebastian Vettel and Stroll in, Perez out when Racing Point become Aston Martin next season does not, certainly judged on current form, appear the smartest move.
And of the rest…
Alex Albon will surely be put out of his misery by Red Bull before long.
— Planet F1 (@Planet_F1) November 1, 2020
Another race in the midfield and a spin when passed by Perez, which meant he crossed the line last, sent his team away without any points – and could mean salvation for Perez in terms of next year’s employment.
Or, you suspect if Max Verstappen gets his way, a return to the grid for his mate Nico Hulkenberg.
Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi showed why Alfa Romeo are keeping faith with them both by finishing P9 and P10, the Finn helped by a 48-lap opening stint and then a switch to soft tyres.
Vettel was another to run long, which looked like yielding a good reward until Ferrari messed up his pit stop. Another ultimately frustrating day for the German.
Likewise for George Russell, only in his case the anguish was all of his own making – and he knew it.
A first points finish for the Williams driver was distinctly possible when he spun off behind the Safety Car when trying to warm his tyres, actually helping to extend the neutralised period as he scattered debris and shards of polystyrene from the marker boards across the circuit.
Russell sat desolate by the side of the track after his mistake in what was far from the ideal response to Fernando Alonso’s statement this weekend that Russell is the most promising young driver on the grid.