Mercedes make history as Hamilton wins in Imola
Full Results and Race Recap as Hamilton takes his 93rd victory
The unstoppable force of Mercedes-AMG Petronas have created yet more history, as they took maximum points in Imola to secure the Constructors Championship for a record breaking 7th consecutive time. Lewis Hamilton put in another sublime drive to take a record extending 93rd victory, and Max Verstappen’s retirement also guarantees a Mercedes driver will win the World Championship, ensuring the Brackley based team will write even more records with an unprecedented 7th straight double championship success.
Valtteri Bottas made the perfect start from pole, keeping ahead of his teammate and number 1 rival Lewis Hamilton, who lost a position to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on the opening lap. The trio quickly turned it into a 3 horse race, as they so often have done this year, by building a mighty gap to 4th placed Daniel Ricciardo, and this was the order the front 3 were to remain until lap 19 saw Verstappen make his stop on to the Hard tyre compound. Bottas would react to the move and pit a lap later to protect himself from the undercut, giving Lewis Hamilton the track position advantage with the reigning World Champion then choosing to extend his strategy for as long as possible. The move proved to be inspired, as he was able to take advantage of a Virtual Safety Car to recover the stricken Renault of Esteban Ocon on lap 30 to pit, and maintain his lead at the front of the pack, effectively leapfrogging both Bottas and Verstappen with his pit strategy. The Brit benefited from a lucky track position when the VSC was deployed, being in the perfect position to dive straight into the pits and secure maximum advantage over his rivals, but it was his ability to manage the tyres to extend his strategy in the first place that created the option to exploit such a situation should the opportunity arise. Hamilton’s victory all but secures his record equalling 7th World Championship, as he extends his lead over Bottas to 85 points, and with only 4 races remaining the Finn would need a cataclysmic implosion from the championship leader if he were to mount a late championship charge with just 104 points left available in the season.
For much of the season, the battle for 4th in the Driver’s Championship has been the closest battle; however Daniel Ricciardo has staked a claim to be best of the rest with his 2nd podium finish in 2 races. A tyre failure for Verstappen’s Red Bull saw a premature end to his race on lap 51, and resulted in a full safety car that would spark a frenetic end to the Grand Prix that could have huge ramifications for this year’s championship and beyond. Running in 4th and knowing that overtaking opportunities at Imola are limited, Ricciardo opted to not pit under the safety car and inherited 3rd position from Sergio Perez, who’s Racing Point team made the decision to pit the Mexican who fell to 7th. The Mexicans task of cutting his way back through the field was made harder as the safety car was extended after George Russell crashed his Williams trying to keep the tyres warm, destroying his best chance of points in the process.
On lap 57 and with 6 laps remaining, the safety car was in. Perez and Kvyat, in the sole remaining AlphaTauri following Pierre Gasly’s retirement due to an engine problem, made quick moves on Alex Albon’s Red Bull, who then made an unforced error and span out, dropping himself to the back of the grid in the latest of poor weekends for the Thai driver who can ill afford such mistakes with his 2021 seat not yet secured. Whilst Perez was unable to progress any higher than 6th, Kvyat was able to promote himself to 4th place ahead of Ferrari’s Charles LeClerc in what will be a welcome change of fortunes for the Russian, who has found himself last of the classified drivers at the last 2 Grand Prix. Although Perez will view this as a missed opportunity for a podium, the 6th placed finish represents a strong race, moving up 5 places from his starting grid spot of 11th. The result also takes Perez’ points total to 82, and well into the fight for 4th place – an achievement that should be commended given the Mexican missed 2 Grand Prix following a positive Covid diagnosis, and will do himself no harm as he looks to secure a drive for next year. Although unconfirmed, the drive at AlphaTauri looks set to be handed to young Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda, meaning it is likely Alex Albon and Sergio Perez are left to battle it out over the remaining unconfirmed Red Bull seat. A recent interview with Red Bull Team Principle Christian Horner revealed a clear shift in tone, and although maintaining that the seat was ‘Albon’s to lose’, the 2 uninspired drives that followed, combined with a difficult season to date has resulted in heavy speculation that Red Bull will look outside their driver programme to replace the struggling Albon with free agent Sergio Perez.
Red Bull are not the only team this year to have 1 driver significantly outperform his teammate, but whilst Albon’s results can be put down to inexperience, there is no such excuse for Ferrari’s 4 time World Champion Sebastian Vettel. At their 3rd home race of the season, the results were largely the same for the Scuderia – young hot shot Charles LeClerc dragging the underperforming Ferrari across the line in a respectable 5th place, whilst veteran Vettel languished outside the points for the 5th time this season in 12th. Vettel, leaving Ferrari at the end of year, has clearly not been comfortable in the car all season and this was apparent again with another 14th placed qualifying performance – beaten by the William of George Russell in 13th. However the race proved to be a different story. The German ran a long tyre strategy that saw him running as high as 4th, and back in contention to score a significant haul of well needed points, however a disastrous 13 second pit stop, where not 1 but 2 wheels failed to secure in the usual sub 3 second standard, saw any chance of points evaporate in the latest of woeful results for a man so familiar with success. Despite stating he wants to end his career at Ferrari with dignity, there can be no doubt that Vettel will be longing for the end of the season, where he can reset and refresh ahead of a new challenge with the newly branded Aston Martin team next year.
Carlos Sainz, replacing Vettel at Ferrari next year, had a quiet race to finish to finish 7th, ahead of McLaren teammate Lando Norris in 8th, the reverse of their positions in the Drivers Championship. Despite once holding 4th in the championship, Norris has fallen 26 points behind future teammate Daniel Ricciardo and now faces threat from Sainz, Albon and Gasly behind him – the quartet separated by just 6 points. Although the 2 McLaren drivers would prefer to be higher up the championship table, as both have still scored consistent points it means McLaren are still very much in the fight for 3rd in the Constructors, just 1 point behind the resurgent Renault, and level with Racing Point on 134 points. It has been a positive theme for McLaren that they have had both their drivers in the top 10 more often than not throughout the season, and presents a strong case that they will be the team to snatch 3rd in the constructors, with both Renault and Racing Point struggling to get both cars in the points on a regular basis.
Points are not hard to come by for Lewis Hamilton, who can wrap up the championship next time out in Turkey. Bottas needs to outscore his teammate by more than 6 points to mathematically extend the battle, but it must surely be just a matter of time before the Brit secures a record equalling 7th World Championship. Join us again in 2 weeks time, but in the meantime lets discuss in the comments - how many more records will Hamilton break before he retires?!
Winner: Lewis Hamilton
Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton (1:15.484)
Driver of the Day: Kimi Raikkonen
POS DRIVER CAR TIME/RETIRED PTS
1 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:28:32.430 26
2 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES +5.783s 18
3 Daniel Ricciardo RENAULT +14.320s 15
4 Daniil Kvyat ALPHATAURI +15.141s 12
5 Charles Leclerc FERRARI +19.111s 10
6 Sergio Perez RACING POINT+19.652s 8
7 Carlos Sainz MCLAREN +20.230s 6
8 Lando Norris MCLAREN +21.131s 4
9 Kimi Räikkönen ALFA ROMEO +22.224s 2
10 Antonio Giovinazzi ALFA ROMEO +26.398s 1
11 Nicholas Latifi WILLIAMS +27.135s 0
12 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI +28.453s 0
13 Lance Stroll RACING POINT +29.163s 0
14 Romain Grosjean HAAS +32.935s 0
15 Alexander Albon RED BULL +57.284s 0
DNF George Russell WILLIAMS DNF 0
DNF Max Verstappen RED BULL DNF 0
DNF Kevin Magnussen HAAS DNF 0
DNF Esteban Ocon RENAULT DNF 0
DNF Pierre Gasly ALPHATAURI DNF 0