Feature F1 Unlocked
HINCH'S HEROES: Hinch picks out his top performers from the Italian Grand Prix at Monza
This season, former IndyCar star James Hinchcliffe is taking stock after every Grand Prix and presenting his ‘heroes’ from the weekend, exclusively for F1.com. Here are his picks from the Italian Grand Prix at Monza…
Carlos Sainz – P3
This was potentially the strongest weekend Sainz has produced in his F1 career. Being a Ferrari driver at Monza is one of the highest pressure situations any racing driver can find themselves in, but the Spaniard dealt with it superbly.
While the Scuderia have had an up-and-down season battling for best of the rest behind Red Bull, they were very much on an upward swing in Italy. Sainz duly delivered throughout the weekend, topping two of the three free practice sessions heading into qualifying.
After losing the Saturday battle last year to team mate Charles Leclerc 15-7, his qualifying performances this year have been much stronger, with the two nearly level – impressive considering Leclerc is often considered something of a qualifying specialist – and on Saturday Sainz didn’t wilt under the scrutiny of the tifosi, besting the field to take a brilliant pole.
While Saturday was all about attacking for lap time, his Sunday was spent almost purely in defence mode. He led the race from the start, keeping Max Verstappen at bay for longer than most probably thought realistic. From there, it was Leclerc, then Sergio Perez, then Leclerc again filling his mirrors, Sainz rarely having more than a second and a half breathing room.
Having to drive in your mirrors all race and never making a meaningful mistake takes twice the concentration from the cockpit as carving your way through the field, and Sainz was rewarded with a best-in-class result.
Lewis Hamilton – P6
It seemed like Hamilton was struggling to match George Russell throughout the weekend, and eighth on the grid is not what the Mercedes man would’ve wanted.
His race was told really in two parts: the first 40 laps, and the last 11. He started on the hard tyres, losing out to Lando Norris early to sit ninth. After pitting later than the majority of the field who started on the mediums, once the pit stops had cycled through he was still sitting back in ninth.
Some 10 laps later, nothing had changed. Then, as the hards that most of his competitors were on started to fade, with 10 laps to go he went on a charge. Passing Oscar Piastri led to contact and a five-second penalty for Hamilton, but he put his head down and kept charging.
He added Norris and Alex Albon to the list over the next few laps, and even gapped the Williams driver in the last three laps enough to hold onto sixth – right behind Russell – despite the penalty. The slight error in judgement with Piastri notwithstanding, it was a great closing 10 laps to finish in lock-step with his team mate.
Alex Albon – P7
Monza was always going to be circled on the calendar as a possible points-paying race for Williams, especially after Nyck de Vries’s performance last year.
Albon did a fantastic job in qualifying to start sixth, ahead of both McLarens and a pair of world champions (Hamilton and Fernando Alonso).
His race was somewhat low-key, holding that same position for the majority of the Grand Prix. His team had him pit several laps earlier than most of those he was racing, meaning in the dying laps of the race he had little left in his tyres to keep the fast-charging Hamilton behind.
Still, keeping Norris et al at bay and collecting six valuable points was a great day for the Williams star.
Valtteri Bottas – P10
Bottas had a relatively straightforward race, employing the same hard-medium tyre strategy that Hamilton used successfully.
Like Hamilton, he held station throughout the first two-thirds of the race, only to come alive in the late stages on a set of fresh mediums.
Capitalising on others’ misfortune is sometimes part of the sport – and Piastri’s contact and subsequent wing change certainly fall into that category – but Bottas had to do his part to have the Alfa Romeo in the position to inherit the final points-paying spot when the McLaren pitted.
Practice times wouldn’t have had the Hinwil-based squad hopeful of points going into Sunday, so credit to Bottas’s efforts is due.
Liam Lawson – P11
The young Kiwi is really holding his own standing in for the injured Daniel Ricciardo. Taking part in his first full Grand Prix weekend, he impressed by qualifying right behind his team mate, Yuki Tsunoda.
While Tsunoda’s retirement before the lights went out make it harder to judge Lawson’s performance, crossing the line 11th – painfully close to his first World Championship point – and as the highest finishing driver on the two-stop strategy, certainly looks good on paper.
There hasn’t been much from AlphaTauri lately to suggest that there would have been much more pace from the car in someone else’s hands, so you have to think Lawson has done a lot with his machinery.
When taking into account that last time out in Zandvoort was a veritable weather lottery, this performance over what is effectively his first full weekend in the car was something to be proud of. With Qatar sounding like the earliest that Ricciardo will be able to return, there are still a few more opportunities for Lawson to make his case for a full-time seat in 2024.