Ricciardo ends McLaren F1 drought as Hamilton & Verstappen crash out: 2021 Italian GP report

F1

Daniel Ricciardo led home a McLaren 1-2 at Monza after a clash between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton took both out of the 2021 Italian Grand Prix

Daniel Ricciardo holds out his shoe after winning the 2021 Italian Grand Prix at Monza

Clive Mason/F1 via Getty Images

Let’s call a spade a spade. Monza doesn’t create great racing. But recently, it does create great races.

It’s surprisingly hard to follow, with the low downforce configurations seeing cars sliding around a little more and the lead car able to carry good straight-line speed even when offering a tow. The DRS effect is reduced as a result, so quite often the lead car is difficult to overtake.

And like Pierre Gasly a year ago, Daniel Ricciardo is delighted about that.

In Gasly’s case in 2020, McLaren was the frustrated team that couldn’t get its quicker car past the leader. But once Ricciardo got ahead of Max Verstappen on the run to Turn One today then McLaren was able to reap the rewards. And boy did it reap them.

Verstappen was forced to defend from Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap and the Mercedes driver cut the Variante della Roggia to avoid contact, allowing Lando Norris to regain third place. Both McLarens then held off the respective title rivals relatively easily as Ricciardo led Verstappen and Hamilton – on hard tyres compared to mediums for the rest at the front – was stuck behind Norris.

Ricciardo Hamilton Verstappen and Norris at the start of the 2021 Italian Grand Prix

Hamilton was the one to lose out in the opening lap battle at the front

And it wasn’t inevitable either McLaren would lose out eventually. Ricciardo pulled away from Verstappen in the latter stages of the first stint as the Red Bull started to struggle, with Verstappen locking up and missing the Variante del Rettifilo. That was the signal for Ricciardo to pit, and a solid stop from McLaren got him out on hard tyres, with Verstappen told: “Right, let’s have it.”

But Verstappen was unable to respond. His tyres were gone, and he couldn’t improve his pace to try and jump Ricciardo. Despite Red Bull telling the championship leader that Ricciardo’s stop wasn’t great, he was never getting the overcut even before his own disastrous pitstop a lap later that dropped him behind Norris.

“There were some laps where [Verstappen] pushed up closer but I never really had to properly defend,” Ricciardo said. “He was there but I knew if I didn’t make a mistake … Unless he kind of sent a little bit of a Hail Mary, it was going to be tough for him to pass.

“Where I felt I was a little vulnerable was at the end of that stint, where the tyres were going off, but I believe the others were suffering as well. So in my head I was thinking we were going to be vulnerable in that moment. I pitted and I think everyone else pitted as well, so I think we were all struggling at the same moment.

“And it was then, when we came back out in the lead, then I was like ‘alright, we’ve got this today’, like unless something unfortunate happens we can really win this race. From that moment on it was like… I think that’s when any last bit of belief you need you top it up and you’re like ‘alright, someone is going to have to take it from me today, because otherwise we’re winning this thing’.”

Max Verstappen leaves the Monza pits in the 2021 Italian Grand Prix

Slow stop for Verstappen put him alongside Hamilton when the Mercedes made its stop

Peter Fox/Getty Images

That said, just at that moment, it all seemed to be falling perfectly into place for Hamilton, who had finally cleared Norris at the Variate della Roggia and looked set to take advantage by pitting early for mediums in order to gain that all-important track position over his main rival.

But Hamilton’s own stop was over four seconds and Verstappen could see a get-out-of-jail-free card as the Mercedes emerged from the pit lane on his inside.

Hamilton was ahead heading into the first corner, but Verstappen braked late and attacked round the outside. And then it happened.

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen side by side in the 2021 italian Grand prix

Two into the Rettifilio won't go

DPPI

Lewis Hamiltopn walks away from Monza 2021 crash

Hamilton walks away

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“When he came out of the pits, he realised that it was going to be very close,” Verstappen said. “He realised that soon after the white line was finished, under braking he moved to the left, already I had to run onto the green bit.

“I still thought there was opportunity to fight. I went around the outside and then he kept slowly moving me out of space and of course, I had to take the sausage kerb. Unfortunately we touched.

“At the end of the day, it was very unfortunate because I don’t think it was necessary. If we kept racing he would’ve still got me out of the corner because there’s more traction on the outside of Turn Two.”

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The contact came when Verstappen was launched off the apex kerb at the second part of the chicane having opted not to bail out as Hamilton had done on the opening lap. The Red Bull bounced up and over the Mercedes, with the right rear wheel striking Hamilton’s head, but the Halo preventing further damage.

“I was ahead in Turn One, I left enough room going into the corner but we barrelled similar speed and I was ahead going into Turn Two,” Hamilton said. “Ultimately he lost control, went over the kerb and in to me, so I don’t feel at fault because I got hit from behind.

“There is a point where you have to concede that you aren’t going to make the corner and you go across. Everyone has gone across the kerbs and I am not too sure why Max didn’t.”

The stewards agreed, handing Verstappen a three-place grid penalty for the next race in Russia for being predominantly at fault.

Hamilton added that he felt “very, very fortunate” and thanked the Halo, and it would be easy to suggest McLaren was also thankful for two big threats being taken out of the equation. But the resulting safety car only served to put the pressure back on, with Charles Leclerc getting a free pitstop to split the pair and Sergio Perez emerging in fourth ahead of Carlos Sainz and the fast-charging Valtteri Bottas.

Charles Leclerc between mcLarens in the 2021 italian Grand Prix

Conveniently-timed safety car put Leclerc between the McLarens

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The Finn had started from the back but with a fresh power unit was bucking the trend and carving through the field. Having also started on the hard compound, he was up to ninth before the controversy ahead, and now as the lead car on mediums looked a real contender.

When the race restarted with just over 20 laps remaining, Norris wasted no time in clearing Leclerc with a brave move at Curva Grande that saw him dip two wheels on the grass on entry. Soon afterwards, Perez tried around the outside of the Ferrari at the Variante della Roggia and cut the corner, maintaining he had been left no room and staying ahead.

That would prove costly, as the stewards handed out a five-second time penalty that left Perez on the defensive. Norris had called on Ricciardo to up the pace and he duly did, with McLaren telling them both to pull away from the cars behind and a gap of nearly two seconds opening up. Bottas cleared both Sainz and Leclerc quickly but found Perez a tougher proposition, making a mess of his one real chance.

Perez defended the inside out of Curva Grande and Bottas – on the racing line – was comfortably ahead braking for the chicane. But he went deep as if Perez was still on his inside and that allowed the Mexican to switch back and regain the place on exit.

Valtteri Bottas and Charles Leclerc battle in the 2021 Italioan Grand Prix

Bottas clears Leclerc as he charges to what would eventually be third

Florent Gooden / DPPI

Leclerc caught the back of that fight once again but they would finish the race line astern, with Perez being demoted from third to fifth by his penalty.

“When I was progressing quite quickly, in the beginning of the medium stint, I could actually see the two McLarens were pretty close and I was catching,” Bottas said. “But once I was behind Perez, really, in the train, of course I was trying everything I could, but on the last few laps the tyres just started dropping and that was it.

“I think it would have been tricky to get past the McLaren, they’ve been very strong all weekend, they have their strengths, especially on the straight lines. Like, yesterday, Lewis was trying everything he could but he couldn’t get past Lando, so I honestly think this was the maximum we could reach today.”

McLaren definitely took the maximum, with Ricciardo and Norris edging away and then the Australian putting a tough season so far well and truly behind him with the fastest lap on the final lap to secure the best possible haul of 26 points. Norris might have had more pace at his disposal given how closely he followed, but he played the perfect role behind his team-mate.

McLarens of Daniel ricciardo and Lando Norris on track at Monza

Norris played the team-game despite a debut win dangling just ahead

Florent Gooden / DPPI

“I got a bit closer on one lap and I don’t know why I had a few flashes of seeing the incident between Max and Lewis as I saw it in my mirrors, and when I thought maybe I’ll try [to overtake] that kind of was flashing in my head and I thought ‘nah maybe this isn’t the wisest decision!’” Norris said.

“So I would have loved to but like I said I think I’m just as happy, as much as I would have loved to have gone for the win, first and second I’m just as happy with. The feeling I get for the team is kind of priority over my own feeling in a way.

“I’m here for many more years I hope with McLaren, I feel like I still have an opportunity in the future to go for it but in this instance and moment I was happy just staying where I was.”

On a day when McLaren took maximum points, Ferrari limited the damage somewhat with fourth and sixth but didn’t quite have the pace to hold onto better positions. Behind them, Lance Stroll’s day started with a close moment with team-mate Sebastian Vettel before he rose to a seventh place that was confirmed when he escaped punishment for failing to slow for yellow flags, while Fernando Alonso, George Russell and Esteban Ocon rounded out the top ten.

Sebastian Vettel locks up next to Esteban ocon at monza

Eventful race yielded no points for Vettel

Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images

There weren’t many who were left to rue missed opportunities, but Antonio Giovinazzi was one after he ran wide on at the second chicane on the opening lap and rejoined in to the path of Sainz, getting tagged into a spin that damaged his car but also being penalised for the incident. That left him ahead of only team-mate Robert Kubica and Mick Schumacher, the latter spinning at the same chicane after being hit by Nikita Mazepin as the two Haas drivers had another run-in.

Of course, that was far less dramatic than the latest incident between Hamilton and Verstappen, and there’s a danger that’s what this race will be remembered for. But 1,204 days since Ricciardo’s last win, 3,213 days since McLaren’s previous victory and 4,109 days after its last one-two, all three droughts were ended in spectacular fashion. And it was fully deserved.

Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo celebrate with trophies at Monza