Why McLaren's Monza win was on, even without Max/Lewis crash


McLaren's 2021 Italian Grand Prix 1-2 came as a surprise but it was always on the cards, explains Mark Hughes

Zak Brown drinks from Daniel Ricciardo's shoe on the Monza podium

Mclaren Racing CEO Zak Brown joins the podium celebration


Daniel Ricciardo gave McLaren its first grand prix victory in nine years, the first under the third evolution of the team, as led by Zak Brown. Lando Norris doubled up the team’s joy by making it a 1-2.

How did that just happen?

McLaren and Monza

The McLaren MCL35M is a car well-suited to the low drag-rewarding layout of Monza. It wasn’t the outright fastest car there – that was the Mercedes followed by the Red Bull – but it was very quick in the important parts, at the end of the straights and quick enough over a lap that if it could get ahead of one of the truly fast cars, it might just be able to stay there.

That’s how it was in the sprint race where Lewis Hamilton couldn’t get past Norris all race and that’s how it was on Sunday when Max Verstappen could find no way past Ricciardo and where Hamilton had a groundhog day stint behind Norris.

Max Verstappen follows McLaren of Daniel ricciardo at Monza

No way past Ricciardo for Verstappen

McLaren’s low-drag aero package was specifically for Monza, perhaps gaining more efficiency than their immediate rivals. Ferrari’s low drag package appeared to cost more downforce, for example. Ricciardo’s third place in the sprint translated into the front row of the grand prix once sprint victor Valtteri Bottas took his grid penalties for various power unit component replacements. From there, Ricciardo out-accelerated Verstappen into Turn One – and the Red Bull was too slow at the end of the straights for Verstappen to do anything about changing that.

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In the sprint Ricciardo had lapped around 0.5sec per lap slower than Bottas and Verstappen, but now he just ran at a good pace in free air, watched his mirrors and looked after his tyres. Running the whole stint in Ricciardo’s DRS zone imposed much greater strain on the Red Bull’s tyres and when McLaren called Ricciardo in for his pit stop, Verstappen had no tyre grip left with which to respond on his in-lap, which was 1sec slower than Ricciardo’s.

Even without the delay Verstappen was about to suffer at his stop, he was not about to pass Ricciardo. The only question was going to be whether Ricciardo could withstand 30 laps of pressure without opening a slit of daylight for Max to thrust himself into.

Norris ran the first stint a few seconds behind Verstappen, giving his tyres an easier time, and kept his eye on mirrors which were being filled by Hamilton’s Mercedes.

Verstappen & Hamilton

The Mercedes was much the fastest car around Monza. Bottas and Hamilton locked out the front row of Friday qualifying 0.4sec faster than Verstappen. So it should have been a straightforward routine victory weekend for Hamilton.

It began to go wrong at the start of the sprint when he got what he described as “2mm too deep with the clutch paddle,” got a load of wheelspin and was instantly passed by Verstappen, Ricciardo and Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri. As Gasly tripped over Ricciardo into the first corner (damaging his wing and causing him to go off at Curva Grande) Hamilton was forced to back off – giving Norris the momentum to pass around the outside of the second part of the chicane. He was stuck for the rest of the 18 laps, crossing the line fifth.

Given Bottas’s grid penalty, it meant Verstappen would start the grand prix from pole at what had been expected to be a bogey track for the car. Then he was out-accelerated by Ricciardo and it all played out as it did. With Verstappen’s car parked on top of Hamilton’s in the gravel trap on the 26th lap.

Max Verstappen climbs out of his Reb Bull after Hamilton Monza crash

A slow Mercedes pitstop and an even slower Red Bull one brought Hamilton and Verstappen together

Lars Baron/Getty Images

Pitstop Errors

Ricciardo’s stop went smoothly. Red Bull’s error in judgement was that Verstappen might be able to overcut by going faster on his in-lap than Ricciardo was about to go on his out-lap. He couldn’t, because of the aforementioned tyre deg. So in hindsight there was nothing really to be gained from coming in at this moment.

But worse than that was Verstappen’s disastrous 11sec pit stop. The front-right wheelman didn’t instigate the correct procedure on the ‘smart wheelgun’ – which electronically signals the jack man to release the car when it senses that all four wheels have been tightened. The FIA instigated new procedures, effective from the last race, to reduce how automated the systems were. The new procedure caught out the guy – part of the team which has set the bar so high for incredible, record-beating stops. On this day, it went wrong. Human error. It happens.

But it cascaded disastrously. Not only did it allow Norris to leapfrog past him up to second but, in response, Mercedes brought Hamilton in. Hamilton had started on hard tyres, intending to run longer than all the other front-runners, who’d chosen mediums for their first stints. He was planning to run to lap 38/39 – about 15 laps longer than the others, to have the maximum grip advantage over them in the second stint when they’d all be on old hards and he’d be on new mediums. It might have worked, given how quick the Merc actually was here. The tyre offset might just have given him the crucial difference in being able to overtake.

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Instead, Verstappen’s long stop brought him with Hamilton’s immediate reach – if Mercedes brought in Hamilton now. So he stopped on lap 25 rather than 39 and he would have got cleanly ahead of the Red Bull if he hadn’t suffered a 2sec delay himself on the left-rear.

He exited with Verstappen bearing down from behind but going faster, on the outside approach to the first chicane. He carried a lot of momentum to go around Hamilton’s outside, but he wasn’t cleanly ahead. He’d put himself in a place where it was going to require some co-operation from Hamilton not to make contact as the right criss-crosses to the left. Hamilton – who’d had to take to the kerb at the second chicane on the opening lap as Verstappen held him out there – refused to co-operate. As the Red Bull got onto the sausage kerb, it threw Verstappen towards the Merc, they interlocked wheels and the Red Bull vaulted over the Merc’s engine cover as they landed in the gravel trap.

And that’s how McLaren got a 1-2. It may have got it anyway, even without the Verstappen/Hamilton incident. The team was helped by the misfortunes of others, but it was a formidable performance, perfectly executed.

McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo at Monza