5 Thoughts from the 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix
A chaotic Sunday in Mugello resulted in many broken parts and broken hearts
Tuscany, Italy - Sunday's race in Tuscany officially marked the first time in history that the Mugello Circuit hosted an F1 race. If this is to be a one-off at this circuit, it was certainly one to remember as carnage and chaos embroiled the 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix. It took quite a while before we actually got to see some meaningful racing but when we did, it was business as usual out front for Mercedes while an intriguing podium battle ensued behind them. At the end of the day, the unique incidents of this race hasn't given us a clear judgement on Mugello in terms of quality of racing but nonetheless, it was a pleasure to watch modern F1 cars around an old school circuit like Mugello. Many thoughts went through my mind during this race but for now, here are my five thoughts from the 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix.
1. Bottas Not to Blame for Safety Car Restart Carnage
Courtesy - Motor Sport Magazine
After going three years since the last red flag in Baku 2017, we've seen three red flag incidents in just the last two races. The incident which brought out the second red flag was a nasty one indeed and quite frankly one that could have ended horribly. I could've dedicated a separate thought to the effectiveness of the Halo because it came into play for multiple drivers during this incident. As I'm sure the on-boards will show once F1 uploads them, Nicholas Latifi had Antonio Giovanazzi climb onto the side of his car while Carlos Sainz's Halo absorbed numerous bits of large debris. If you haven't had the chance to see the accident from multiple angles, take a second to catch up on the action below.
It was an incredibly scary scenario and you can understand the anger from drivers like Carlos Sainz and Romain Grosjean. It's actually a surprise this doesn't happen more often in F1 as the strategy Valtteri Bottas used during the restart is normal and well within the rules. Knowing the power of the slipstream on the long Mugello straight, Bottas backed up the pack all the way until the control line before accelerating fully to racing speed to minimize the advantage of the tow. Think back to Baku in 2018 , a race in which Sebastian Vettel controlled multiple safety car restarts in a similar way due to the long straights of the Baku City Circuit. The issue that led to the chaos was mid field cars who created to much of a gap (by accelerating and braking) thus leading others behind them to believe they were back to racing speeds. I don't think their is one particular driver to pin the blame on. In this fan video below of the restart, you can see George Russell accelerating first but also Ocon and Kvyat start to speed up and then slow down.
It was a chain reaction of events that drivers like Latifi, Magnussen, Sainz and others just could not react to in time. So what can be done to avoid disasters like this in the future? Valtteri Bottas believes these restart complications are a result of Formula 1 trying to improve the show. "I think the FIA or FOM, I don’t know who decides with the Safety Cars but they’re trying to make the show better by turning the lights later so you can’t build a gap early and then go like a corner before the main straight. So maybe it’s time to think if that’s right and safe to do so.” It's a valid point made by Bottas and serious inquisitions need to made before the next race in Russia so we can avoid another Mugello repeat. As the race leader, Bottas did what any other driver would do and he was well within his right to do so therefore he is not to blame for this incident.
2. A Race of Missed Opportunities
Courtesy - RACEFANS.net
It usually takes some crazy circumstances nowadays to shake up the Formula 1 grid and give some mid-field teams the chance to shine on an otherwise cloudy day. The 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix provided just the type of environment in which the likes of Daniel Ricciardo and George Russell could really capitalize on. Ricciardo missed out on a chance of a podium at the Italian Grand Prix but he didn't have to wait long for his next opportunity to sniff out a podium. With Verstappen out of the race and Leclerc falling back on pace, it was a shootout between Lance Stroll and Daniel Ricciardo for the final podium spot. Ricciardo was stronger on pace than Stroll and took P3 easily and was well on his way to his first podium with Renault. Then as luck would have it, Stroll suffered a tyre failure which led to the second red flag of the day and a sucker punch to Renault's podium chances. Although Ricciardo got a brilliant start after the race got under way again, Bottas quickly caught up a lap later and Alex Albon was right on his gearbox shortly after. Renault had no answer to the pace of the Red Bull and Ricciardo's maiden Renault podium will have to wait again.
Further back in the field, what better race to finally score your first career F1 point than this one? George Russell was in prime position to score his first points and Williams' first of the season. With 12 cars lost, it looked like Russell was going to pull of a brilliant finish and finally get into the top ten but much like Ricciardo, another missed opportunity in the world of F1. The red flag really caught Russell out and a mistake at the restart saw him eventually lose out to Sebastian Vettel for 10th. Although a solid finish, you have to wonder when Williams' next opportunity for points will come as they are still struggling on pure pace. It's how Formula 1 goes sometimes but even in a crazy race like this, you have to feel for these drivers who missed out on some golden opportunities.
3. Alex Albon Finally Delivers
It has been a year in the making, but Alex Albon is finally a podium sitter in Formula 1. I must say I found it ironic that he shared his first career podium with the man that punted him out of a chance at a maiden podium twice but I guess that's F1 in a nutshell. After a dismal Italian Grand Prix in which he watched his former team and car win the race, Albon really needed a strong weekend to cement his place at Red Bull amidst all the Gasly hype. He did just that, not only in the race but qualifying as well. Starting P4 alongside his teammate, Albon gave Red Bull the chance to fight as a team against the Mercedes. Unfortunately, Verstappen and Albon had poor starts and then Verstappen retired shortly after in turn 3. As I mentioned in my previous thought on missed opportunities, Albon was there at the right place at the right time and also drove really well to secure his first podium. Had the red flag not come out the second time, I believe Ricciardo could've held onto third but good on Alex Albon for grasping the opportunity with both hands and delivering for his team. His pace after the second restart was blistering and his move on Ricciardo was decisive and fantastic. Considering how his last overtake for a podium position went, I like how Albon didn't back down from the fight and went for it with complete commitment. With his teammate out of the race, all eyes were on Albon to deliver for Red Bull and he was able to rise to the occasion and get the podium he much greatly needed and deserved. Red Bull seems committed to letting Albon develop in their car so maybe the Tuscan Grand Prix is further proof for Red Bull that Albon is the right man for the job.
4. Was Mugello a Success?
Courtesy - McLaren.com
We went from potentially having zero races on the calendar to 2020 being one of the best F1 calendars in recent memory. It brought us all the way to Tuscany, Italy for round nine in Mugello. Now this circuit was known to most F1 fans as a MotoGP track and occasional F1 test circuit. It was brand new to modern Formula 1 cars and an unknown for a handful of drivers and teams. We do not know the status of Mugello for future calendars but this 2020 grand prix at the moment was a one-off event, but was Mugello a success? I would have to say yes. Mugello offered us a glimpse into the past when Formula 1 tracks were punishing both in physicality and track limits. The high speed nature of Mugello made qualifying a sight to see as Lewis Hamilton peaked 5.6G through one of the corners on Saturday. The high g-force load made it a difficult physical challenge for drivers which is an element that has been slightly hampered in newer generation Formula 1 circuits. It was also the lack of tarmac run-off that made it really exciting to watch in all sessions. You want a circuit that will punish you for going wide and not save you with kilometres of freshly paved run-off areas (yes Circuit Paul Ricard I'm talking to you). This style of track brings the driver back intro play more than his machine and it's where bravery and keeping your foot pinned to the throttle can reward you big time. I hope Mugello will make a return to the Formula 1 calendar as it offered us a dramatic race and some brilliant support races as well. It is the kind of circuit drivers and fans want to see more of in the future.
5. A Little V10 Nostalgia in Mugello
Courtesy - MotorSport Images
My final thought had to go to one of my favorite F1 cars and eras of all time. After taking the lead in the F2 championship, Mick Schumacher jumped in his father's infamous F2004 for a couple of laps around the Mugello Circuit. While I was watching the Sky Sports F1 race buildup, I knew the car was out on track not because I saw it, but because I heard it. The screams of the glorious V10 Ferrari engine lit up the hills of Tuscany and turned everyone's head in the paddock. Martin Brundle nearly sprinted down to the grid mid sentence to get a closer look at one of the best cars in F1 history. At a weekend where Ferrrai were celebrating 1000 races, it was a perfect show run to remind us of the glory days of Ferrari and Formula 1 engine sounds. Seeing a Schumacher back in the F2004 was delightful but also somber at the same time. The most important person to Ferrari's 1000 race celebration was not in attendance unfortunately but he was certainly in our minds during the weekend. I hope Michael Schumacher will one day be able to celebrate with Ferrari again but more importantly watch his son Mick follow in his footsteps. Even though it was short lived, it was a nice bit of nostalgia to remind us of some better days so I will leave you with the sights and sounds of the famed Ferrari as I finish this edition of the 5 thoughts from the Tuscan Grand Prix.