A dramatic crash between title protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen that took both drivers out of the race cleared the way for Daniel Ricciardo to claim a sensational victory in the Italian Grand Prix, giving McLaren their first race win since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix – and a one-two to boot, as he led home team mate Lando Norris, with Valtteri Bottas taking third, in a thrilling race at Monza.
Hamilton was exiting the pits on Lap 26 of 53 when he arrived alongside Verstappen, the pair going side by side through the Variante del Rettifilo, but making contact, with Verstappen flying through the air and coming to rest on top of the Mercedes. Both drivers were unhurt, but out of the race, with the stewards set to investigate after the Grand Prix.
Ricciardo was a deserving winner, however, having passed Verstappen for the lead at the race start from P2 on the grid, before Verstappen and Hamilton’s clash cleared the way for him to control the race to sweep home to an eighth career victory. Lando Norris secured his best ever race finish with P2, having been told to hold station behind his team mate in the final moments of the Grand Prix.
Having started P19, Bottas claimed third, finishing fourth on the road behind Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, before Perez had a five-second penalty added to his time for passing Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc off the track.
Perez would eventually be classified fifth behind Leclerc, while Carlos Sainz took sixth on his first ever outing for Ferrari at Monza. Lance Stroll was seventh for Aston Martin – but under investigation for a yellow flag infraction – with Alpine’s Fernando Alonso eighth, ahead of the Williams of George Russell in ninth as the second Alpine of Esteban Ocon completed the top 10.
So, a huge moment for Ricciardo, Norris and McLaren – with Ricciardo also claiming a point for fastest lap on the final tour. But the ramifications of Hamilton and Verstappen’s crash are sure to be a major talking point this evening.
With a free tyre choice for all drivers on the grid, everyone in the top 10 opted to start on medium tyres bar Lewis Hamilton – who despite having two new sets of softs in his locker, chose to start on the hards from P4, behind Verstappen and the two McLarens of Ricciardo and Norris.
Verstappen got away cleanly from pole, but not as well as Ricciardo, who aced the getaway to claim the race lead going into the first chicane – the first time the Australian had led a race since the 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Hamilton, meanwhile, had jumped Norris in the second McLaren at the start to hold third and duly attacked his second-placed title rival Verstappen into the second chicane. Verstappen held his line, though, with Hamilton taking to the run-off and accusing Verstappen of pushing him off, as Norris slipped back past to demote Hamilton down to fourth – the stewards not deigning to investigate the incident.
Behind, having unsuccessfully tried to pass Charles Leclerc around the outside at the first chicane, Antonio Giovinazzi then ran across the second, coming wildly back on track and squeezing Carlos Sainz, who tagged the Italian into half spin, costing Giovinazzi a nose cone and forcing him to pit – the race briefly neutralised by a Virtual Safety Car, with the stewards handing Giovinazzi a 5s penalty.
By Lap 10, Ricciardo was maintaining his lead of around one second beautifully from Verstappen, who complained that it was hard to get close to his former Red Bull team mate. Norris in third was holding Hamilton at bay as he had done in Saturday’s Sprint, with the rest of the top 10: Leclerc in P5 then Perez, Sainz, Lance Stroll – who’d tangled with Aston Martin team mate Sebastian Vettel on the first lap, costing the German three places – with Fernando Alonso and the fast-starting Nicholas Latifi rounding out the top 10.
Showing great pace early on, meanwhile, Valtteri Bottas was up to 11th from his P19 start (and into the points after passing Latifi on Lap 13) – while both AlphaTauris were out of the race, Yuki Tsunoda failing to take the start after a brake issue, while 2020 Monza winner Gasly was retired on Lap 3, ending the Italian team’s 100% points record in 2021.
At this stage of the race, both Verstappen and Hamilton’s race ambitions were being frustrated by the pesky McLarens ahead of them, the Red Bull pit wall feeling Verstappen could lap 1s quicker if he could pass Ricciardo – while Verstappen being held up was at least a saving grace for Hamilton, who despite several close dices with Norris couldn’t make his way past either.
Vettel had been in the wars in the early part of the race – and his hardship continued on Lap 15 as Esteban Ocon squeezed the German into the Variante della Roggia, Ocon earning a 5s penalty for his troubles.
Leader Ricciardo was pitted on Lap 22 for hards, releasing Verstappen – who a lap before had run wide at Turn 1 trying a lunge on the Australian. “Keep the pressure on,” Verstappen was told, with the Dutchman retorting succinctly: “But my tyres are f****d!”
In the next minutes, Verstappen’s race hopes suffered a double blow, before a final, dramatic coup de grace. First, as he pulled into the pits a lap after Ricciardo for his stop, he was held for 11.1s by a slow right-front wheel. Almost simultaneously, Norris was finally passed by Hamilton, releasing the seven-time champion.
Hamilton then pitted on Lap 24, a 4.2s stop meaning he exited the pits neck and neck with Verstappen. Then came the incident that blew the race wide open.
As the pair headed into the Variante del Rettifilo, Verstappen and Hamilton were side by side. With a sense of inevitability, they made contact, with Verstappen’s RB16B launched into the air, slamming into Hamilton’s rollover hoop before it came to rest on top of the Mercedes’ nose cone. The stewards opted to investigate the incident after the race – but whatever the outcome, it was yet another fiery chapter in the fight between these two, and one that left the 50% capacity Monza crowd slack-jawed.
With the two main actors in the title fight out, all eyes turned to the McLaren of Ricciardo, who led the race that was now neutralised by a Safety Car – with Charles Leclerc having jumped to P2 after pitting under the Safety Car, with Norris third ahead of Perez, Sainz and Bottas in P6.
Ricciardo nailed the restart on Lap 31 of 53 to hold his lead, as Norris attacked Leclerc and brilliantly took P2 into the second chicane. Bottas, meanwhile, was flying, quickly seeing off Sainz and Leclerc. Perez had passed Leclerc by running over the second chicane run-off to claim P3 – the Mexican not giving the place back, however, and earning himself a 5s race penalty.
With 10 laps to go, the order was Ricciardo from Norris – who’d been told by McLaren not to attack his team mate for the lead and compromise McLaren’s chance of taking a historic one-two – with Perez third, then Bottas, Leclerc, Sainz, Stoll, Alonso, Russell and Ocon – Bottas having tried and failed to pass Perez for third on Lap 43.
Ultimately, though, as Bottas’ pace levelled off and the laps counted down, Ricciardo had this one covered, and at the end of Lap 53, to the delight of all at McLaren, the papaya orange cars swept across the line for the team’s first victory since Interlagos 2012 – and Ricciardo’s first since the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix, and first in F1 as a non-Red Bull driver.
Norris had attempted to chivvy Ricciardo along at points in the race, being vocal on team radio about the Australian needing to pick his pace up. Credit, though, was due to Norris, who respected McLaren’s wishes to hold station and take P2.
Perez would finish P3 but fell to fifth after his penalty, allowing Bottas onto the podium after his P19 start, as Leclerc was promoted to fourth. Six to 10 was occupied by Sainz, Stroll, Alonso, Russell – scoring his third points finish in four races – and Ocon in 10th.
Nicholas Latifi took P11 in the second Williams, ahead of Vettel in 12th. Antonio Giovinazzi could only recover to 13th after his Lap 1 snafu, with the sister Alfa Romeo of Robert Kubica 14th ahead of Mick Schumacher – the second Haas of Nikita Mazepin having retired.
So, 12 months on from Pierre Gasly’s sensational win, Monza delivered another corker, as Ricciardo claimed an astonishing victory – sealed, of course, with his famous shoey celebration on Monza’s iconic, theatrical rostrum. But expect the rumblings from yet another clash between Hamilton and Verstappen to reverberate on for weeks to come.
With the triple header done, the drivers and teams now have to wait two weeks till they’re back on track at the Sochi Autodrom for the 2021 Russian Grand Prix on September 24-26. The circuit has traditionally been a Mercedes stronghold, with no other team having ever won there in seven attempts. But can Red Bull, or anyone else, change that in 2021?