For the fifth race in a row, Max Verstappen and Red Bull walked off victorious.
Unlike at his home race the weekend before, this time at Formula 1’s 2022 Italian Grand Prix the world champion did so with a chorus of boos rather than adoring cheers ringing out.
But both those developments don’t tell the full story of the Monza weekend in isolation – as Red Bull’s brilliance in defeating Ferrari yet again came against the backdrop of yet more late-race safety car controversy regarding the FIA. In this case, the governing body’s officials got their calls right, but this nevertheless revealed that the scars of the 2021 Abu Dhabi farce remain fresh and need additionally addressing for the good of the championship overall.
Elsewhere, another Dutch single-seater star firmly entered the F1 spotlight, George Russell continued his remarkable run of success for Mercedes, and Red Bull’s Porsche plans hit the skids for good.
These stories and plenty more are what we learned from the 2022 Italian Grand Prix.
1. Unstoppable Verstappen can win the 2022 title in Singapore
If Verstappen wins and Leclerc finishes lower than ninth, he can cement the 2022 title in Singapore
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Ahead of the Monza race, Verstappen was already on course to break F1’s single-season victory record. Now, he’s just two away from equalling the feat jointly shared by Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel, from 2004 and 2013 respectively. And there’s still six races left for him to push the benchmark to a new height.
The end result, as unpopular as it was for many in attendance last Sunday, means that Verstappen now heads to the next race in Singapore with his first chance to mathematically clinch the 2022 title.
PLUS: Why Verstappen would have beaten Leclerc without safety car help
That is still unlikely to happen, however, as it would require Leclerc to finish well down the points order (eighth) and have Sergio Perez finish off the podium – all while requiring Verstappen to win with the fastest lap to boot. But given Ferrari’s ability to strike misfortune seemingly at every turn this year, it cannot be automatically assumed the fight will go on one more week to Japan…
Monza was firm Red Bull hunting ground given its slippery and efficient aerodynamic package, allied with the potent Honda engine in the RB18. Singapore should suit Ferrari much better given its strength remains in corners with its higher-overall-downforce arrangement.
But then Red Bull, which has eliminated the understeer that also blunted Verstappen’s form at the late-spring/early-summer street track sojourn by finally getting down to the 2022 weight limit, won convincingly at similar track types at Budapest and Zandvoort too…
2. Ferrari got Leclerc’s VSC strategy call right, but was always going to lose at home
Ferrari took the initiative to stop under the VSC – but it wasn’t enough to beat Verstappen
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
Ferrari has had to endure a barrage of criticism over its strategy calls and subsequent poor results so far this season. And, no matter how much the team and its drivers might want to deflect this, it has been fully deserved.
But the Scuderia’s decision to pit Leclerc when the virtual safety car called when Sebastian Vettel stopped with an ERS failure aboard his Aston Martin was the right one. Essentially, Red Bull was ready to bring Verstappen in for the same lap 12 stop if Leclerc stayed out. And given how well the Dutchman’s squad has been performing when it comes to on-the-fly strategy calls this year, there’s no higher praise for Ferrari this time.
The home team knew it just didn’t have the pace without circumstances coming to it. And it was also unlucky, twice. First was that the VSC ended when Leclerc was still in the pits so he didn’t get its full benefit and also because another race interruption didn’t work out in its favour.
“Max overall was faster and impossible to beat,” concluded Binotto. “Having said that, I think that one more note which is interesting. Red Bull were ready in the pitlane so they decided simply opposite to us and would have probably likely pitted if we would have stayed out.”
Arguably the VSC actually hurt Ferrari’s best chance of winning the race – forcing Verstappen into making an on-track pass and hoping he would make an error against Leclerc. But that alone reinforces that this wasn’t a race Ferrari could win once Verstappen had negotiated the lap 1 peril in the pack.
3. Red Bull again showed there are different ways of being rapid at Monza
More downforce, no problem: Red Bull sacrificed top speed for better traction at Monza
Photo by: Alessio Morgese
Monza hasn’t always been firm Red Bull territory. During the ultra-high-downforce era just gone, it had a package that was best suited to circuits requiring peak downforce loads, whereas Mercedes could win on all fronts. In 2022, Red Bull and Ferrari are reversed in this regard and so the low-downforce Monza layout was never expected to favour the red cars.
But even going back to the pre-turbo hybrid era that Red Bull dominated, the Belgian and Italian races were always ones where its opposition had a good chance of beating the high-rake/exhaust blown diffuser concept Adrian Newey perfected.
Then, it was because the Renault engine wasn’t as powerful as its Mercedes and Ferrari rivals. Now, the Honda unit still under Red Bull badging in the RB18s is up there as the most potent and Red Bull’s low-drag 2022 package meant it was set to dominate in the speed trap figures at Monza. But it didn’t. Just like how in 2011, Red Bull went with a convention-confounding set-up to come out on top.
Eleven years ago, the team used a shorter seventh gear to give Vettel a boost to use pole even while running a massive rear wing, which could be opened in qualifying, and then let him scamper clear in the race post-safety car and that Curva Grande pass on Fernando Alonso.
This time, with Ferrari adjusting the F1-75s to cut out drag enough to top qualifying and still be rapid through the Lesmos and Ascari, Red Bull instead beefed up its rear wing set-up so it could be quicker out of the corners and spend less time on the long straights. This had the added benefit of aiding tyre life if the rubber was treated in the right way.
Once again, Verstappen’s mastery of what remains a mystery to many teams and drivers meant he took Red Bull’s latest Monza set-up magic to a famous win.
4. Abu Dhabi safety car ghosts continue to haunt F1 and the FIA…
Monza’s safety car finish was the inverse of Abu Dhabi last year – but was still met with disappointment
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
“It always brings memories back,” Lewis Hamilton told Sky Italy post-race. “That is how the rules should be, right? There’s only one time in the history of the sport where they haven’t done the rules like that and that’s the one where it changed the result of the championship. But it is what it is.”
This time, the Mercedes driver did not lose out most with a race finishing under the safety car and no last-gasp shootout taking place. Here, that was Leclerc, who wanted desperately to bring his low-drag set-up to bear against Verstappen’s reversely arranged package, and in any case it is the opposite of the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP saga.
In this case, the FIA followed all the safety car rules as written and cannot be faulted for that. It’s just that when removing Daniel Ricciardo’s stricken McLaren proved tricky that combined with the pack – headed by Russell – having to be released from behind the safety car so Verstappen would be at the head of the queue. That all meant time ran out to allow a restart following the rules that weren’t applied in Abu Dhabi. And the tifosi was audibly annoyed.
That the FIA followed its procedures is one thing – and, let’s face it, the bare minimum expected from the governing body and its officials. But the Abu Dhabi saga remains a scar F1 carries and to fix that, surely a change is needed? Just going back to how things should have been done on that occasion doesn’t wash away the issue for many.
5. …and the teams must share the blame
Should safety cars in the dying stages yield red flags?
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
Many people, this writer included, believe that in circumstances such as Abu Dhabi 2021 and Monza last weekend a race should be stopped to ensure the fairest situation and an exciting finish at the same time.
It’s a complicated debate, but just because ‘sometimes races end behind the safety car’ doesn’t mean future ones have too. That would not only add to the spectacle – prized so much in other rules that are now just accepted when previously they didn’t exist, such as standing restarts – but it would ideally heal the Abu Dhabi issue. No matter what, for many fans those controversial scenes will taint F1 for a while, and at a time when distrust in establishments is being forced into many people’s views by nefarious figures.
It leads to ridiculous suggestions such as the conspiracy on Yuki Tsunoda and AlphaTauri/Red Bull at Zandvoort and it needs addressing. And in F1 it can be.
But it turns out that the teams actually discussed the idea of creating rules that mean a late red flag could be thrown “and we didn’t come up in any better solution”, per McLaren team boss Andreas Seidl.
They couldn’t agree on implementing the red flag rule change because on some occasions the call would go against some teams. But the inverse of that logic is that sometimes it would provide a gain. That is sport, just like the ‘sometimes races end behind the safety car’ argument, put forward even by others in the TBEN editorial department. At least this way there are additional, and considerable, benefits for watching fans and observers.
6. Other FIA procedures need to be addressed as well
Mohammed Ben Sulayem has had a few things to consider in his first year as FIA president
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
As this article is being written, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem is meeting with his F1 race officials and the team managers to discuss what a governing body statement described as “a range of sporting matters”. It’s good timing given there’s plenty to discuss from the last weekend alone. In addition to the late-race safety car issue, there was an element of the Monza event that spoiled the fun and can be easily addressed.
It took nearly four hours after qualifying for the provisional grid to be issued in the context of nine drivers taking penalties for various infractions, with main ones concerning additional engine parts being run.
It’s the topic for a whole different column, but first off, the teams could just respect the rules regarding the number of engines required over the course of a season. But as this continues to be a regular and frustrating issue, the FIA needs to find a way to simply and efficiently issue the expected grid – even if it acknowledged it was all provisional subject to the cars clearing parc ferme scrutineering. This would avoid a “vacuum” of uncertainty developing over such situations, per Seidl, and stop the unedifying sight of drivers taking to social media to ask where they’re going to be starting a race…
F1 should just be better than this.
7. Russell’s impressive start to life at Mercedes still isn’t stopping
Mr Consistency: All of Russell’s finishes in 2022 have been between second and fifth
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
“I said on the radio to the team, it doesn’t matter if we’re fast or slow, we keep getting these podiums. Unfortunately, this weekend we definitely weren’t where we wanted to be as a team but nevertheless we can look back on these three races – two podiums and a P4. We’ve got to be satisfied with that.”
Russell is right in his assessment of Mercedes’ results at Spa, Zandvoort and Monza, even if circumstances just conspired against it to snuff out its brief glimmer of beating Verstappen in the middle race of the season’s last triple-header. But the Silver Arrows can also be extremely satisfied with its decision of a year ago to promote Russell to replace Valtteri Bottas. The Briton has done excellently and still only his Silverstone Turn 1 crash blights his streak of top five finishes all season.
He’s certainly had the rub of the green when it comes to VSC/safety car timing compared to Hamilton, who has also looked the most likely of the pair to win when Mercedes has suddenly found itself in a victory fight (Silverstone, Zandvoort). It’s a similar situation to Ferrari’s first year of running Carlos Sainz alongside Leclerc – a brilliant new impression, but the incumbent has the edge when it matters.
How Russell goes from this great start at Mercedes will likely define his F1 career. That story naturally continues at the next race – Singapore, where Russell hopes a return to high-downforce territory will “suit our car”. But he also rightly remembers similar street circuit settings in Monaco and Baku hurt Mercedes due to their bumps and that raises the spectre of porpoising returning to the headlines.
8. De Vries stakes his claim to a 2023 race seat with strong Monza showing
Nyck de Vries’ call-up to Williams was last-minute, but he thoroughly impressed everyone with ninth place
Photo by: Williams
Nyck de Vries’ single-seater career was in the spotlight even before he drove to two fine points on debut as a last-minute replacement for Alex Albon at Williams. That was because, like de Vries in 2019, newly crowned Formula 2 champion Felipe Drugovich will miss out on a promotion to an F1 race drive despite winning the top feeder category. And, like de Vries, taking three years to beat a mediocre F2 crop is the main reason why.
But de Vries has already shown there’s another way to get on the radar for a future F1 berth, by impressing Mercedes enough to be hired as one of its works Formula E drivers. De Vries then took the first of two Mercedes FE titles. With Toto Wolff’s backing, he has driven in 2022 FP1 sessions in Spain and now Italy, after missing out on a Williams seat for this year when the British team picked Albon to partner Nicholas Latifi based on his greater previous F1 experience.
With Latifi’s F1 future getting ever more imperilled now Williams doesn’t need to hire a driver with backing following Dorilton Capital’s investment and F1’s recent growth revitalising team finances, now de Vries has another shot. And he enhanced it with his brilliant Sunday drive.
Yes, his chance to get points was boosted by grid penalties for others meaning he lined up eighth and not 13th, but he nailed everything when it mattered. His better handling of Verstappen’s blue flags saw off Zhou Guanyu’s challenge late-on, although he was fortunate the stewards gave him the benefit of the doubt over his brief erratic driving under the safety car. There’s little more he can really do now to prove he deserves a full-time F1 shot.
9. Two former F1 racers enter the frame at Haas, as the 2022 silly season continues to twist
Hulkenberg has emerged as a contender to replace Mick Schumacher at Haas
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
The first two races back after the summer break were dominated by the fallout of the remarkable 2022 driver market silly season and the Alpine/McLaren/Ricciardo/Oscar Piastri affair.
That drama even carried on to Italy, where new reports suggest Ricciardo is a candidate to become Mercedes’ reserve driver for 2023 if he is indeed forced to spending some time on the sidelines once he leaves McLaren. De Vries has already proved how valuable being aligned with Wolff can be, while other manufacturer relations are boosting another 2023 candidate.
That is Antonio Giovinazzi, who is known to be Ferrari’s preferred candidate to partner Kevin Magnussen at Haas – even though the engine supplier cannot dictate that the Italian gets a seat. He nevertheless acquitted himself well in a Haas FP1 outing at Monza, where it also emerged that Nico Hulkenberg is being assessed for a potential F1 return.
That is apparently the case for both Haas and Alpine, which has also been linked with assessing 2022 F2 race winner Jack Doohan as a potential replacement for Alonso. That has seemingly come about now it seems the audacious Colton Herta/Pierre Gasly deal between Red Bull and Alpine has hit trouble.
10. Porsche/Red Bull deal officially off, but F1 reckons other manufacturer will step in
The expected Porsche and Red Bull tie-up will not go ahead – but will another manufacturer come to play?
Photo by: Dan Bathie / Motorsport Images
One deal that was definitely confirmed as being off at Monza was Red Bull’s expected tie-up with Porsche. The long-discussed arrangement was thought close to being announced at July’s Austrian round before delays set in and then whole thing collapsed over the late summer.
This apparently centred on Porches’ intention to buy 50% of Red Bull’s F1 operation and Verstappen’s team apparently baulking over subsequent concerns that the OEM would get too involved in running the squad. As Red Bull team boss Christian Horner put it, “during the discussion process it became clear that there was a strategic non-alignment”.
But that doesn’t mean a manufacturer alliance is totally off for Red Bull, even as it ploughs on with establishing its own Powertrains division. F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali said at Monza that “there are also other manufacturers sitting at the table of the engineers who prefer not to come out into the open”. This could be Honda reversing its decision to officially pull out of F1 at the end of 2021, it could be another OEM altogether partnering with Red Bull as Aston Martin once did in a branding-only exercise.
Porsche too could yet still enter F1. Williams or Aston Martin buy-outs remain possible if Porsche is willing to pay the right, and likely very high, price. So too does partnering Andretti on the American squad’s long-desired F1 entry. But time is running out for Porsche to beat the FIA’s 15 October TBEN to become a 2026 engine builder.
Red Bull is going it alone for now
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool