Formula One rarely serves up races like the Italian Grand Prix, but Pierre Gasly’s win for AlphaTauri ahead of Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll completely flipped the script.
Before this mad Monza race F1 had gone been 147 races — more than seven years — since anyone other than a Mercedes, Red Bull Racing or Ferrari driver topped the podium.
And in a season dominated by Mercedes, it took some plot twists to take Gasly to the top step.
This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.
Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton was knocked out by a costly stop-go penalty for pitting while pit lane was closed, dropping him to last. His teammate, Valtteri Bottas, executed one of the worst starts of his career to fall from second to sixth on the first lap, his car then overheating in traffic.
Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen succumbed to a power unit problem, and the sister machine of Thai driver Alex Albon took critical damage on the opening laps.
Ferrari, embarrassingly slow in 2020, played its role when Charles Leclerc, thankfully unharmed, binned his Ferrari at the high-speed Parabolica.
The chaos served to divide the race into two halves. The first was standard 2020-spec, but the second, with the main players out of contention and the field required to resume from the starting grid, treated F1 fans to the sort of spectacle the sport has been trying to deliver for years: equally competitive cars dicing down to the wire.
This should take nothing from Gasly win, for he certainly had to earn it. Lance Stroll in the quicker Racing Point effectively started from pole, but the Canadian, wracked by the pressure that it was his race to lose, was slow off the line, promoting Gasly to the lead.
But this was no cruise for the Frenchman. Carlos Sainz, fuming that the ill-timed suspension had appeared to have robbed him of an easy second place, was on a charge.
Such was the Spaniard’s hustle that his car squirmed and protested under the exertion. Having thrashed his way past four cars, he charged to towards the white and navy AlphaTauri hungry to make himself the weekend’s maiden winner.
Gasly, managing tyres that had just about run out of tread, was faultless in defence, and in a grandstand finish he crossed the line first by just 0.4 seconds.
It was the dream sport story. Gasly’s career seemed over 12 months ago, dropped by Red Bull Racing midseason after being dominated by Verstappen, but since his return to the junior team he’s been enjoying a purple stretch in form.
Albon, his replacement and enduring a similar struggle, will spend the rest of the season fighting to retain his place in the senior squad.
It was an important reminder from Sainz too that he goes to Ferrari next season not as a bit-part player for team leader Leclerc but as a genuine race-winning and title-contending candidate.
Even Stroll, derided for buying his way into F1, is finally showing signs of fulfilling his junior potential in a competitive car and a team with a positive outlook.
And these are only three among a host of storylines hidden below a waterline forever being raised by Mercedes.
These are the stories F1 bosses want to give more stage time to in 2022, when new regulations and cost controls will create cars that race more easily while preventing better-funded teams from spending their way into the lead.
Lewis Hamilton will still win this year’s championship and will start favourite next season too, but the Italian Grand Prix gave us a glimpse just over the horizon at a future worth fighting for.