Formula One’s first visit to Mugello delivered the same old result: Lewis Hamilton leading a comfortable Mercedes front-row lockout with Max Verstappen leading the Red Bull Racing charge from third.
The rapid bends of the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello have proved universally popular among drivers as an ‘old-school’ circuit. The track has a real flow to it, aided in part by the varying elevation, and the combination of abrasive tarmac, gravel run-off and close barriers makes this an all-round test of driving ability.
In some resects the 2020-spec F1 car is almost too fast for the circuit. So much is flat out — almost the entire middle sector is open throttle — that the driver can only make a meaningful difference to performance at the first and third splits.
The sheer g-force generated by those bends presents a challenge of its own. Fit though the drivers are, there’ll be many a limp neck by the end of this 59-lap grand prix.
But the downside is that this heavily aero-dependent ribbon of road snaking through the Tuscan hills will make overtaking difficult without a substantial pace mismatch. Teams are therefore likely to play this race conservatively — though, as the junior categories have been demonstrating rewards can be won for those willing to take an aggressive approach.
|PROVISIONAL STARTING GRID|
Distance: 5.245 kilometres
Lap record: N/A
Track record: 1:15.144 (Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 2020)
Lateral load: very high
Tyre stress: very high
Asphalt grip: high
Asphalt abrasion: high
Traction: very low
Safety car probability: N/A
Pit lane speed: 80 kilometres per hour
Pit lane length: 310 metres (approx.)
Pit lane time loss: TBA
Fuel consumption: 1.86 kilograms per lap
Tyres: C2 (hard), C3 (medium), C4 (soft)
Estimated tyre delta
Hard–medium: 0.4 seconds
Medium–soft: 0.6 seconds
Mercedes and Red Bull Racing have been the two leading forces of the season, albeit with Mercedes comfortably holding the upper hand, but for the first time in 2020 the four cars have locked out the front two rows.
Mercedes has locked out the front row, again proving the outlawing of qualifying engine modes has done almost nothing to make it vulnerable on Saturdays, but Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas might find themselves strategically vulnerable to a double-teaming effort from Max Verstappen and Alex Albon behind.
The abrasive asphalt and demanding corners here put this race into two-stop territory on physical wear alone, even if thermal degradation didn’t show up as a major problem during practice despite the warm weather. However, as is the standard play in F1, trying to achieve a one-stop race will be a priority, particularly given the difficulty overtaking.
All four will start on softs, and a soft-hard switch at around lap 22 with tyre management is the most realistic one-stop route. With a safety car intervention likely given the proximity of the walls and ubiquity of the gravel, a free second stop sometime after lap 30 would effectively neutralise this race.
But both Mercedes drivers and Verstappen are equipped for two-stop strategies off the line, the former with two sets of mediums and the latter with a set of mediums and a set of softs.
Can Red Bull Racing deploy Alex Albon in the one-stop roadblock role effectively enough to get Verstappen involved in the fight for the lead with a two-stop? It’s the team’s first opportunity to try to use both drivers to navigate past Mercedes. Expect the RBR pit wall to seize it. Assuming the top four get away cleanly at lights-out.
The likelihood of a two-stopper is boosted by Charles Leclerc’s unlikely fifth place. The Ferrari doesn’t belong there on outright pace, and the difficulty passing could turn the Monegasque into a cork in the midfield bottle, rapidly creating the pit window required for the frontrunners to chance it on strategy.
The division between the midfielders starting in the top 10 and those starting behind will be fascinating. The medium tyre in the first stint for those starting 11th and below offers key strategic flexibility, opening the door to both one and two stops. If tyre management becomes key, Lando Norris will find himself in the box seat in the Renault-McLaren battle by stopping only once.