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Formula 1

What baffled and impressed Gary Anderson at Imola

by Gary Anderson
9 min read

Formula 1’s return to Imola produced a dramatic race, with a reminder of the role luck plays in the battle at the front and a puzzling strategy call costing a big result in the midfield battle.

Here are some of the key stories that caught my eye during the short, sharp two-day weekend which in my opinion was a success but not the right thing for every grand prix.

Was Hamilton lucky?

Who says luck doesn’t come into play when it comes to F1? Whatever Valtteri Bottas has done in a past life comes back to bite him far too often and it’s just the opposite for Lewis Hamilton. But that’s often the way for the great champions, they somehow are able to put themselves in the position to benefit when luck comes into play.

Yes, we can say bad luck has bitten everyone at some time but it usually balances itself out across a season, but it’s always the last time it struck that we remember the most.

Running over the debris from Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari on lap two obviously damaged Bottas’s car and had a major impact on the downforce levels. But the final nail in the coffin and the really unlucky bit for him was when the VSC came out on lap 30, allowing Hamilton to lose less time during his first pitstop.

Bottas had already pitted on lap 20 of 63 – a lap after Verstappen – which when you consider that the front three runners qualified on the medium compound tyres was fairly early. That left Hamilton out there and in the lead, he was putting in some mighty laps to try to open up the lead enough to make a normal pitstop and still come out in the lead. But Bottas, with the damage he had, was just about clinging on.

As long as Hamilton wasn’t losing time to Bottas, he was creating a bigger window for something oddball to happen. It looked like it was going to be nip and tuck if it was a normal pitstop, but in the end, the unexpected happened and good luck was on Hamilton’s side when the VSC was used because of Esteban Ocon’s gearbox failure.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Race Day Imola, Italy

After that, and with a clean stop he was home and dry, the timing was just perfect. He was more or less at the pit entry so could dive in immediately with the rest having to slow for the VSC. Some cynics might even say it was scripted – but fortune often does seem to favour drivers like Hamilton.

From what we saw up until that point, I think we would all say that it was difficult to pass in Imola and that track position was everything. Lewis complained early on about how difficult it was following another car. For once, he was getting a bit of his own medicine and battling the turbulent air he usually causes for others.

The only problem now is that he will be more determined to get on pole and optimise his starts, so that isn’t good news for his opposition.

Racing Point throws it away

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Race Day Imola, Italy

Sometimes it’s not about luck and you just make the wrong call. So what was Racing Point thinking when it pitted Sergio Perez while he was running third in that very coveted podium position?

Hindsight is 20/20 but I can assure you this comment doesn’t come from hindsight. Perez was on tyres 13 laps newer than Ricciardo or Albon and 14 laps newer than Leclerc.

The safety car came out with 15 laps to go, so by the time they had picked up the leader, got everyone in line and ‘probably’ allowed the lapped cars to go through, that would have left 10 or 11 laps at most.

He is as good or better than most at looking after the tyres and the two Mercedes ahead of him are well beyond his pay grade so they weren’t his opposition for the day. He had third place in the bag.

It was a simple situation of nothing to gain and everything to lose and that pitstop decision cost the team a lot. It went into Imola third in the constructors’ and came out fifth. It’s all very close and yes he ended up sixth on the road, so not a bad result but that podium and those extra points could be critical at the end of this championship.

The team’s reasoning was that the car was set up for the long runs not to work the tyres too hard so there were concerns about the losing tyre temperature and being vulnerable at the restart. And while the safety car period was longer than expected thanks to George Russell’s crash, it was still a bad move to give up track position even if you were worried about that.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Race Day Imola, Italy

After all, overtaking was not easy at Imola. By pitting Racing Point put itself in the position where Perez had to do the overtaking. If it had just held firm the overtaking would have been down to the others. In the end, Perez was a bit asleep or just couldn’t get his fresh soft tyres working and failed to recoup the positions lost in the pits.

In that midfield fight, just a few points can mean everything. Renault is now third with 135 points and starting to look strong. McLaren, boosted mainly by Carlos Sainz’s second place in Monza, is fourth with 134 points and Racing Point is now only fifth – also with 134 points.

No-one really knows when this championship will end as the affects of the coronavirus could actually mean the season finishes prematurely, so it’s critical to go away from each race event in the best possible championship position. Coming home from Imola, Racing Point has lost two positions and with that many millions of dollars that could be spent on its new car for 2022.

Ferrari’s making progress…a little

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Race Day Imola, Italy

Ferrari again looks as if it has made a little progress. If not progress, it has at least stabilised its slippery slope to oblivion.

That is, at least on one car. For Sebastian Vettel, it was just another day in the office going around and around. He wasn’t as quick as Charles Leclerc in qualifying but in the race and before his disaster of a pitstop, he had got up to fourth.

A botched pitstop when the left rear was slow and the right front was even slower put paid to any hope of points. He must feel like he is being shafted and I’m sure he just wants to get out of there and start his new lease of life at Racing Point.

Time wasting with lapped cars

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Race Day Imola, Italy

It isn’t written in stone that lapped cars should be allowed to reclaim a lap and join the back of the pack, it’s at the discretion of the race director. I could understand it if it had just been for Verstappen’s tyre failure, but then when it was extended all it was doing was reducing race laps.

At the time I was shouting at the TV, urging the race director not to bother with letting the lapped cars overtake. This procedure is such a waste of time when you are so near to the end of a race. But I didn’t know at the time that it had also created a major safety issue.

When the lapped cars are let loose, their mission is to close up on the pack and as we now know some drivers – and I have to say teams – didn’t respect the fact that marshals were still cleaning up the track where Russell had made a schoolboy error.

If drivers can take a second of an advantage out of yellow flags or a VSC situation, they will. They are racing drivers and their job is to get the best result possible.

It’s the same with an actual safety car. Something needs to be done about this by taking control away from the drivers before a nasty accident happens – perhaps even injuring one or more of the marshals. So as normal, I’m putting my head on the block with a suggestion that could be implemented immediately.

If there is an incident that requires a decision between a VSC and a safety car, why not throw the VSC immediately. That will then bring the speeds under control until the safety car can be dispatched if required. Once the safety car has everyone lined up behind it, then the VSC can be withdrawn. Basically, there should never be a safety car without a VSC beforehand.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Preparation Day Imola, Italy

This will at least mean that the drivers will have to reduce speeds immediately allowing marshals to safely attend an incident, as an example Pierre Gasly’s car fire in Portugal, the marshals had to stand by and watch the car burning itself to a cinder before it was safe to address the situation.

As for the lapped drivers, if the race has 10 or fewer laps to run just let them drop back until the top 10 are running line astern. That way, it will be a lot quicker and give us the potential for that bit of extra racing in the closing stages and avoids any risk of drivers hurry to gain the lap back once released while the cleanup is still going on. There’s no temptation to rush the process if there are few laps remaining.

This won’t do anything to reduce the risk of what happened to Russell but it will reduce the risk to marshals still involved in cleaning up the track post incident whilst drivers or at least some are going flat out (at their discretion) to catch up the pack before the safety car is withdrawn. In my scenario, the cars are not released to scarper to catch the rear of the pack and therefore the marshals should be safer.

More to come from AlphaTauri

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Race Day Imola, Italy

It was good to see AlphaTauri having a strong performance and getting to the front of the midfield pack. It was a pity for Pierre Gasly when he had his fluid leak, it was very early in the race to really know how it would have unfolded for him but he had been strong all weekend on low and high fuel runs so I’m pretty sure a strong result was in there for him.

At Imola, it was left to Daniil Kvyat and he was really the only one who got on with the job after pitting at the same time as Perez under that final safety car. He planed the restart perfectly and hustled his way through to a fine fourth place.

This is a team that has high ambitions. It is on most occasions able to take the battle to the front of that midfield pack in the race but still it needs to be fighting further forward with both cars more often.

With Ferrari’s drop off in performance, it is the hero of Italy and given its ambitions, this will do a lot for motivation. Team principal Franz Tost runs a tight ship but he knows there is no ‘i’ in team and backs up his employees 100%. If it can continue this upward trend and maintain consistency, 2021 could be a very good year for Alpha Tauri.

Yes, it will probably have F1 rookie Yuki Tsunoda in the second car but I can assure you from experience being a Japanese driver backed by Honda in a car powered by Honda is not a bad place to be. The whole team including Gasly who it rates extremely highly will benefit from that.

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