Monza didn’t turn out to be the dream weekend the Tifosi hoped for Ferrari, with Red Bull dominating, but at least Carlos Sainz gave them some reason to smile with his pole position and podium finish.
We have to admit that most of us were secretly rooting for Sainz to take pole at the 2023 Italian Grand Prix last weekend, as the Scuderia and their Tifosi were long due a decent result, and what better place to get it other than Monza.
Sainz duly obliged and delivered pole, and on merit, making use of all the tweaks the Scuderia have made to make sure their SF-23 was a rocket ship on the Monza straights (new power unit, extreme low downforce setup).
Even Max Verstappen wasn’t bothered by missing out on pole, but that’s partly because he knew his RB19 will carry him to his tenth Formula 1 win in a row on Sunday.
Editor-in-Chief Paul Velasco and I were chatting ahead of the race and when he asked me about my race predictions I said: “The mind says Max, the heart says Carlos.”
The mind won this round, and despite all his valiant efforts during last Sunday’s grand prix, Sainz was only delaying the inevitable – Verstappen passing and winning.
And while second and third would’ve been a sweeter result for Ferrari, a rejuvenated Sergio Perez had other thoughts and in the end the Bulls, in formation, lead the Prancing Horses to the chequered flag.
So let’s now look back on the weekend at Monza, and see what Takeaways we came up with.
Sainz spearheads Ferrari’s Italian charge
He may not be the faster of the Ferrari pair, but Sainz has proven one more time that he is the better racer, and the more consistent, not to mention his superior grasp of the race conditions and strategy, especially as his team still lack on that front.
At Monza, Sainz was faster than Leclerc from the start, and while we saw him fade in qualifying with his teammate pulling out one of his magical qualifying laps before, the Spaniard kept his momentum into Q3 and pole was his reward.
Yes the SF-23 was dialled more towards one-lap speed and the RB19 wasn’t, but Sainz never put a foot wrong under the extreme pressure of the expectations from the thousands of Ferrari fans that flocked to Monza to cheer on their beloved Scuderia.
If you thought Verstappen was under pressure at Zandvoort, imagine how Sainz must have felt at Monza.
During the race, Sainz delivered a robust performance. Verstappen was bound to pass him, but Carlos did not wave him by and defended with all of his might. In the end physics won. The RB19 with Max at the wheel was never going to finish second to the #55 SF-23 that was at its usual tyre-chewing worst.
But once Verstappen took the lead and effectively sealed the deal, Sainz’s troubles were just starting as he still had to deal with Perez on the attack, not to mention Leclerc, the “Chosen One”, hell bent on being the Ferrari driver to get onto the podium.
And while he gave Perez some tough defending – questionable at some point – Sainz couldn’t keep him behind for long, and with the Red Pit Wall giving their drivers freedom to race, the Spanish driver kept his teammate at bay to rightfully take third place.
Sainz showed composure and calmness under the immense pressure he was under, on and off track and delivered the best result possible for his team and their Tifosi.
The intra Ferrari duel at Monza
Some hailed Frederic Vasseur for allowing his drivers to race each other for the final podium position towards the end of the race, and while it is for the betterment of the show that has recently become a bit predictable with Verstappen’s dominance, I believe on that Sunday in particular the customary Ferrari team orders should’ve been deployed.
Just imagine if the two Red Cars took each other out, then Vasseur and Co, and even the two Charlies would’ve been crucified by the Tifosi and the media, especially the Italian media.
Furthermore, when Ferrari are about to deliver one of their best results this season and in front of their home crowds, the smart thing would’ve been to play it safe and make sure they made the podium.
Leclerc wouldn’t have been happy? Well tough luck, Sainz was the better driver that weekend and logic meant he should’ve been backed all the way, and had it been the other way around, I believe team orders would’ve been issued in the blink of an eye ordering Sainz to hold station.
Vasseur said he asked the drivers to take no risks, and indeed we heard the radio instruction to Leclerc instructing him of that, but moments after that he had that huge lock up trying to go suicidal on the final lap to make sure he got the podium. Now just imagine the situation had he failed to hold the car and rear-ended Sainz.
Leclerc might have been smiling after Sainz took pole on Saturday, but he was definitely fuming on the inside, and during the race he probably believed he was entitled to be on that Monza podium but he wasn’t, and when a driver feels that way, you have to keep him on a short leash before he does something stupid.
When you look at the situation at Ferrari, and in moments like these, you know that having a fast car and good strategies is not enough, they need a full change in mentality in terms of how to manage their drivers as well.
I know they believe for some reason that Leclerc will bring them Title glory, but despite being one of the best qualifiers out there right now, if not the best, he still makes too many mistakes and is too inconsistent.
Monza Quick hits
Is there more to say about Verstappen as he goes on chasing records and making new ones? He delivered a perfect race at Monza, patiently pressuring Sainz to use his tyres and into an error, and that’s how it went down. Win ten in a row bagged and off to the next record.
A shoutout for Liam Lawson who finished 11th at Monza on his second outing in an F1 car, and while it is still too early to evaluate his speed, he has delivered two solid races so far, keeping his AlphaTauri on track and his nose clean, and with Daniel Ricciardo’s sick leave seemingly extended now, this will give the Kiwi a chance to prove his potential and hone his skills. I’d be worried if I were Ricciardo…
A tough weekend for Mercedes, but then it was expected with their draggy W14. But as usual they did their best to score some points and outrace the McLarens and Aston Martins, although Lewis Hamilton was lucky to get away with his penalty following his brain fade trying to pass Oscar Piastri.
A tough weekend for McLaren and Aston Martin, both their cars not enjoying the high-speed nature of Monza.
Another fantastic race by Alex Albon in the Williams and the way he managed to keep Lando Norris at bay towards the end was really admirable. He may have had the faster car in a straight line, but keeping that Williams on track in corners like Parabolica, knowing how much it lacks on downforce, while defending, was not a walk in the park for the Thai.