Kurt Verlin
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Pierre Gasly’s Shock Victory at 2020 Italian Grand Prix

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Gasly steps on his AlphaTauri as he celebrates winning the 2020 Italian Grand Prix
Photo: Honda
2020 Italian Grand Prix top 10

When Pierre Gasly won the 2020 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, he became the 109th winner of a Formula 1 race and the first French winner since 1996. His victory, though possible only because of an unpredictable turn of events, highlighted the 24-year-old’s impressive poise behind the wheel on his path to redemption.

At first, the race seemed destined for the usual dullness of a Hamilton victory, as the British champion sped away in the distance, once more unchallenged by his teammate and other teams. Valtteri Bottas had gone backwards on the first lap, and seemed unable to make a single overtake throughout the whole race. He blamed damage and Mercedes blamed the new ban on engine modes, but the Finn has never looked particularly racy when daring moves are required.

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Safety cars, red flags and penalties

On lap 19, Kevin Magnussen stopped his Haas F1 car on the track because of a power issue, and the safety car was briefly called out. Hamilton dipped into the pits, something the other drivers crucially avoided: because the red light, indicating the pit lane was closed, was still on.

This put Hamilton under the investigation of the race stewards. They had plenty of time to evaluate what had happened, because on lap 24, shortly after the safety car period ended, Charles Leclerc lost control of his Ferrari and crashed into the barriers at high speed. He was fine, but the session was red flagged, as the barriers needed to be repaired.

Under red flags, which are unusual, the cars must line up in order in the pits, after which the teams are allowed to change tires and drivers may step out of the car. While this happened, the stewards confirmed Hamilton had a 10-second, stop-and-go penalty, and he was seen riding a scooter down the pit lane to the steward’s room to contest it.

It was to no avail: when the race restarted — with a standing start rather than a rolling one — he had to go back to the pits and stop for 10 seconds, losing more than half a minute in total. This essentially put Hamilton out of the running for the top six no matter how fast he could go.

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An unlikely podium

All of the attention then shifted to Lance Stroll, who had been running second behind Hamilton and thus had inherited the lead. But Stroll had a dismal restart, losing out to Gasly right away, then to both Alfa Romeo cars, and then to Carlos Sainz. As the Alfas fell back, Stroll eventually recovered to third, with Sainz ahead and on the hunt for Gasly.

As the 2020 Italian Grand Prix continued to unfold, it became clear a brand-new F1 winner would be crowned that afternoon. Each of the top three runners had never won a race before. Who would taste glory?

Sainz struggled to catch Gasly for a while, but managed to make substantial gains in the final laps of the race, closing within DRS distance with just a single one to go. But it was too late for the Spaniard, and Gasly just eked out the win. One more lap, or even less than that, and Sainz would likely have been through. Nonetheless, all three celebrated, though there were none of the usual, frenetic tifosi for them to celebrate with. Thanks, COVID.

Gasly’s win is so far the peak of an incredible redemption story for the French driver. After his promotion to Red Bull Racing in 2019, Gasly seemed unable to get results. He was replaced by Alexander Albon. Then, before his first race back at AlphaTauri, Gasly’s good friend Antoine Hubert died in an F2 race at Spa. Later that year, Gasly went on to achieve his first podium at the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix, and has now won his first race in Italy. Meanwhile, Albon has yet to step on the podium himself.

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Ferrari woes

For Ferrari, the season has only been going from bad to worse. Sebastian Vettel experienced a brake failure and Leclerc crashed out. But even if both cars hadn’t retired from their home grand prix, they looked far from capable of scoring points anyway. In qualifying, Alfa Romeo was the quickest Ferrari-powered car, an alarming result given the disparity in the teams’ budgets. Now F1 heads to Mugello for Ferrari’s 1000th race, and it would take a miracle similar to the one that Gasly experienced in Monza for Ferrari to get a good result.

Goodbye Williams

The 2020 Italian Grand Prix marked the final race of the Williams Racing team as a family-run organization. Founded in 1977 by Sir Frank Williams and Patrick Head, the team is one of the sport’s oldest. Claire Williams had taken over her father’s role on the board since 2012 and as team principal since 2013. But prior to the Italian Grand Prix, the Williams family announced it would be stepping down, having sold the team to investment group Dorilton Capital after years of failing to return to its glory days. Managing director Simon Roberts is filling Claire’s shoes until the new owners find a permanent team boss.

What next?

F1 now heads to the first-ever Tuscan Grand Prix, held at Mugello. It will mark Ferrari’s 1000th Grand Prix and the third consecutive racing weekend, after which the teams will finally get a break. Will we see another surprising result? None of the drivers are experienced at this new circuit, so we may be treated to uncharacteristic errors and greater car performance variation as teams have no prior data to create setups. The Mugello circuit, however, with its fast-speed corners and only one long straight, may prove to be the enemy of overtaking. We can only wait and see.

2020 Italian Grand Prix championship standings