Just a couple of weeks after the Williams group signed ownership to Dorilton Capital, a U.S.-based investment firm, it was announced that the Williams family would effectively retire from Formula 1 after the first of two Italian based Grands Prix. It’s a huge change to the F1 landscape as Sir Frank Williams has been front and center as the face of the team for over forty years and close to 750 races. Also in the limelight has been his daughter, Claire.
“I have taken the decision to step away from the team in order to allow Dorilton a fresh start as the new owners. It has not been an easy decision but it’s one I believe to be right for all involved,” Williams said in a statement on Thursday.”With the future of the team now secured, this feels like the appropriate time for us to step away from the sport.”
A critical part of this decision is who will be chosen to run the team once Claire and Sir Frank step down. It is understood that Dorilton has expressed little to no interest in being a hands-on owner of the team aside from their financial interests. Therefore it’s a seemingly logical process to appoint someone that is a fan of the sport, understands its workings and nuances, and this has been shown to work for both Ferrari and McLaren after the passing of Enzo Ferrari and the realignment of the McLaren team structure in the aftermath of Ron Dennis stepping down.
Marking the occasion was the announcement of a new board for Williams and one that already bodes well for the team. Eden Rock Group is an investment advisory firm headquartered in London. The company’s CEO is James Matthews, and his experience in motorsport goes back to winning the British Formula Renault championship in 1994 for Manor Motorsport. Royal watchers will recognize the name, as he is the brother in law to one Kate Middleton, marrying her sister Pippa in 2017.
History in a different way this week, with Sebastian Vettel spending some money and buying the Williams FW14B driven by Nigel Mansell. It’s the car that won the 1992 championship and took Mansell to nine wins from sixteen races and a 1992 championship winner. This car created its own history niche at the time. Design guru Adrian Newey penciled it, and features such as active suspension, traction control, semi-automatic transmission and a punchy Renault engine combined to dominate that season.
Practice and qualifying at Monza saw some history created. As expected, the Mercedes duo were the quickest in practice, with Valtteri Bottas topping the charts in two of the three sessions. 1:20s were the order of the day and in FP3 Hamilton would be fifth fastest, yet would be one of four drivers to set a time with 1:20.4 as part of it. .439 would be his suffix, ahead of Max Verstappen with .456 and behind Daniel Ricciardo in 4th (.419) and Lando Norris (.412) for 3rd quickest in FP3. Verstappen had an off at the circuit’s Chicane, with the rear of his Red Bull snapping to the left, spinning the car and into the kitty litter. Luckily the damage was minor to the front wing and enough that the wing was quickly replaced for Verstappen to continue.
Qualifying and Ferrari failed in Q1 at the hands of Sebastian Vettel. His 1:21.151 was barely 3/10ths slower than Kevin Magnussen who made P15 and passed through to Q2 and 7/10ths slower than his teammate Charles Leclerc. Vettel would later say that the Alfa Romeos of Kimi Raikkonen (P14) and Antonio Giovinazzi (P18) had held him up and disallowing clean running. Leclerc’s time of 1:20.443 would drop by 2/10s and wasn’t enough to see the Ferraris into Q1 with a P13 to his name.
Hamilton and Bottas would go toe to toe in the three sessions, and it would be the champion that took pole. His time of 1:18.887 just pipped Bottas’ scorching 1:18.956 as both would break the lap record at Monza and Hamilton set the fastest recorded F1 lap. That pole position would also be number 68 at Mercedes for Hamilton, equaling Michael Schumacher’s career count. For the first time in some time, Max Verstappen won’t start from P3, instead of sitting in P5 behind Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez in P3 and P4. he could be forgiven for being disappointed in that with his 1:19.795 just 0.07 shy of Perez.
P6 and P7 are Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo, who had an excursion across the gravel trap in his run through Q2. It was tight between the pair with 1:19.820 and .864 for Norris and the Australian. Lance Stroll, Alexander Albon, and Pierre Gasly lock out the top ten. Gasly was lucky here, with his Q3 time slower than Q2 and marginally slower in Q3 than P11’s Daniil Kvyat. Esteban Ocon took P12 by a whisker over Leclerc (1:20.234 vs 1:20.273).
Romain Grosjean was also unlucky, with his P16 time slower in Q1 than Magnussen but quicker than Magnussen’s Q2 time. Nicholas Latifi (P20) and George Russell (P19) will start behind Giovinazzi.
Importantly for Mercedes, and for the rest of the field, Hamilton and Bottas set their times with their cars not running in “party mode”. This a new directive from the FIA to attempt a further equalization between the teams. Party Mode is the term given to an engine management program that allows for extra power during qualifying.
Race start and Hamilton demonstrates his class again with a blinder. Carlos Sainz has an amazingly quick reaction time and is in 2nd by the first corner, whereas Bottas has slid back to 6th. Max Verstappen had what appeared to be a tire issue quickly and had backwards progress. Lance Stroll in his pink Racing Point moved fast and inside two laps were well into the top ten. Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon looked like they had touched and Albon was forced wide through the chicane.
Lap 5 and the top six were names not normally associated in order. Hamilton’s start had him three seconds ahead of Sainz, with Norris, Sergio Perez, Ricciardo and Bottas all in close proximity. At the far end, Kevin Magnussen’s Haas had real issues as he was a huge 33 seconds from Nicholas Latifi who has yet to impress this season. Ferrari? Vettel is 17th, Leclerc is 13th. Vettel reports brake issues and takes out some of the polystyrene distance marker blocks to demonstrate. He’s out of the GP. Albon cops a five-second penalty as it comes through he’s tagged the front of Romain Grosjean.
Lap 10 of 53 and the second half of the top ten continue to niggle each other. Bottas is still stuck in P6 and barely a second clear of Verstappen. Lance Stroll in P8 is a second ahead of Esteban Ocon, and has Gasly a mere 0.9 away for P10. Daniil Kvyat is hovering for a top ten insertion as he is just 0.8 from Gasly. Kimi Raikkonen is looking sharp for P12 and 2.3 seconds ahead of Leclerc. Albon’s in P14 ahead of Giovinazzi, Grosjean, Russell and Latifi as the Williams team comes tom grips with the news that broke just before the race.
It’s quiet on track as the drivers settle into a rhythm. Hamilton leads Sainz and has increased that lead to a breath under nine seconds. Sainz himself has calmed and leads Norris by over four seconds. Perez is awaiting his chance in P4 with a gap to Norris of 1.5 seconds.
Lap 18 and it’s Leclerc for new rubber. He’s in a lowly 17th as he does so, with Magnussen and Latifi below him as they’ve quietly snuck in for new rubber at lap 15. It’s all very sedate until lap 20 as the Haas of Magnussen finally gives up at the exit of the Parabolica and close to the pit lane entry, with Magnussen pulling the car across and out of harms way. Hamilton pits, Sainz stays out as does Norris. Confusion reigns as a delay in appointing the safety car has the pit lane closed. The problem in this delay has had Hamilton and Giovinazzi come in for fresh rubber and under the timeframe it took Hamilton to get in and out was seemingly before the decision to close pit lane had been confirmed. However, replays show that the electronic signs trackside indicated no entry.
Magnussen’s car is cleared, the pit lane is properly open, and it’s a flood of cars in for a first tire swap. Hamilton’s under investigation but is in the lead, whilst Stroll moves to p2, Gasly to P3, Giovinazzi (also under investigation) lists as P4 and amazingly Raikkonen is P5. Leclerc is P6, Latifi sees a P7 momentarily against his name, while the McLaren pair of Sainz and Norris are P8 and P9. Bottas drops to P10. Leclerc gets on the gas and in seconds is up to P4.
Bottas goes to P9, Verstappen’s in P12 behind Ricciardo. This all comes to naught as Leclerc has a wiggle in the rear of his Ferrari and slams nose first into the tire bundles on the exit of the Parabolica.Whilst the track is cleared under red flag conditions, news comes through that both Hamilton and Giovinazzi receive a ten second penalty. Hamilton clarifies that the pit lane entry has no notification light. There’s a break of over twenty minutes as the tire bundles are reassembled. The cars are in pit lane and discussing the unusual sition of seeing a red flag at Monza for the first time since 1995. To add to the strangeness, Lance Stroll, who hadn’t pitted before the break, is allowed to change rubber whilst under red flag conditions. This has Stroll effectively placed as leader of the race.
Finally, it’s a restart, and a standing race restart rather than a rolling start from a formation lap. That lead that was granted to Stroll quickly disappears and he makes an error and immediately falls to P7t. Verstappen is P14, and Gasly has the lead proper. Kimi Raikkonen takes P2 and on lap 31 Verstappen pits in disgust as his Red Bull team sees an engine issue and pull him in before it gets terminal. Giovinazzi pits for his ten second penalty. Sainz and Stroll, who has reclaimed P4 are a second ahead of Norris in P5 who is also under investigation for allegedly entering pit lane too slowly.
Lap 34 and it’s brilliant driver tactics from Sainz as he pushes hard on Raikkonen. The wily veteran gives Sainz a hint of a pass before allowing him through and safely. A minute later Stroll’s Racing Point does the same and now he’s back in the hunt for a podium. Hamilton is in P15 and has been given permisison to light the fuse on his Mercedes. Norris gets through on Raikkonen now, showing that his Alfa needs more if it’s to be competitive in pressure. This is shown as Bottas also closes the door and gets back into the top five. A half lap more and he’s passed by the Australian, Ricciardo. Ocon and Kvyat soon follow.
Gasly has his pedal mashed to the floor as he looks to establish a lead and his well over three seconds quicker than in a position sense than Sainz with 15 laps to go. Sainz gets the call and he immediately responds and finds a half second. Things are already tense up front and the level of pressure on the top three is incredible. Sainz is under two seconds from the lead and seven laps to go the scent of victory for McLaren is strong. However, Gasly isn’t ready to give up. Sainz continues to close up but the dirty air is proving to be a barrier. Stroll, also, is running out of time and space as his P3 and gap of 1.5 seconds to Sainz is problematic.
There’s little behind them too as Bottas has Ricciardo in P6 hard on his rear. Amazingly, Hamilton has fought his way back into the top ten and with two laps of the famous circuit left, is in P8. he passe ocon with less than a lap to go but amazingly, incredibly, marvellously, it’s Gasly that will take the win for AlphaTauri, exhorting:” Oh my god. ***** Oh my god oh my god ***** oh my god yesssssss!” The gap is just 4/10ths between Gasly and Sainz, who says he needed just one more lap, one more lap. Stroll: “It was such a crazy race. I’m so happy for Pierre he deserved it.”
Gasly is the first French driver since 1996 to win a Grand Prix and the reactions from the other teams show all is fair in F1 when a change happens. Gasly, Sainz, and Stroll are all thoroughly welcomed and congratulated.
Norris finished P4, missing out by 2.7 seconds, ahead of Bottas and Ricciardo with Hamilton ultimately a sensational P7. Ocon, Kvyat and Perez close out the top ten. It’s a far better result than expected for Williams as Latifi makes P11, Grosjean takes P12, whilst the hapless Raikkonen slid to P13. Russell, Albon, and Giovinazzi finish the field.
Post race and it’s clear that this was a race F1 so very badly needed to break the repetition of Mercedes and Hamilton, Mercedes and Bottas, Red Bull and Verstappen. Next weekend may be the telling race as F1 moves to Mugello in the scenic Tuscan hills of Italy. It’ll be 59 laps of the twisting 5.2 kilometres for September 13.