The Italian Grand Prix podium will go down in history as one of the most surreal as there was no Lewis Hamilton standing in his usual spot at the top of the steps. If fact, there were no Mercedes, Red Bulls or Ferraris to be seen as the trophies were handed out and the Italian national anthem blared over the empty stands at Monza on Sunday afternoon.
Alpha Tauri driver Pierre Gasly was the unlikeliest of victors as a litany of errors and penalties played into the Frenchman’s hands for his first career Grand Prix win.
The biggest shame was that there were no fans to witness one of the most thrilling races in memory. World champion Hamilton was given a 10-second stop-go penalty to send him from the lead to the back of the pack, and both Ferraris fail to finish at their home circuit.
Beside Gasly, the remainder of the podium looked just as odd. The 24-year-old Frenchman finished 0.415 seconds ahead of McLaren driver Carlos Sainz and 3.358 ahead of Racing Point’s Lance Stroll. Before Sunday, the trio had only one top-three finish between them.
Hamilton appeared on course for a comfortable victory from pole position but he was given the stop-go penalty after a clanger from the Mercedes team, telling him to box while the pit lane was closed.
The Briton still put in a magnificent drive to claw his way back up to seventh before he ran out of laps in clearly the fastest car, and picked up a bonus point for the fastest lap.
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Ferrari’s abysmal weekend continued as Sebastian Vettel had a brake failure on Lap 7 and he limped into the pits with his right-rear brake disc in flames. It was the four-time champion’s first DNF at Monza in his 14th start.
His teammate Charles Leclerc had made it into fourth but lost the rear of the car under acceleration through Parabolica on Lap 25 and smashed high speed into the barriers, causing the race to be red flagged. Thankfully, the Monaco driver walked away uninjured.
By that time Hamilton’s penalty had been announced. He served it immediately after the restart, allowing Gasly to take over at the front for a historic win.
Hamilton has 164 points after eight races to Valtteri Bottas’ 117 and Max Verstappen’s 110.
It was the first time since 2013, when Kimi Raikkonen triumphed with Lotus in Australia, that a team other than Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull had won a race.
“It’s unbelievable,” gasped Gasly, who was dropped by Red Bull’s main team last year but has come on in strides in the strangest of seasons disrupted by COVID-19 and without spectators. “It was such a crazy race and we capitalised on it.
“I’ve been through so much in 18 months, I struggle to realise this.”
“I was so close but yet so far,” said Sainz, who had also dreamed of taking his first win before joining Ferrari next year. “I needed one more lap.”