Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen's crash did not necessarily win Daniel Ricciardo today's Italian Grand Prix. In fact, Ricciardo was leading the race before Hamilton and Verstappen's crews made their mistakes in the pit lane and was in position to build a lead on them in that cycle of stops. But this is forever going to be the race where Daniel Ricciardo won for McLaren and the race where Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton crashed into each other for the second time this season.
The Verstappen and Hamilton incident needs to be approached first. Daniel Ricciardo grabbed the lead on the start, putting Max Verstappen on his back foot from pole after winning yesterday's sprint race. Verstappen burned through his tires early chasing the McLaren, leading him to an early stop that ended up taking a disastrous 11 seconds. At the same time, Lewis Hamilton passed Lando Norris on track for what would be a net third the lap before stopping with a gap that should have put him in the lead if it were executed perfectly.
Instead, Hamilton's stop was a relatively slow 4 seconds. He came out half a car length ahead of pit entrance and had the inside line for turn 1, the first part of a tight right-left chicane. Verstappen held side-by-side with Hamilton through the corner, but did not have a viable racing line on the exit of turn 1. Rather than lift or hit Hamilton directly, he kept racing speeds through the elevated kerbs on the far inside of the turn 2 runoff area. Verstappen's car was immediately thrown into the air, landing on the airbox of Hamilton's car and immediately ending both races. The Mercedes airbox and halo supported the weight of the Red Bull, but his right-rear tire still ended up touching Hamilton's head in the process.
What happened here is no secret. Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton have long since learned that these races are decided by who comes out of the pit lane first during the first and second cycle of stops. Any position decided directly between the two is effectively worth double the points difference for the spots because of the points being denied to a rival. Turns 1 and 2 at Monza are the only places on this entire track slow enough to play around with contact with another car in any way. Lewis Hamilton was ahead and needed to stay ahead, so he closed Verstappen's chance to do anything in turn 2 under the assumption that he would relent. Max Verstappen was partially alongside, so he took what was likely to be his last chance in the race to gain a position on Hamilton to its logical conclusion. The two wreck, ending the day's championship implications in a stalemate.
Hamilton, of course, puts the blame on Verstappen., particularly after Hamilton relented when he had the chance to create a similar crash in turn 4 earlier in the weekend. "He knew when he was going into 2 what was going to happen," he told Sky Sports F1 post-race. "He knew he was going over the kerb."
Verstappen, unsurprisingly, does the same. In his post race interview, he told Sky that "[Hamilton] kept pushing me wider and wider and at one point there was no way to go. He put me on the sausage kerb and at one point we touched."
As of this moment, the stewards have not yet ruled on the incident. If Silverstone was any indication, expect weeks of politicking from both Red Bull and Mercedes even after a ruling is announced.
Oddly, the safety car that followed actually created more pressure on Daniel Ricciardo. He was well clear of both Verstappen and Hamilton after their poor stops, but the safety car put his teammate Lando Norris directly behind him on a restart. Norris is much further along in the championship and would have benefitted greatly from either team orders or approval from the team to fight for a win; with Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas still in the hunt for Red Bull and Mercedes, McLaren instead decided to leave the teammates in order for a 1-2 finish. Perez would incur a time penalty overusing track limits in his battle with a Ferrari, so Bottas would complete the podium.
It is a great win for Daniel Ricciardo, of course. It is his first win since 2018, his last year with Red Bull before deciding to leave the elite team and seek out a career as a lead driver elsewhere. It is also an overwhelming bright spot in what had previously been a disastrous season after two great years at Renault raised expectations of what he would do against Norris. But it is a much bigger moment for McLaren than that.
From 1983 to 1991, McLaren won six driver's championships. But those glory days are long gone: In an eight-year span from 2013 to 2021, McLaren was entirely winless. The team had not won since 2012, a season where a program with chrome-and-red cars run for Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button was an expected title contender before the season began. Nine years later, the next winning incarnation of McLaren is a reinvented global operation running bright orange cars for Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris.
McLaren's hope is that the 2022 car will spell their return to true title contention, a form where individual race wins are no longer upsets. It is what Zak Brown has been building since 2016. That fight starts with a 1-2 finish today. More immediately, the finish sets the team up well to beat Ferrari to third in the constructor's championship for the second straight season. If this methodical re-build continues on the pace it is at now, the bright orange cars have a bright future.
Formula 1 returns with a round at Sochi in two weeks. Expect the war of words between Red Bull and Mercedes to continue until the moment that race actually begins.
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