Could Ferrari have double-podiumed at the Italian GP? Can Lawson return in ’24? F1 Mailbag

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The Italian Grand Prix was one of the more exciting races of the 2023 season, even if it offered a very familiar result.

Max Verstappen made Formula One history with his 10th consecutive win, though Carlos Sainz made him work for it during the opening stages. Teammate battles were on full display with some team bosses supporting their drivers racing each other (but with the warning of “no risk”) and others watching their drivers clash. Alex Albon put his defensive driving skills on full display, and Aston Martin continued to slip.

Monza marked the end of the European tour on F1’s calendar, and the sport is resetting with a non-race week before taking off for Singapore with Japan to follow. Before we head to the Lion City, we answered your questions in our latest mailbag.

The following questions have been edited for brevity and clarity.

If someone is going to beat Red Bull, where is it going to be? — Iain G. 

If a team is going to beat Red Bull this year — which seems unlikely — Singapore and Las Vegas are the best bets. Street tracks are where Red Bull’s straight-line speed advantage is less of a benefit, and the difficulty in overtaking makes qualifying all important. Verstappen started eighth last year at Singapore and could only finish seventh. He still hasn’t scored a pole or won there.

Speaking after the race at Monza, Verstappen offered some pessimism for the race he thought Singapore was “not going to be the strongest weekend” for Red Bull. His teammate concurred: “It’s going to be a weekend where basically anything can happen, and hopefully we are able to have a very strong Saturday,” Pérez said. “If you don’t start in the front row, it’s very unlikely that you will have a shot at the victory.”

Rather than thinking about specific tracks, other teams need to drive clean races and not miss a step. Sainz led 14 laps at Monza before making a tiny error, and Verstappen punched that door wide open. Reliability had been perfect across the Red Bull-powered cars (which includes AlphaTauri, Red Bull’s sister team) up to Yuki Tsunoda’s failure before the Italian Grand Prix, and that (or bad luck) are the only things that seem to threaten Red Bull’s chance at F1’s first-ever clean sweep. — Madeline Coleman

Narrow circuits like Singapore’s are the best bet for teams looking to derail Red Bull’s perfect season. (Lauryn Ishak/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Could the Ferrari teammates have worked together better to keep Checo at bay and both finish on the podium? Was that even possible ? – Paul J.

I don’t think it would have been possible to get both Ferraris on the podium. Sainz fought hard to keep Verstappen behind for as long as he did, chewing up his rear tires in the process, which held Leclerc up a bit just before both came into the pits. That meant the gap to Pérez, who pitted one lap after Leclerc and two after Sainz, emerged right behind the two Ferraris, giving him a good chance to attack.

Once Leclerc lost DRS on Sainz, he fell into Pérez’s clutches and was ultimately powerless to keep him back. Sainz had skipped far enough clear that it would take another 14 laps for Pérez to pass him, but he was then quickly under pressure from Leclerc after pushing his tires to the limit trying to keep the Red Bull back, setting up that exciting late fight.

Had Sainz let Leclerc go the moment his tires dropped off in the first stint, then Leclerc might have got enough of a buffer to have a shot at getting second. But the pace at which Pérez caught the Ferrari duo after passing George Russell in the first stint, plus the fashion in which he pulled away in the closing stages, points to the Red Bull simply being too quick for the Ferraris.

Maybe with some extreme defensive tactics, like those we saw from Pérez at the Abu Dhabi finale in 2021 to help Verstappen win the championship, then one of the Ferraris might have got second. But as the late fight showed, both Sainz and Leclerc wanted to maximize their own result, and Ferrari was happy to let that happen. – Luke Smith

How do we get teams to let their drivers race like Ferrari did? That was fun! — Jason L. 

There’s no denying that the Ferrari drivers provided the racing many F1 fans have been seeking this year, though Sainz may have been moving around a bit too much. The two got dangerously close to each other at times, but they were free to race.

“I’m sure many people did not enjoy that [fight]; the guys on the pit wall perhaps had one heart attack or two, the tifosi probably also, but… for me, this is Formula One, this is what it should be all the time,” Leclerc said to “With Max, I’ve had these kinds of fights in the past; today was with Checo and Carlos. We, I think, were always at the limit of the regulations, whether it was defending or attacking, and that’s exactly how I enjoy racing.”

It could’ve gone horribly wrong, like it nearly did for the McLaren duo of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris. The two got way too close roughly halfway through, brushing wheels as they went side-by-side. Though the drivers downplayed it after the race, team principal Andrea Stella made one thing clear: “There should never, ever be a contact between two McLaren cars. It doesn’t fit the way we go racing at McLaren.” — Madeline Coleman 



F1 Italian GP takeaways: Verstappen’s unstoppable, Ferrari delivers real racing

Is Formula 1 still interesting to follow with such Red Bull/Verstappen dominance? The lack of suspense and competitive races makes it boring. How this can be improved? — Lan C.

Personally, I still find it thrilling — and I’d be saying this if it wasn’t my job to write about Formula One. Verstappen and Red Bull are putting together a campaign unlike any other, with the Dutchman securing 10 straight wins and Red Bull looking to snag F1’s first clean sweep. The closest a team has ever gotten was McLaren in 1988 when it won 15 out of the 16 grands prix.

But placing the Milton Keynes-based team aside, there are interesting storylines elsewhere on the grid: Aston Martin leapfrogging the grid and then stumbling, McLaren pivoting its design and surging, Williams battling in points, Daniel Ricciardo’s return (and Liam Lawson stepping in when the Australian got injured), and the excitement surrounding the next generation of drivers. Whether you’re here for the strategy or the adrenaline rush, there’s plenty to watch with nine other teams and 19 other drivers.

Are some of the races more processional? Yes. DRS is still a topic of debate among fans, but several of the drivers feel it’s needed because it’s becoming more difficult to follow. As Pérez mentioned at Monza, “I think, definitely less DRS is not the way forward. I remember we were discussing to actually increase the effect because yeah, the cars are getting harder to follow. I think here, the DRS effect like Max says is really, really small. So, I don’t think in other places we can race with less DRS. If anything, we needed the DRS more in some places to be able to have better racing.” — Madeline Coleman

AUTODROMO NAZIONALE, MONZA, ITALY - 2023/09/03: Liam Lawson of AlphaTauri during drivers parade before the F1 Grand Prix of Italy . (Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images)

If Lawson can keep up this level of performance for the remainder of his cameo, it would make for a very strong case for a full-time seat. (Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Liam Lawson was impressive this weekend, looking better than Daniel Ricciardo already. Any chance he keeps the seat the rest of the year if he keeps this up? – Craig C.

With Lawson putting in some respectable performances, how do the Red Bull/AlphaTauri lineups shake out next season with four different drivers in the picture for different seats? – Adam N.

Lawson has been super impressive so far, taking everything in his stride. He’s got a good track record of adjusting quickly to new cars and championships, winning on debut in F2, DTM and Super Formula. The fact he came away disappointed not to score points in only his second race, driving one of the slowest cars on the grid, speaks to his focus and tenacity.

The plan remains that Lawson will race until Ricciardo is fit to return, which is sounding like it will be Qatar at the earliest, going off Christian Horner’s post-race comments. I’d then expect Lawson to drop back into his reserve role and focus on his Super Formula title showdown at Suzuka at the end of October.

For 2024, it does present an unexpected headache to Red Bull. If Lawson can keep up this level of performance for the remainder of his cameo, and perhaps snatch some points, it would make for a very strong case for a full-time seat. “We’re obviously following his progress very closely,” Horner said on Friday at Monza. “Daniel’s misfortune was Liam’s good fortune. It’s down to him to make the best use of it.”

With Pérez under contract for 2024 at Red Bull, it’s really a question of three into two at AlphaTauri, and it’s a tricky one to solve. Tsunoda is performing better than ever, but doesn’t seem like a true contender for a senior Red Bull seat down the line. Ricciardo has shown signs of his old magic, but we need to see more of it. Lawson has impressed so far, but he’s not even had two full F1 weekends, so it’s early to draw any firm judgements. – Luke Smith

It seems F1 wants to race at Imola instead of Monza. We keep hearing the peril of the race at Monza seemingly every year. How do you see the two Italian races shaking out? Both, neither, or one or the other? – Stephen D.

F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali spoke about this heading into the Monza weekend, pondering if there were the “resources” to keep two races in Italy or if it would be better to focus on one event.

Monza and Imola, which was due to host the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix before flooding forced its cancellation, are both under contract until the end of 2025. Imola joined the F1 calendar in 2020 as a stand-in when the calendar was torn up by the Covid-19 pandemic, and then secured a permanent deal. Both tracks are iconic in F1 history.

Monza definitely needs some work. It’s a historic track that has a special place in F1 history, hosting a grand prix each year since the start of the world championship bar one (1980, when the Italian GP was at Imola) and is the spiritual home of F1 in Italy. But it has fallen behind the times a bit in terms of its facilities for both the paddock and the fans attending, particularly when other European events are pulling out all the stops. Upgrades are planned ahead of next year’s race.

Beyond 2025, I think it will depend on what interest there is from other markets to host a grand prix. Now that we’re close to the limit of 25 races per season permitted under the Concorde Agreement (the contract between F1, the FIA and the teams), F1 will be forced to pick between events and strike the right balance in terms of the commercial and logistical demands. If there’s a chance to enter a new, important market offering a bigger hosting fee, versus two races in Italy, it’d be a surprise to see both Monza and Imola stay on the schedule. Rotation could be the answer to keep both tracks involved and happy. – Luke Smith

(Lead image of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc at the 2023 Italian GP: Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

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