Don’t Blame Mugello Circuit for all the Mayhem of the F1 Tuscan Grand Prix09/15/2020
There was a fair amount of carnage during the Formula 1 Tuscan Grand Prix at Mugello.
Don’t blame the circuit.
The drivers all seemed to love the track, and overtaking was possible. But there were two red flags—the first time that’s happened in the same F1 race since Brazil in 2016—and three standing starts.
Then there was that Safety Car re-start that went haywire.
The first-lap crash was a typical first-lap crash in Formula 1. This was caused by a bunching of cars in the midfield because Red Bull’s Max Verstappen had lost power for a few moments. Pierre Gasly squeezed his Alpha Tauri between Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo to his left and Kevin Magnussen’s Haas to the right. But the AlphaTauri rode over Raikkonen’s right-hand wheels. He then smacked into the back of Verstappen as Verstappen braked to avoid a spinning Carlos Sainz, who had rubbed wheels with Lance Stroll’s Racing Point and spun. Sergio Perez just missed the McLaren.
Gasly’s car knocked Kevin Magnussen’s Haas off the track, but he got going. Gasly and Verstappen were out on the spot. Sebastian Vettel avoided that mess but caught the nose of the spinning McLaren, damaging his Ferrari. So that required a safety car, which was painted the usual Ferrari red for the occasion, even if the Ferraris had switched to a darker blood-colored livery to celebrate their history.
Certainly can’t blame that carnage on the track.
“There were just too many cars in one place,” Gasly said. “I don’t think there is any blame, it’s just probably the nature of the track.”
The stewards felt the same way. No one was punished.
“I am not sure what exactly happened at Turn 2,” Raikkonen said. “Probably whoever hit me didn’t expect the pack to slow as much as we did.”
The next incident came at the end of the Safety Car as the field got ready to go racing again.
Valtteri Bottas was leading and could dictate the pace until the start/finish line, and that’s exactly what he did. Everyone was trying to get heat into their tires. Bottas chose to go quite slowly until the line but further back the midfield could only see the green lights on the overhead gantry. Several drivers were accelerating hard before they got there, but then realized that others were not.
It was a case of a concertina which got worse down through the field. Magnussen had to slow because he did not want to pass George Russell, who was off the racing line. This meant that Nicholas Latifi and Antonio Giovinazzi to move left in avoidance. That caught Sainz unaware and he smacked into the back of the Haas and the Alfa Romeo, launching the Alfa. Magnussen spun to the right before going backwards into the wall to his left, just ahead of the McLaren.
“I hurt my hand a bit on the steering wheel but it’s OK,” Sainz said. “I’m glad everyone else is all right. Everyone in front of me thought we were racing and suddenly it looked like we were not racing. We were all flat out, around 290 to 300 kmh, so it was a crazy situation. Very scary.”
“I just reacted to the cars in front, and almost went into the back of Kevin,” said Latifi.
“The leader was going slow all the way to the line,” Magnussen said, “He is entitled to do that, but between me and the front guys somebody decided to go and open a gap and get momentum and maybe went too early and had to start again. The guy (George Russell) in front of me went flat out, then all of a sudden he braked.”
Giovinassi said that there was nothing he could do.
“It was a very dangerous situation,” he said. “Everyone around me was already up at full speed, but suddenly there was Magnussen almost stopped in the middle of the track. Latifi avoided him but I just didn’t have the time—I tried to, but clipped his rear left.”
The race was red-flagged so that all the debris could be cleaned up, but there were only 13 cars still running.
After the race, 12 of the drivers—Magnussen, Daniil Kvyat, Latifi, Giovinazzi, Sainz, Alexander Albon, Lance Stroll, Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez, Lando Norris, Esteban Ocon and George Russell—given warnings by the FIA Stewards for their roles in the accident. The list of those drivers NOT warned was shorter.
The reprimands related to inconsistent application of throttle and brakes, but stressed that no one driver was wholly or predominantly to blame. And they made the point that Bottas had done nothing wrong.
The track was not mentioned on the list. Not the track’s fault.
The final red flag was caused by a sizeable shunt that befell Stroll on the 43rd lap in the high-speed Arrabbiata 2 corner. The damage to the tire wall was significant and so the race was stopped again.
“Lance thought it was a puncture,” Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer said. “We immediately looked at the tire pressure but it was zero after the wheel hit the barrier, so we’ve got to find out what really happened. It could have been bit of carbon debris being thrown into the rear wheel.”
One or two of the drivers said that the crash might have been avoided if the Safety Car lights were turned off earlier.
Again, not the track’s fault.
“I don’t know why but this year the Safety Car has been turning its light off so late,” said Russell. “It forces the lead driver to delay his restart because he can’t get a run around the last corner. And that’s the whole issue.”
That is another question, but the experiment at Mugello was still a great success.
Here’s hoping F1 can squeeze a return race to Mugello into a future schedule, once the COVID-19 pandemic allows F1 to go global again, of course.
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