The 2023 Italian Grand Prix made its case as the best race of the Formula 1 season despite yet another Max Verstappen victory, with intriguing battles up and down the top ten.
After eventually passing Carlos Sainz – who went on to claim a hard-fought podium – it was a pretty quiet race for Verstappen and he even had time to admire some of the chaos behind.
That included both McLarens and Ferraris making intra-team contact, a controversial late penalty for Lewis Hamilton and one young driver making a statement result.
There were a ton of candidates for the winners in particular – Valtteri Bottas would feature most weeks after sneaking a point at the death and George Russell finished as the lead Mercedes for the first time since the Miami GP in early May.
Winner: Liam Lawson
It actually felt like Lawson‘s Zandvoort performance was slightly inflated. He spent most of the race trailing around the back before riding the waves for a late surge up to 14th – still impressive but maybe not as superlative as retrospectively reported.
However, Lawson dispelled that notion at Monza. He was comfortably through to Q2 and eventually qualified twelfth within two-tenths of Tsunoda, his weekend could’ve ended there and it would’ve been very successful.
But then he went one better on Sunday showing great pace to spend the whole race in the top 13 and was able to take advantage of Oscar Piastri‘s misfortune to deservedly move ahead of both Nyck de Vries and Daniel Ricciardo.
And the latter had better hope his recovery goes smoothly because Lawson is rapidly becoming a mainstay of the F1 paddock, from his already recognisable cap-backwards to the undeniable speed he’s showing on track.
Loser: Charles Leclerc
Is this harsh? Leclerc‘s not seemed totally in love with the SF-23 ever since it gave up on him in the season-opening Bahrain GP, and has led Sainz just once in the championship all year.
In Monza, Leclerc was unable to really be a factor in his teammate’s heroic defence against the Red Bulls, and then should really have been able to take third place from Sainz and his desperate hard tyres in the second stint.
Leclerc had one of the best prizes in F1 up for grabs with a third trip to the Monza in his sights, but just found himself outraced and outfought by Sainz.
Winner: Alex Albon
Unlucky to miss out from the winners last week after a monster 44-lap stint on the softs, but at Monza he made like Michael Jordan and took that omission personally.
Williams weren’t quite competitive enough to make the predicted podium charge, but Albon‘s ten points from the last two races has almost doubled the team’s points tally for the year.
And he had another huge stint to thank for that at Monza, running 35 laps on the hard tyres after stopping four laps sooner than any other pointscorer.
Albon‘s rapidly building his tyre-whispering reputation to Perez or even Hamilton levels, but he wasn’t afraid to get his elbows out either, fending off the McLarens lap after lap to equal his best-ever finish for Williams.
It’s not quite the ‘Our expectations were low but holy f**k’ meme territory, but even given the MCL60‘s unsuitability at Monza, McLaren will be disappointed to leave with just four points.
Part of that was out of their hands with Oscar Piastri sustaining damage from Hamilton and dropping out of the top ten, but Norris also could’ve done better.
He was just beaten in a straight fight by Albon where Norris held all the cards in terms of tyres, and had he made that overtake he could well have finished within five seconds to claim sixth place from Hamilton too.
Loser: Aston Martin
There’s a reason these two are back-to-back, it was a pretty similar story for Aston Martin, just in a much quieter fashion.
It was another deeply worrying weekend for Stroll, yes he only had one free practice session but he still had no business qualifying dead last and over half a second away from reaching Q2, never mind any comparison with his teammate.
Fernando Alonso probably maximised what he could’ve made out of the weekend but that’s a sad commentary in and of itself given his ninth-place finish, a steep comedown from Zandvoort. Still, they should be much better in Singapore, where another Alonso podium could be on the cards.
Winner: Carlos Sainz
Heroic, determined, dogged… it was quite simply a superlative performance from Sainz at Monza. He had no right to spend that long defending and still finish on the podium, but somehow the Spaniard managed it for his first podium of the season.
How many laps did Sainz spend in front of a driver with DRS? Yet aside from eventually yielding to the much faster Red Bulls, he was so often able to pull those few tenths back around the rest of the track and live to fight another lap. And it’s hard to think of a better-deserved podium all year.
Winner: Gabriel Bortoleto
Yes it says F1 in the title, but if you can’t get an inclusion after winning the Formula 3 title, what can you do?
Bortoleto‘s been the surprise package of a wonderfully unpredictable F3 season, he didn’t come in with much hype or any headline results behind him, but you certainly don’t win a rookie title by accident.
The thing that stands out most watching the Brazilian is how calm and controlled he always appears in the cockpit – you don’t see him making rash divebombs because he’s had the speed all season and just places his Trident exactly where it needed to be.
Bortoleto won the championship in slightly anti-climatic circumstances, his rivals needed to take the pole position bonus points to deny him and the session was abandoned under red flag while the Brazilian sat in the pitlane waiting for a restart, but he won’t care.
Not affiliated with any F1 teams as of yet, they’re set to fight it out to bring Bortoleto into their driver academy, he’s a protege of Alonso and it’ll be exciting to see how he fares in F2 next season.
Loser: Logan Sargeant
If anything, Williams‘ upturn in form has been a negative for Sargeant – he’s yet to record a points finish but the gulf to his teammate looks ever-starker when Albon‘s recording back-to-back Q3 appearances and points finishes.
Coming off a more positive weekend in Zandvoort, despite Sargeant hitting the wall twice, Monza looked a great opportunity on paper for the American. A simple circuit where Sargeant‘s raced five times in the last five years and one that’s very well suited to the FW43.
Brought onto the F1 grid a year ahead of schedule, this was always going to be a developmental year for Sargeant but he doesn’t seem to be getting any closer to Albon.
He couldn’t get anything out of the medium or soft tyres but was still over a quarter of a second behind Albon in Q1, and to be last in Q2 with his teammate in the top five will be worrying. And it won’t get any easier with Singapore coming up next…
Winner: Max Verstappen
Did you think we’d forgotten him? It speaks volumes that despite a conscious effort not to include Verstappen in this series every week in the interest of keeping it somewhat interesting and varied, he’s still featured as a winner more times than any other driver.
Reporters all around the world are scraping the bottom of their thesauruses looking for new ways to describe Verstappen‘s current mastery of F1, but maybe that’s too complicated.
In a sport often characterised by dominance, Verstappen‘s done what Hamilton, Schumacher, Senna, Prost, Clark or Fangio couldn’t. Doesn’t that say enough?