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Formula 1 Italian GP

10 things we learned from the 2023 F1 Italian Grand Prix

The Formula 1 record books were rewritten once again at Monza, as Max Verstappen broke new ground by becoming the first driver ever to win 10 grands prix in a row. As his rival for the 2021 world championship Lewis Hamilton confirmed a two-year extension to his Mercedes deal and Ferrari put up a tough challenge to Red Bull, here's what we learned at the Italian GP

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari

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Although Ferrari threw everything it had at securing victory in its home Formula 1 race at Monza, Red Bull proved too strong over the Italian Grand Prix weekend.

It seemed inevitable that Max Verstappen would break the record for most consecutive wins in Ferrari's backyard, but that didn't stop the Scuderia - willed on by the scarlet-draped crowds - attempting to rain on the reigning champion's parade.

Ferrari's willingness to take the fight to Red Bull followed a weekend of contract extensions, potential flashpoints in an otherwise tepid driver market, and technical directives as the concept of flexi-wings once again returned to the paddock lexicon.

Here are the 10 things that we learned from the 2023 edition of the Italian Grand Prix.

1. Verstappen ends dispute over a 70-year-old record with 10th consecutive win

Verstappen is now the sole holder of the record for the most consecutive wins, after matching Vettel at Zandvoort

Verstappen is now the sole holder of the record for the most consecutive wins, after matching Vettel at Zandvoort

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Actually, there's a bit of debate about that. Alberto Ascari did indeed win nine consecutive Formula 1 grands prix over 1952 and 1953, although his non-attendance at the Indianapolis 500 (which in those days counted for the championship) unmasked a grey area in record-keeping. Sebastian Vettel logged an inarguable nine wins on the bounce in 2013, but whether he owned the record outright or had matched Ascari's feat in the '50s was open to interpretation.

Now, Verstappen's done everyone a favour and beaten the record to ensure that the murky world of 1950s Indy 500 inclusion is no longer a factor. The Dutchman had to work for the 10th, as poleman Carlos Sainz put up a defence so stout that Guinness could have slapped its name to it, but it was inevitable that it would come to pass.

PLUS: Why Sainz was able to make F1's 2023 Italian GP as good as it was

And, unlike the ending of McLaren's streak 35 years ago at the same Monza venue, there was no Jean-Louis Schlesser figure to derail Verstappen's charge to the chequered flag this time. He's surely odds-on to extend the record to 11, maybe even 12, as he looks to close down the ever-more remote hopes of an alternative 2023 title winner in the coming flyaway rounds.

"I would say you could definitely feel that his focus was razor sharp, more than usual. You could see that it definitely meant something to him," reckoned Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, despite Verstappen's apparent indifference to the record.

"I don’t know if he cares about the records. It is not something that would be important for me, those numbers, it is for Wikipedia and nobody reads that anyway," Mercedes' Toto Wolff sniffed. Not one to edit his own page, then...

2. Ferrari is capable of taking risks

The Ferrari drivers scrapped in entertaining fashion over third in the closing laps after the team's bid to stay ahead of Perez with an undercut failed

The Ferrari drivers scrapped in entertaining fashion over third in the closing laps after the team's bid to stay ahead of Perez with an undercut failed

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

During the brief period in 2022 where it actually contested for the title, Ferrari was a team tied back by its own conservatism. Probably hoping that the pace of the car would be good enough to see it through to victories, the Scuderia both delighted and frustrated in equal measure in the first half of that year, and let Red Bull take the initiative with strategic calls far too often. In being reactive, it took its own fortune out of its hands.

One could argue that Ferrari turned up to Monza with nothing to lose, and that's why it felt emboldened to throw the kitchen sink at making a success of its home race. It knew that the SF-23 has a fair bit of poke in a straight line and has been generally more consistent in low-downforce conditions, so it decided to go all in. After all, had a repeat of the aforementioned Schlesser incident occurred out front, Ferrari could capitalise - just as it had picked up the pieces back in 1988 when Ayrton Senna was nerfed off the road.

Although it was inevitable that Verstappen would eventually make his way through into the lead, Ferrari had not given up on staying ahead of Perez and opted to pull both drivers in on an undercut strategy to reclaim track position - and even eat into Verstappen's lead. Traffic in the shape of Valtteri Bottas perhaps hindered the team's efforts to prune the gap back to a manageable level, but it wasn't for the lack of trying.

Is Vasseur's Ferrari a less risk-averse prospect compared to the Binotto-led iteration? You'd have to hope so, especially if the team finds itself in title contention next year...

3. Sainz has plenty of fight in him at the front

Sainz fought hard to keep Verstappen at bay after beating the Dutchman to pole

Sainz fought hard to keep Verstappen at bay after beating the Dutchman to pole

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Over the course of 2023, there has been plenty of speculation over Sainz's future at Ferrari. Some reckon he's in line for a ride at Sauber/Audi once his Ferrari deal comes to its conclusion at the end of 2024, but that would - for 2025, at least - effectively consign him to midfield mediocrity unless the team finds a sudden surge in form.

He's better than that and his efforts in Monza proved that, in the right car, he can trade blows with the best at the front. Sainz enjoyed one of his best defensive displays in his F1 career from pole at Monza, having to parry Verstappen and Perez's lunges at the Turn 1 chicane throughout and forcing them to think outside the box in order to get past. Verstappen's move came as Sainz locked up on his ageing tyres, grabbing a better exit from that chicane to pick the outside line through Curva Grande to accept the lead.

PLUS: Italian Grand Prix Driver Ratings 2023

Perhaps Sainz's efforts were a bit more on-the-line when contending with Perez, but it was proper, hard-nosed racing that rarely ever looked like boiling over. Charles Leclerc's bid for a last-gasp podium ensured that Sainz spent the entire 51-lap duration having to battle, and he proved to have the determination not to let up for a second. Third was a just reward, and ended Sainz's wait for a podium this season.

Sainz's amazing weekend in Italy was almost derailed having been targeted as the victim of a robbery on his return to his hotel, as thieves took his £235k Richard Mille watch, but he and his team managed to chase the robbers down to recover the pilfered timepiece.

4. Stella draws the line for battling McLaren duo after clash

The two McLaren drivers got over-friendly at the first chicane when Norris rejoined from the pits

The two McLaren drivers got over-friendly at the first chicane when Norris rejoined from the pits

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Oscar Piastri had outpaced Lando Norris in qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix, and thus assumed track position in the opening laps as the field settled down into its order. But his efforts to clear the Williams of Alex Albon had come to nought, prompting Norris to ask the team if it could switch the drivers around. The Briton felt that his pace was stronger, and was confident he could clear Albon forthwith.

The switch in positions was not enacted on track, although Norris was given the opening pitstop to potentially claim the undercut over his younger team-mate. Stopping a lap later, Piastri spotted Norris speeding down the main straight and attempted to preserve his position ahead. A slight misjudgement on the brakes put Piastri too close to his team-mate, and they touched wheels as Norris came up for air ahead into Curva Grande. The touch could have been far worse, and both were admittedly lucky to get away from it with no damage.

Although Norris seemed unfazed by the clash after the race, team principal Andrea Stella made no bones of where he stood with regard to the incident - labelling it "unacceptable" and that the drivers' own desire for affirmation and glory comes secondary to the team's needs.

“There should never ever be contact between two McLaren cars," he said. “There was a contact, which doesn’t fit the way we go racing at McLaren.

“What is important is to have clear parameters as to what you deem acceptable and what you deem unacceptable. It’s not an emotion thing, it’s just like you do with other things. You deal with racing in a similar way. This is very clear that for any driver, there’s something bigger than them. It’s the team.

"If the contact is due to the fact that there was pressure because of the undercut, then we have something to review. Because it means drivers put their team at risk because of affirming themselves. This is not acceptable."

As Piastri grows in strength and aims to prove himself, Norris will want to ensure he remains top dog in the McLaren set-up. There may well be more pinch points between them, but Stella has been keen to draw the line early as a prophylactic measure.

5. Hamilton's "unfinished business" behind two-year extension to Mercedes deal

Hamilton was never in contention to add a sixth victory in the Italian GP but is determined to see more success with Mercedes after two barren years

Hamilton was never in contention to add a sixth victory in the Italian GP but is determined to see more success with Mercedes after two barren years

Over the years in which Mercedes dominated, Lewis Hamilton became accustomed to success. The last two seasons have been comparatively lean, and the Briton endured his first winless campaign last year as the German manufacturer took a step back in competitiveness. Nonetheless, he reckoned that penning a two-year extension to his contract with the team was never in doubt, and will thus stay at Mercedes until the end of 2025.

Hamilton declared that he had unfinished business at the team, and wishes to spend his final few years in F1 back at the front with the team with whom he won six of his seven world titles. He cited the team's progress from last year's troubled W13 to having the second-best package on the grid as an impressive feat, and that the continued work behind the scenes to reignite its championship credentials was enough to keep him with the team.

"I'm really proud of what we achieved last year to get through it," Hamilton reckons. "We started on the wrong foot this year, to have some really great results; we're second in the constructors' championship. The plan is to keep that and then close the gap to the guy ahead.

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"The heads of all the departments are coming together and talking, and just really engaging better than ever before about where we are, the mistakes we've made, why we made those decisions, why we won't make them again, and where we're going. [It's] having that confidence in each other that we are the best at what we do, and when we come together and given time, we will get to where we need to be."

The deal will take Hamilton into his 40s; he noted that his friend, ex-NFL quarterback Tom Brady, was an athlete who continued to perform at the top level of his discipline until retiring at the age of 45. There's a chance that, if he still feels competitive, Hamilton could even stay in F1 beyond 2025.

6. Changing approach down to Russell turnaround in form

Russell believes he's identified the reasons for his recent struggles

Russell believes he's identified the reasons for his recent struggles

Photo by: Erik Junius

Like team-mate Hamilton, George Russell has extended his deal with Mercedes until the end of 2025, giving the Brackley team a settled line-up for two more years. This was hardly unexpected, even before his post-summer turnaround in form, but having both on-track and off-track clarity will only be a boon to the King's Lynn native.

Russell reckoned that he'd lost his way before the summer break, leading to a change in tack before business reopened again in Zandvoort. By focusing on getting the basics right, prioritising qualifying, and not overthinking with the car's set-up, he feels that he's been able to turn the corner.

"This year [I was] overreaching at times, which has led to a bit of a drop in performance," said Russell. "What I think we've concluded is that we've been going wrong [on the] set-up direction in the recent few races. And that's been compromising my confidence and qualifying performance, and we perhaps put too much emphasis on the race."

Although the Mercedes W14 package was arguably too draggy for Monza's insatiable thirst for straightline speed, Russell nonetheless impressed in qualifying and held track position behind the Red Bulls and Ferraris to avoid the clamouring for points behind him. Although his corner-cutting pass on Esteban Ocon at Turn 1 was a penalty-worthy error, he overcame the five-second millstone in a somewhat lonely race. It was probably the best he could achieve, given the strengths of the cars ahead.

7. Albon demonstrates what could have been at Monza in 2022

Albon had to miss Monza last year but demonstrated what might have been possible for his team with seventh

Albon had to miss Monza last year but demonstrated what might have been possible for his team with seventh

Photo by: Williams

For Nyck de Vries, Alex Albon's ill-timed appendicitis ahead of last year's Italian Grand Prix was something of a sliding doors moment. The Dutchman's super-sub antics later yielded 10 races for AlphaTauri this year, as he carried the Williams FW44 to ninth place with a sterling defensive effort. Of course, it didn't entirely work out for de Vries, but he nonetheless got to serve some of his career as a bona fide F1 driver.

Many wondered what Albon could have achieved in that car, and the similar merits of the FW45 in a straight line largely answered that question this year. Williams has been able to make its 2023 machinery a little less one-note than its predecessor, but Albon nonetheless roared to sixth on the grid and reprised his stunning defensive efforts from Montreal and Silverstone to back up the pack. He retained sixth for much of the race, fending off Piastri and Norris for the full duration - despite McLaren's efforts to dummy Williams into making a pitstop over the radio. Nobody fell for the bait.

There wasn't much that Albon could do about Hamilton's late charge and had to concede defeat in that battle, as his car was struggling with brake and tyre temperatures, plus with traction on the exit of the Parabolica. Regardless, Albon's ride to seventh was yet another impressive result and Williams thus extended its gap to Haas to 10 points in the constructors' battle for seventh overall.

That's probably answered the question of what Albon could realistically have expected last season, and he's hopefully managed to shake off the dismay of last year's illness. He even had to swap hotel rooms when he arrived in Italy this year, having been booked into the same room where all the trouble started last year.

8. Flexi-wing debate reaches a resolution... for now

Front wings have again come under the spotlight, but the matter appears to be settled for now

Front wings have again come under the spotlight, but the matter appears to be settled for now

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

Consternation over flexible aerodynamic geometry probably affects F1 once every three or four years. Building undetectable aeroelasticity into front and rear wings has long been an art, as top speeds are undeniably helped by wings shedding a pinch of drag on the straights and returning to form in time for the corners. The FIA remains steadfast in its stringent application of the rules over flexi-wings, but engineers will always find ways to meet the tests thrown at them.

This year's flexible furore largely involved the attachment of the wing to the nose, and that teams had managed to create "rubbery nose boxes" (in the words of Christian Horner) to allow the front wing's position to change. Technically, it's not the wing itself that flexes, but the nose geometry that houses the wing attachment points itself.

The FIA released a new technical directive to take effect from the Singapore Grand Prix, with tougher stances to be taken on any wings - front and rear - that show an inordinate level of movement under load. Cue the teams declaring their support for the new directive, with most keen to note that it was going to be of limited effect to them.

Aston Martin was touted as one of the teams who had indulged in the practice, although the team has wisely steered clear of revealing too much. Team principal Mike Krack, when asked about the directive, stated “I cannot speak for the other teams, but for us it will not be a headache.”

Let's set our timers now; a new flexi-wing debate will invariably emerge in a couple of seasons' time, and there'll certainly be more in 2026 if moveable aerodynamics make their way into F1. And then we'll go through it all again.

9. Stroll to stay with Aston Martin, but for how much longer?

Stroll's deficit to Alonso has been considerable in 2023

Stroll's deficit to Alonso has been considerable in 2023

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

On the subject of Aston Martin, Krack had also stated on Thursday that Lance Stroll was to stay with the team for 2024. This follows a handful of different threads involving the team following its surge in competitiveness; one, that it has tabs on the likes of Leclerc and Norris for a race seat, and two, that Stroll might call time on F1 to go and do something else. One theory was that he'd go and play tennis professionally - but in either case, he'd be participating in a sport to trail a world-class Spaniard. Stroll backhanded away those rumours, declaring that his F1 ambitions were not yet game, set, and match.

That said, there's no escaping that there has been a very clear gulf between Stroll and team-mate Fernando Alonso. They're separated by a whopping 123 points which, if that was halved, would keep Aston Martin well above Ferrari in the constructors' championship. Alonso has had seven podiums this year while Stroll has none, and it's hard to argue that the Canadian would have earned a 2024 seat in any other team with such a deficit.

Stroll is capable of pulling out big results, and he showed that across his first year with Williams and with Racing Point in 2020. But they're few and far between and, over the past couple of seasons, he appears to have regressed. There were mitigating circumstances at Monza, having limited seat time on Friday after giving up FP1 for reserve Felipe Drugovich and losing FP2 time with car troubles, but it was a poor race all told.

If Aston Martin and Lawrence Stroll want to be genuine championship challengers in the coming seasons, the second seat will be a stumbling block; either a top-line driver comes in, or Stroll Jr raises his game considerably. Those are the only options.

10. Italy might not be able to hold on to two F1 races

The competition for calendar spaces means two Italian races may not be sustainable

The competition for calendar spaces means two Italian races may not be sustainable

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

First, the good news for Italian F1 fans: Monza and Imola both have deals until the end of 2025. Imola's return to the F1 calendar for the COVID-hit 2020 season was popular, and the sentiment developed was enough to keep the venue on the ever-growing schedule despite interest from new markets around the world.

Insight: Why there's more to Imola than its tragic past

But F1 is in a position now where it has courted more interest for races than it can realistically service. It has been suggested that the likes of Zandvoort and Spa-Francorchamps will operate on a rotational basis in the future, and thus it seems somewhat of a stretch for Italy to keep two races if other venues offer more capital.

Monza, to many peoples' minds, is the most iconic F1 circuit in Italy. Its proximity to Milan and its 100-year history carries weight in the sentimental halls of motorsport, and its longevity compared to that of Imola on the calendar probably adds to its reputation. It's a very different circuit too; since Hockenheim was largely neutered, it's the last track that genuinely rewards top speed and stripped-back aero packages owing to the long straights broken up by chicanes.

Imola is a wonderful circuit, but it's arguably less unique. Its tight confines also make passing difficult in modern F1 machinery, although the retooled run to the Tamburello chicane has made passing possible. Whether the two venues would be willing to rotate is one thing; whether the tifosi could only live with Monza on a biennial basis is certainly quite another...

F1 without Monza on the calendar appears unthinkable

F1 without Monza on the calendar appears unthinkable

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

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