Mugello made a memorable first appearance on the Formula 1 calendar as the inaugural Tuscan Grand Prix produced an incident-filled thriller. LUKE SMITH outlines the top talking points.
F1's brutal run of nine races in 11 weeks to kickstart the 2020 season came to a close on Sunday with a suitably-hectic Tuscan GP.
Like the previous weekend's Italian GP, the Mugello race will live long in the memory as three standing restarts, three safety car periods, two red flags and just 12 cars still running at the chequered flag left plenty of room for error.
But it turned out to be a familiar result as Lewis Hamilton extended his championship lead to 55 points, leading home team-mate Valtteri Bottas for a Mercedes 1-2.
Here are 10 things we learned from the Tuscan Grand Prix.
1. Hamilton takes everything thrown at him in his stride
It may come as little surprise given he is a six-time world champion and just one win shy of Michael Schumacher's record haul - but there is very little that can faze Hamilton.
One week on from his pit entry slip-up that cost him a likely victory at Monza, Hamilton faced another chaotic and unpredictable race at Mugello that offered plenty of opportunities to miscue or slip up.
And while Hamilton was sluggish off the line at the first start, allowing Bottas to snatch the lead on the long run to Turn 1, he was otherwise dominant at Mugello. He went through all of his Friday data with forensic detail in a bid to get to the bottom of his deficit to his team-mate in practice, and converted that into pole position - the 95th of his career - and the race win.
Hamilton was looking comfortable after the second round of pit stops, particularly when Mercedes opted against Bottas's request to split tyre strategies, so would have been forgiven for getting frustrated at the safety car reappearing. But he took everything that was thrown at him, kept cool, and executed a hassle-free win in the end.
Hamilton called the race "physically and mentally one of the most challenging days I've experienced". But again, his class shone through.
2. Bottas lets another opportunity slip through his fingers
The 55-point gap between Hamilton and Bottas at the top of the standings makes for grim reading if you are a hopeful - or, in this case, hopeless - optimist who still believes this title fight could go all the way to the end of the season.
Bottas had been on-song for much of the Mugello weekend, topping all three practice sessions and leading the opening stage of qualifying - at which point Hamilton turned the tables, taking pole by 0.059s.
After grabbing the lead at the start, Bottas had a real chance to stamp his authority on the race and take a decent bite out of Hamilton's lead. But the red flag left him exposed at the restart, where his startline struggles seen through so much of 2020 again hit hard, costing him the lead to Hamilton.
"Frustrating is not the right word because I felt I really tried everything," Bottas said, summing up his race and, to some extent, his season. "I tried, and I feel it's just a matter of time that things will go my way. It will come and I will keep pushing."
The rub of the green may not have been with Bottas recently, but there was a real opportunity that slipped through his fingers once again today.
3. The restart rules might need some work
Across the last two grands prix, we've been treated to five 'lights out' moments thanks to the revised red flag rules that allow for the race to be resumed with a standing start.
These have been really exciting moments, and have certainly had an impact on the end result. At Monza, Lance Stroll fluffed his getaway and allowed Pierre Gasly to jump into the net race lead, and at Mugello it was Bottas who slipped up at the second and third restarts.
But there are still some tweaks needed for safety car restarts, because the crash on lap seven of the race that caused a red flag could have been totally avoided.
By setting the 'control line', where the race officially returns to green, so far up the main straight, the field was encouraged to go slowly almost as far as the start/finish line. It caused confusion behind as drivers hit the accelerator, trying to slingshot past the car in front, only to result in a pile-up that eliminated four cars on the spot.
The stewards warned 12 drivers for their actions in the incident, but ruled that race leader Bottas had followed the regulations perfectly and was therefore blameless. True though that may be, Hamilton was among those calling for a "rethink" of the restart procedure.
"They're obviously trying to make it more exciting, but ultimately today you've seen they put people at risk, so perhaps they need to rethink that," said Hamilton.
"Today was probably a little bit over the limit perhaps."
4. Albon looks safer than ever at Red Bull
A lot can change over a week in F1. Seven days ago, we were discussing the possibility of Gasly returning to Red Bull after his shock win at Monza for AlphaTauri.
Now, incumbent Red Bull driver Alexander Albon looks safer than ever after finally recording his maiden F1 podium finish with a brilliant late charge at Mugello.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner made clear earlier in the week when asked by Autosport about the possibility of Gasly returning that it was not on the cards, saying it "wouldn't make sense".
And as Gasly came back down to earth with a bump at Mugello, qualifying 16th and retiring on the opening lap after a clash with Kimi Raikkonen, Albon battled to a well-earned podium.
He was left as Red Bull's only hope in the race following Max Verstappen's first lap DNF, and initially slipped behind Charles Leclerc, Lance Stroll, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo in the race to complete the podium.
But after picking off Leclerc and Perez early on, then gaining a place from Stroll when the Racing Point driver crashed out to cause the second red flag, Albon then lined up a fine move on Ricciardo to take third, hustling his car around the outside of Turn 1.
It was a display that finally broke Albon's podium hoodoo - Hamilton being well out of sight by that point - and marks a big breakthrough. Circumstances played in his favour, yes, but he capitalised on the opportunity well. It'll hopefully do wonders for his confidence.
5. Abiteboul should be sweating on his tattoo bet
As wonderful as it may be to see a young driver score their first podium, a big part of the F1 community felt a twinge of disappointment in seeing Albon pass Ricciardo in the closing stages.
It had looked likely that Ricciardo's long-standing tattoo bet with Renault F1 team principal Cyril Abiteboul was finally about to come to fruition. The pair agreed when Ricciardo joined that the first podium would prompt them to get matching tattoos - Abiteboul choosing the location, Ricciardo choosing the design.
Ricciardo ran fifth following the early chaos but quickly passed Leclerc before getting the undercut on Stroll, putting him in good shape for third as the laps ticked down. Stroll and Albon both sat a couple of seconds adrift, but the red flag caused by Stroll gave Albon the chance to close and - although Ricciardo briefly headed Bottas at the restart - eventually nab third away.
As disappointed as Ricciardo and Abiteboul were to lose the chance for Renault's first works podium since 2011, both took great heart from the result. The team always expected to struggle at Mugello, given the higher downforce requirements of the track, so its strong showing bodes well moving forward.
"I wouldn't say we had the highest of expectations," Ricciardo said. "I think putting the lap together yesterday, we were P5 or a P5 car in quali, and we had top five pace all race. It's encouraging for some circuits looking forward."
Ricciardo has eight more races in Renault colours - and that tattoo is looking more within reach than ever.
6. Celebrating Ferrari's past didn't change its present strife
The Tuscan Grand Prix was always going to be a special one for Ferrari as it celebrated its 1,000th race with a celebration at home.
The Ferrari SF1000s were decked out in burgundy in a nod to the original Ferrari 125s the team debuted with in 1950, while a special celebration with some questionable interpretive dancing was held in Florence on Saturday night.
But for all of the fanfare and tributes paid to Ferrari and its contribution to F1 at Mugello, it could do little to detract from its current strife as it scraped a double-points finish.
Things were never expected to be as bad as at Spa and Monza, but this was hardly much better. Leclerc somehow grabbed P5 in qualifying and ran third after the initial drama, only to then slowly slip back through the field, losing four places in four laps at one point.
Had it not been for the final red flag, it looked likely that Williams' George Russell was going to beat Sebastian Vettel on merit, only for the four-time world champion to claw back P10 in the closing stages.
Ferrari knows the situation it faces, and there is quiet confidence that many of the issues will be overcome in time for 2021. But to leave a weekend that celebrated its success and significance through F1 history with just five points - and that actually be deemed a good result - shows just how tough things are currently at Maranello.
7. Williams is in the hunt for points
Good news has been hard to come by at Williams in recent times, with the exit of the family after Monza following the company's takeover marking the start of a new era.
The new bosses from Dorilton Capital were on-site at Mugello to meet the team for the first time, and were very nearly greeted with some breakthrough points for the team.
Russell drove a superb race and gapped Vettel at one stage to look on-course for ninth place, that would have marked not only his first points in F1, but would have lifted Williams above Haas in the constructors' championship.
"It is heartbreaking almost," Russell said. "The whole team had worked so hard, got ourselves in an amazing position P9, and it was well and truly under control and sealed.
"The car was feeling great. I was matching the pace of Sebastian and Charles behind me on the same life tyre. And that red flag just threw it all away really."
It was a gutting result, extending Russell's wait for his first score in F1, but the team could take great heart from the performance. It was in the mix for points on merit, capitalising on some opportunities and fought superbly.
There are plenty of positives it can take from the weekend, as agonising as missing out on the top 10 may have been.
8. F1 needs more tracks like Mugello on the calendar
Ever since it was announced that Mugello would be joining the F1 calendar as part of the revised 2020 schedule, there was a mix of curiosity and scepticism as to what quality of racing it would provide.
Qualifying turned out to be as mega as expected, with drivers relishing the freedom of track limits - it's called the gravel - and the fact no corner was taken in anything lower than third gear. But there remained uncertainty about the quality of racing.
Those fears thankfully proved to be unfounded. The DRS zone perhaps made overtakes a little too easy, but it was exciting to see drivers muscling their way around the outside at Turn 1, making use of the cambered corner.
The chaotic nature of the race was not a reflection on Mugello, but the circuit lived up to the hype regardless. All of the drivers came away saying they would like to return in the future, and as uncertain as that may be, we at least have proof of the kind of track where F1 can work.
It seems MotoGP had the right idea all along by racing at Mugello.
9. Hamilton continues to use his platform for justice
F1's 'End Racism' messaging and campaign may have been subject to a huge amount of debate this year, but one thing is unquestionable: Lewis Hamilton remains the most vocal and visible voice in F1 amid the ongoing movements around the world.
On a weekend where the Premier League returned without 'Black Lives Matter' on its shirts, Hamilton showed few signs of dialling down his messaging. In lieu of his regular Black Lives Matter t-shirt, Hamilton wore one that read: "Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor."
Taylor's killing by Kentucky police officers in March has become one of the most high-profile cases of police brutality amid the anti-racism protests around the world in recent months.
Hamilton wore a shirt bearing her name on the grid, and put it back on for the podium ceremony, only removing it for the champagne celebration. Taylor's face was on the rear of the t-shirt, with Hamilton turning around at the end of the national anthem for it to be picked up in full. Hamilton also ended his interview after his win by saying: "Justice for Breonna Taylor."
The gammons spouting "keep politics out of sport!" were infuriated by such a show from Hamilton, making their opposition clear on social media. But for those of us in touch with reality and the issues facing the world right now, it was another reminder from Hamilton of how he wants to use his platform and how powerful it can be.
It came on the same weekend where tennis player Naomi Osaka won the US Open, having worn a different face mask for each match bearing the name of a black victim of violence. Hamilton and Osaka are arguably the two most successful black athletes in the world right now - and both want to use their platforms for good.
"We have to continue to raise awareness with it," Hamilton said. "Naomi has been doing amazing, so huge congratulations to her, she's an incredible inspiration with what she's done with her platform. We just have to continue to push on the issue."
10. Nine races in 11 weeks is a mighty achievement
The 2020 F1 season may have started only 11 weeks ago, but we're already over halfway through the 17-race campaign - and there is now some respite for the paddock.
The run of nine races in 11 weeks was necessitated by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, but F1 managed to put together a Euro-centric calendar in the hope of getting a good run of races complete.
And it has achieved that brilliantly. The strict COVID-19 protocols have been largely successful, with just a handful of cases being reported, identified and dealt with by the series' officials in swift fashion. The running of the races has been smooth.
Three triple-headers with just a week's grace splitting up the segments pushed the F1 paddock to the limit. All of the teams have made clear they do not want such a schedule to become the norm in the future, fearing it would burn everyone out quickly.
But as the F1 community tends to do, it rolled up its sleeves and got the job done. There is now just one triple-header left this year - the Bahrain/Bahrain/Abu Dhabi run - and just two races in the next five weeks, with Sochi and the Nurburgring being standalone races.
It may only be a one-week break until the Russian Grand Prix, but it will hopefully give F1 a chance to take stock on the season so far - and the enormity of the achievement in pulling it off.
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