he rule changes for the 2022 season were supposed to close up the grid and create greater overtaking opportunities.
Again, there was no shortage of the latter at yesterday’s Italian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton among those to scythe their way up the field from the back of the grid for an admirable fifth place.
The only problem was that Max Verstappen again proved in a class of his own, starting back in seventh but making light work of those in front of him to take his 11th grand prix victory of the season.
The early promise of the season opener in Bahrain of a title fight again going down to the wire could not now be further from the truth.
Verstappen needs two more wins to clinch the record by an individual driver in a single season set during Red Bull’s last period of dominance with Sebastian Vettel. With six races left of the season, that should be comfortably eclipsed.
Hamilton, who in seasons past had grown accustomed to leaving the rest of the field trailing, said following the race at Monza: “We have to be realistic, that Red Bull is almost unbeatable. It’s going to take some real doing to beat that car. Performance wise, they are fully ahead of everyone.”
Verstappen now leads the championship standings by 116 points. He could mathematically wrap up a successful title defence at the next race in Singapore although that looks unlikely.
Hamilton had previously been buoyant about continuing his remarkable career achievement of winning at least one race per season of his career. After Verstappen’s latest showing, he did not quite talk of needing a miracle to achieve that feat but, at the very least, a mechanical failure or crash for the flying Dutchman.
“We have not caught them, we don’t have upgrades coming to overtake them so it’s going to take some fortune going our way,” said the Briton. “It’s not impossible because we could have beaten them maybe in Budapest. But he’s generally chilled at the front so you never know their true pace. We’ll see.”
There was an unwelcome reminder of Hamilton’s thrilling title fight with Verstappen last year, which was decided by Michael Masi’s controversial call over the safety car at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
In Monza on Sunday, there was a late safety car to recover Daniel Ricciardo’s stricken McLaren, with the race eventually ending with Verstappen and the rest of the field trailing behind the safety car.
It was perhaps an apt summary for what this damp squib of a title race, which promised so much, has instead become.
And Hamilton was quick to have a dig at the FIA with regards to that safety car call back in Abu Dhabi. “It always brings memories back,” he said. “That is the rule that it should be right? So, the only time in the history of the sport that they haven’t done it.”
His team boss Toto Wolff also weighed in saying, “This time, they followed the rules. There are rules and, whether I’m Abu Dhabi traumatised or not, these rules have been followed to the dot today”.
Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto, meanwhile, was scathing of the decision not to bring in the safety car. “Today we had all the conditions to have a restart of the race, I don’t know why they waited so long,” he said. “The FIA has been caught sleeping, maybe they are not yet ready to deal with these situations.”
But for all the griping, such was Verstappen’s pace he probably would have won the race whatever the FIA had decided.