Conventional wisdom would tell you that the straight-line speed of the Ferrari is a key ingredient to securing pole position for the Italian Grand Prix. The Temple of Speed, otherwise known as Monza, requires very little downforce and lots of shove from the power unit. For 69 of the 70 years the Italian Grand Prix has existed, this has been the case and Ferrari were trimmed out and powered up to continue their streak having just won last weekend in Belgium.
The challenge was that the time gaps between Ferrari and Mercedes in Free Practice 2 was very minimal. With a wet session in FP1 and mixed conditions in FP2 meant the teams had compressed sessions and didn’t get the running time to complete their full programs so qualifying had some lingering question marks hovering over it’s surface.
Is the Ferrari much faster than Mercedes in a straight line and with a new Spec 3 engine, would that gap be even greater? Was Mercedes actually much closer to Ferrari as Friday’s FP2 times suggested? Time would tell and the slipstream tow might play a big role in who takes pole.
Ferrari’s first laps were on Medium compounds and both eclipsed by the Renault’s on Soft compounds. In fact, Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari was in danger as he sank down the order.
For Mercedes, they ran nose-to-tail with Valtteri Bottas punching hole in the air for Lewis Hamilton with both on Soft compounds. Leclerc, Hulkenberg, Bottas, Hamilton and Ricciardo made the top 5 for their first laps. Alex Albon’s second attempt was disallowed for running all four tires over the white line at Parabolica which the stewards are watching very closely all weekend long.
With 4:34s left, the red flag came out for the Racing Point car of Sergio Perez. A loss of power left him stranded on track. Max Verstappen and Alex Albon, as well as both Toro Rosso’s and Alfa Romeo’s were all impacted but the Red Flag.
With 3:00s left, all the cars came out of the garages like a school of fish. The top seven were still in their garages. With 2:00s left, Vettel came out for a final run on a set of soft compound tires.
With just :42s left, Verstappen slowed with a radio message that he was losing power. Vettel didn’t set a time on his Soft compounds.
Out in Q1- Verstappen, Kubica, Russell, Perez, Grosjean
Ferrari’s duo came out on Soft Compounds as did the Mercedes teammates. Leclerc jumped to the top with Hamilton and Vettel following. Daniel Ricciardo slipped ahead of Bottas for 4th quickest showing some new-found pace for Renault. With the McLaren duo of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris hovering around the elimination zone, Renault were sending a message that perhaps they are interested in competing for best-of-the-rest.
Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat radioed that he needed a tow as he was teetering on elimination in 10th. Would the team bring Pierre Gasly out to assist? Short answer? No.
With 2 minutes to go, all the cars came out to create lots of traffic and everyone fighting for clean air. Leclerc and Vettel pass Kvyat and Alex Albon with no tow partner had a lot to do on his own.
Lewis Hamilton jumped to the top with both Ferrari’s boxing. Kimi Raikkonen and Lance Stroll advanced to Q3 as did Carlos Sainz with a nice tow from Norris.
Out in Q2- Gasly, Kvyat, Norris, Magnussen, Giovinazzi
It came down to 12 minutes. Who would take pole? Did Hamilton’s pace in Q2 reveal a Mercedes “Party Mode” option or were Ferrari pulling back the reigns a bit?
Mercs were out first with Lewis leading Valtteri and Vettel leading Leclerc but Merc pulls dover in practice start zone to deny the option of both Mercs towing both Ferrari’s.
The Ferrari’s got separated but two Renault’s and the Mercs got separated by Carlos Sainz. The tow’s weren’t working for either team. Leclerc was getting a tow from the Renault’s and Vettel was on his own.
A red flag came out as Kimi Raikkonen put his car into the barriers at Parabolica. The time stoppage may help as Vettel’s first run looked to have all-four over the white line at Parabolica.
There was 6:35s left with Leclerc, Hamilton and Bottas in the top three. With 4 minutes left, the teams were all waiting and watching their competition to see who flinched first. FIA president Jean Todt anxiously watching from the Ferrari garage. All teams looking for a tow strategy. The strategy was critical and tensions were high.
With 2 minutes to go, the teams came out. Renault was first to flinch and all the teams reacted and there was just 1:30s to get around the circuit to trip the timing line. Ricciardo slowed and bunched the field up and the Ferrari’s were stuck behind Carlos Sainz. Leclerc got ahead of Vettel.
Astoundingly Carlos Sainz was the only car that tripped the timing and the rest of the entire field did not make it around in time to make a final run. This left Charles Leclerc on pole position with Hamilton and Bottas trailing and Vettel in 4th. A shambolic result for qualifying as everyone was being too clever and trying to out-wait the others. Embarrassing.
During F3 qualifying session, 17 of the 30 drivers were penalized for dodgy behavior trying to slipstream. F1 instituted a minimum time to complete an outlaw and the FIA said the entire Q3 session was under review. There could be penalties coming. Charles Leclerc commented on the farce:
“It is only a few tracks where we have this issue,” said Leclerc. “I have no quick fix to try and help this quickly, but maybe we can all think about it, to try to understand [the problem].
“It has always been like this, and the slipstream has always been this way. We just need to analyse the situation a bit more.
“Today was special and definitely not intentional from our side, as Seb was also capable of having the pole position and we didn’t want to sacrifice one car for the pole or the other.
“It was quite tricky. I definitely think that situations like after the second corner should not happen.
“When two cars are side-by-side, they cannot go at 20kph (12.4mph). We could not go past and most of the cars behind wanted to pass but didn’t have the opportunity.”
|7||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren/Renault||1.148s|
|8||Alexander Albon||Red Bull/Honda||–|
|9||Lance Stroll||Racing Point/Mercedes||–|
|10||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo/Ferrari||–|
|11||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo/Ferrari||1.210s|
|13||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso/Honda||1.323s|
|15||Sergio Perez||Racing Point/Mercedes||1.984s|
|19||Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso/Honda||1.818s|
|20||Max Verstappen||Red Bull/Honda||–|