Monza Quali Recap: Vettel on pole, the Hulk 3rd, Hamilton & Kimi out

Sebastian Vettel (1:23.755) won pole for the 2013 Italian Grand Prix in a clear display of domination through all three qualifying sessions at Monza. Teammate Mark Webber  qualified second, with Nico Hulkenberg a spectacular surprise third for Sauber. Despite tandem qualifying and practice sessions, Felipe Massa did not slingshot Fernando Alonso further up the grid, but actually out-qualified his teammate. The Ferrari drivers qualified fourth and fifth. Similarly, Sergio Perez bested his teammate Jenson Button to qualify eighth, with the Brit ninth fastest.

Q2 saw the most drama, with neither Lewis Hamilton nor Kimi Raikkonen able to move forward to fight for pole. Instead, both McLaren drivers and both Toro Rosso drivers benefitted and moved on to Q3. As for Lotus, speculation flowed that the team optioned a wetter set-up for Sunday’s forecast rain.

Vettel dominated throughout the three qualification sessions, leading the first over Rosberg. Though Alonso made a good early showing in that session, he managed only seventh fastest to start. There was little drama in Q1, only that, despite kicking up dirt coming out of Parabolica, Maldonado advanced while dropping teammate Bottas. The Finn and Gutierrez joined the usual suspects in relegation.

Though Hamilton (1:25.565) got things going, setting the fastest time in the Friday morning practice, Vettel (1:24.453) and Webber (1:25.076) quickly took over for Red Bull in the afternoon. Hamilton took just over two tenths off his fast time between the sessions, but that was nothing on Vettel’s six tenths gap over his teammate, let alone the German’s nearly 1.5s gain on his own time from the morning to the afternoon. The gap lengthened from morning to afternoon as well, with the top fourteen covered by less than a second in FP1. In FP2, only the top seven were covered by a similar margin.

While most drivers had to take to the escape roads from time to time, Maldonado in particular let the gravel fly in the morning. Alonso did his best to wow the tifosi by setting the second fastest time in the morning, but was eight tenths off Vettel’s pace in the afternoon. Massa’s day, though, was slightly more humiliating: he managed only fourteenth fastest in the morning, eighth in the afternoon, and had to be stopped at the end of pit lane after Ferrari did not release him in time to attempt a practice start at the end of the session. He crossed the white line, leaving Ferrari with a ten thousand euro fine.

By Saturday morning, Alonso had regained some time and was just under three tenths off Vettel’s (1:24.360) pace, and second fastest. Massa was seventh, with Webber just three thousandths slower than Alonso. Both Ferrari drivers continued to work in tandem as they had on Friday, slipstreaming to gain some single lap speed. Hamilton sat fourth fastest in the final practice, with Perez gaining some time for McLaren and moving up to fifth fastest. Only one more serious incident marred practice, as di Resta crashed at Parabolica. Though he damaged his Force India, due to a front brake failure, only yellow flags waved and the session continued.

Rosberg, Raikkonen, and Grosjean joined the aforementioned drivers in the fastest five during the practice sessions. Lotus spilt the newer long wheelbase car between the two drivers, with Raikkonen driving the upgraded model on Friday. He drily claimed to be unable to discern a difference.

The twenty minutes of Q1 began under sunny skies, as Gutierrez made his way onto the track. Saturday’s weather is in direct contrast to that forecast for Sunday, as race day is likely to include rain. Rosberg soon followed, as did other drivers. Gutierrez marked the pace, two seconds slower than Vettel’s morning practice time on his first timed lap. Rosberg soon went fastest, only to lose the position to Vergne. The former had suffered a hydraulics issue in the final practice and lacked run time in his Mercedes.

Soon Alonso had the Italian crowd excited, going fastest with seven minutes gone in the session. By that point, all but Vettel had joined the action on the track, and everyone but the Caterham and Marussia drivers were on the hard compound. Just before halfway, Vergne bested Alonso’s time. Vergne (1:24.630) led Alonso, Ricciardo, Massa, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Button, Maldonado, Rosberg, and Webber as the fastest ten. Gutierrez, van der Garde, Pic, Bianchi, Chilton, and Vettel, who only just then left the garage, were in the knockout zone.

That order quickly changed as Hamilton, Raikkonen, and Massa all eclipsed Ricciardo’s time. Hamilton had gone second fastest momentarily, but Alonso improved and dropped his former teammate a position. With five minutes to go, most of the quicker drivers were back in their garages, while Vettel had gone third on his first fast lap. Hamilton (1:24.589) next jumped Vergne, only to be bested by more than two tenths by Vettel. With four minutes remaining, Bottas, di Resta, Sutil, van der Garde, Pic, Bianchi, and Chilton were in the clutches of the relegation zone. As most teams sent the drivers back out, many were shod on fresh medium tyres for maximum advantage. Only Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso, and Webber remained in the garage with two minutes to go.

Only a second covered the top eighteen, with di Resta having moved up to fourteenth. Some drivers aborted their final laps, feeling safe in the top ten. Rosberg moved up to second, but the real drama lay in the drop out zone, with Perez up to tenth. Bottas had been the last driver to cross the line, but he did not improve on his first sector. Ahead on the track, teammate Maldonado threw a dirt plume while exiting Parabolica. Bottas would remain eighteenth. In the end, Vettel (1:24.319) led Rosberg, Hamilton, Vergne, Perez, Ricciardo, Alonso, Grosejan, Button, and Hulkenberg were the fastest ten. Raikkonen was eleventh and Webber thirteenth.

Knocked Out in Q1:
17. Esteban Gutierrez
18. Valtteri Bottas
19. Giedo van der Garde
20. Charles Pic
21. Jules Bianchi
22. Max Chilton

Ricciardo led the way only the track for the fifteen minutes of Q2, with di Resta and Vergne following. Ricciardo (1:24.746) lead from has first lap to five minutes gone, with Hulkenberg, Vergne, di Resta, and Maldonado the only four other drivers to have then set a time. A minute later, only the Red Bull drivers and Perez remained in the garage. Nearing halfway, Alonso (1:24.227) went fastest. More dramatically, Hamilton took Parabolica incredibly wide and ran through the gravel trap for a bit. Rosberg, Massa, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Vergne, Sutil, di Resta, and Grosjean joined Alonso in the top ten at halfway.

Maldonado, Hamilton, Button, Perez, Vettel, and Webber were all in the knockout zone with six minutes remaining. Most of the field were then in the garage. Webber had joined the fray, with Vettel following, just before five minutes to go. Webber began his first fast lap of the session with four minutes remaining. He immediately went second fastest while teammate Vettel was fastest of all in the second sector. The German (1:23.977) popped up to fastest, nearly three tenths faster than Webber.

Alonso remained firmly lodged between the Red Bulls. He was the only drivers still in the garage with two minutes to go. With one minute, Sutil, di Resta, Perez, Grosjean, Maldonado, and Hamilton all still in the knockout zone. Hamilton looked safe enough, lapping two seconds faster than tenth fastest Button. The former soon dropped Button by going ninth fastest. Raikkonen had been between them, only to go eighth fastest.

In the time after the flag, Hamilton had dropped to the bubble as other drivers improved. Everyone was on personal best sectors, and the order changed frantically. In quick march, drivers went faster than Hamilton. Raikkonen fared equally poorly, dropping out while Button improved and put McLaren in the top ten. Replays suggested that Hamilton got stuck in traffic named Sutil, thus ruining his hot lap. The stewards would investigate. In the end, Vettel (1:23.977) led Alonso, Webber, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Rosberg, Massa, Button, Vergne, and Perez off to fight for pole in Q3.

Knocked Out in Q2:
11. Kimi Raikkonen
12. Lewis Hamilton
13. Romain Grosjean
14. Adrian Sutil
15. Pastor Maldonado
16. Paul di Resta

Rosberg left the garage first for the ten minutes of Q3. Webber and Ricciardo soon followed. Within the first two minutes, all drivers but Perez and Hulkenberg had joined the track. Ferrari looked set to attempting another set of tandem laps, with Alonso on fresh mediums and Massa on used, in opposite order on the track. Rosberg set the first timed lap, nearly 1.4s slower than Vettel’s fast lap of the previous session. Webber quickly bested it, just .003s slower than that weekend fast lap from Vettel. Alonso slotted into position a half second off Webber’s pace.

At halfway, Vettel (1:23.859) had set a new weekend fast time, leading Webber, Alonso, Massa, and Rosberg. They were then the only five men with times. Rosberg returned to the garage, where sat all other drivers beyond Ricciardo. The track sat nearly empty with three and a half minutes to go. Soon Rosberg joined Ricciardo in their lonely lapping.

The rush to rejoin occurred with two minutes to go. Vergne led the way, with Webber, who again seemed to be suffering KERS issues, and the others following. Ricciardo had moved up to split the Ferraris in fourth. Vettel seemed set to cross the line last, just before the flag. He was, crossing with ten or so seconds left in the session.

Webber went fastest of all in the middle sector, but did not improve beyond second fastest. Nor did Alonso, who had teammate Massa best him for fourth fastest. Hulkenberg shoved the Sauber into third, leaving Vettel a clear run for pole. He took it, improving his own time by a tenth, in yet another instance of Red Bull domination.

Final Qualifying Times for the 2013 Italian Grand Prix:

1. Sebastian VettelRed Bull1:23.75515
2. Mark WebberRed Bull1:23.96818
3. Nico HulkenbergSauber1:24.06521
4. Felipe MassaFerrari1:24.13221
5. Fernando AlonsoFerrari1:24.14215
6. Nico RosbergMercedes1:24.19226
7. Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso1:24.20924
8. Sergio PerezMcLaren1:24.50217
9. Jenson ButtonMcLaren1:24.51521
10. Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso1:28.05020
11. Kimi RaikkonenLotus1:24.61016
12. Lewis HamiltonMercedes1:24.80314
13. Romain GrosjeanLotus1:24.84814
14. Adrian Sutil*Force India1:24.93219
15. Pastor MaldonadoWilliams1:25.01119
16. Paul di RestaForce India1:25.07718
17. Esteban GutierrezSauber1:25.22613
18. Valtteri BottasWilliams1:25.29111
19. Giedo van der GardeCaterham1:26.4069
20. Charles PicCaterham1:26.56310
21. Jules BianchiMarussia1:27.08511
22. Max ChiltonMarussia1:27.48010

*under investigation for impeding Hamilton in Q2

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