THE PARTY’S NOT OVER FOR MERCEDES IN MONZA QUALIFYING
There had been a lot of talk ahead of this Italian Grand Prix Qualifying and the decision taken by F1 to ban the use of so called “Engine Party Modes” during qualifying. Would the changes restore some parity, pulling Mercedes back towards the rest of the field during qualifying, and give other teams the chance to start the race in higher grid positions? As it turned out it had a more definitive impact on the midfield rather than the Silver Arrows.
Many teams had adopted a strategy of their drivers working together creating aerodynamic tows to maximise top speeds, estimated by some to be worth up to 0.7 seconds a lap on what is the fastest circuit on the calendar. Mercedes chose a different approach foregoing this in favour of maximising downforce and getting better heat into the tyres on the warmup lap. The latter proved successful and also meant that Mercedes avoided the madness of drivers jockeying for positions, a practice that at times turned Monza qualifying into something resembling racing.
The writing was already on the wall after Lewis Hamilton’s razor-sharp reactions were the only thing between him and a collision with the Haas of Romain Grosjean heading into the Parabolica during FP3. The incident caused the stewards to summon eight drivers including Grosjean and Hamilton to their office. It turned out that they could not apportion any blame to a single driver so chose to shoot a warning shot across their bows and remind the drivers of Article 27.4 of the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations which states a “For reasons of safety, during each practice session, acts such as weaving across the track to hinder another car may be referred to the stewards.”
So, with Renault looking very strong, good things expected of the Mercedes inspired and powered Racing Point, and Honda powered teams showing good pace, we headed into qualifying with a degree of optimism.
Amongst all the melee of Q1 the biggest news was that of Sebastian Vettel who failed to climb out of the bottom five and starts the race in 17th position on the grid. His teammate Charles Leclerc didn’t fare much better in Q2 only managing P13.
It’s a dramatic fall from the top of the grid in 2019 when they were fighting and beating Mercedes at Monza both in qualifying and the race. The Scuderia’s performance in Monza qualifying yesterday is their worst performance on home soil since 1985, and the absence of the Tifosi trackside didn’t spare them any embarrassment. The stark reality is that there were no mitigating circumstances to their lap times. This is their pace and, barring a miraculous result in the race today, it will be no surprise if the performance of the team this weekend has consequences back at Maranello next week.
Q3 turned out to be less eventful. Sergio Perez put in a strong performance in the Racing Point taking P4, while Honda powered teams appeared to lose out most from the loss of Party Mode. Red Bull raised eyebrows with a lack lustre performance. Max Verstappen had his worst day at the office in qualifying since Hungary narrowly pipping Lando Norris to P5 by 0.025 seconds. Renault’s strong showing in practice proved a false start with Daniel Ricciardo the best of their two drivers managing P7. Lance Stroll in the second Racing Point, Alex Albon in the other RedBull, and Pierre Gasly made up the top 10.
Fighting it out for pole was left to the Valtteri Bottas to keep Lewis Hamilton honest. However Hamilton was in no mood to be unseated from pole with the same scintillating form that has seen him dominate qualifying this season.
Hamilton’s margin of 0.069 seconds was his sixth pole in eight races (his 94th in total) and puts him in the perfect spot to claim his 90th Grand Prix victory today. It also marked another milestone to add to Hamilton’s growing list of records as he clocked the fastest qualifying lap in Formula 1 history, with an average speed of 164.286mph.
However, Hamilton didn’t take all the accolades, as Carlos Sainz was awarded qualifying performance of the day with a fantastic P3 for McLaren. Whilst this would have been a very small crumb of comfort to Ferrari watching their incoming driver performing so well, Sainz must be feeling a little rueful. His future employer is completely off the pace while the team he’s leaving is obviously making progress with their car’s development. Next season will be a reset for many teams and so he will be hoping this seasons Ferrari performance is only a blip.
In his post qualifying interview Hamilton said, “It was not too bad. Fantastic performance from the team today, just in terms of timing, when they put us out on track. It was not the easiest – you saw how close it was between us all, so it really demanded a clean lap and I think I got that on both, so I’m generally really happy with the actual laps I did. Valtteri was very, very close – pushing me. I made some big changes going in to qualifying, so I was a little bit nervous going in that it was the right thing to do but it worked just fine.”
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