Any hopes that the gap to Mercedes-AMG would be closed by the tightening of the engine mapping regulations were well and truly dismissed in Saturday’s qualifying session for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
The reigning Constructors’ Championship winners continued their utterly dominant form over one-lap, claiming their seventh front-row lockout of the season at the end of an action-packed three-part qualifying session.
Lewis Hamilton once again found that extra edge when he needed it most, clocking the fastest every qualifying lap in F1 history to clinch pole ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas by just 0.069 seconds. The pair was equally matched over the first two sectors, but Hamilton just had the edge in the final run from the Ascari chicane to the finish line.
His final lap in Q3 averaged 164.267mph, shattering the two-year-old record held by Kimi Räikkönen of 163.785mph. Only Bottas could match him, while the gap to the rest of the field was simply eye-watering with the next best-placed driver being McLaren’s Carlos Sainz Jr who was over eight-tenths of a second adrift.
Such was the Mercedes team’s confidence, both drivers topped the Q1 session on the slower Medium compound rubber while everyone else had to resort to the less-durable Soft Pirelli tyres. On top of that, Mercedes eschewed the slipstreaming antics of their rival teams, repeatedly sending out their drivers at the front of the queue to create a potential tow for others to potentially benefit.
Their pace is simply ominous and suggests once again that Hamilton and Bottas will simply run away and hide in tomorrow’s 53-lap race. This is the first Grand Prix where the teams have been banned from using ‘qualifying mode’ settings on their power units – a feature that the Mercedes-powered runners particularly seemed to benefit from. Any attempts by the establishment to slow them down were met with a mere shrug.
For everyone else, the quest for a slipstream was a desperate and occasionally dangerous affair. With a tow potentially providing up to half-a-second in lap time, the FIA had put in even tougher limits to prevent the absolute farce that beset last year’s qualifying session.
That still didn’t stop a number of runners nearly tripping over each other in the final minutes of play in Q1, with Kimi Räikkönen particularly irked to find himself repeatedly blocked by Renault’s Esteban Ocon. Both drivers made it through to Q2, although their antics ruined the chances for Sebastian Vettel (P17 in his Ferrari) and George Russell (P19 in his Williams) from potentially capitalising.
Vettel’s poor pace epitomised Ferrari’s struggles, where the grip-poor and underpowered SF1000 was found wanting on a circuit where aerodynamic efficiency and horsepower reign supreme. Vettel’s teammate Charles Leclerc could manage no better than thirteenth in the sister car, and the prospect of even a points’ finish looks slim on Sunday.
Further in front, Sergio Pérez put his Racing Point Mercedes fourth-fastest ahead of Max Verstappen’s Red Bull Racing Honda. Lando Norris was sixth-fastest in the second McLaren, with Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and Racing Point’s Lance Stroll completing the top eight.
Alexander Albon twice had his fast lap times deleted for exceeding track limits and made heavy weather of qualifying an eventual ninth-fastest after just scraping past the Q1 and Q2 hurdles thanks to mistakes from others. It was a messy session for the increasingly under pressure Anglto-Thai driver, whose failure to match teammate Verstappen is becoming more apparent by the weekend.
The AlphaTauri Hondas of Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat failed to live up to their Friday practice pace, qualifying tenth and eleventh fastest respectively ahead of Ocon’s Renault. Räikkönen was 14th for Alfa Romeo and Kevin Magnussen in 15th for Haas after an off-track moment in Q2.
Romain Grosjean was left to rue a deleted lap time in Q1 which cost him a shot at Q2 in his Haas, while Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and the Williams pairing of Russell and Nicholas Latifi locked out the final three grid positions.
|FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO HEINEKEN D’ITALIA 2020 – QUALIFYING|
|Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG F1 Team W11||1:18.887|
|2.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG F1 Team W11||1:18.956||+ 0.069|
|3.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren F1 Team MCL35||1:19.695||+ 0.808|
|4.||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point F1 Team RP20||1:19.720||+ 0.833|
|5.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing RB16||1:19.795||+ 0.908|
|6.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team MCL35||1:19.820||+ 0.933|
|7.||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team R.S.20||1:19.864||+ 0.977|
|8.||Lance Stroll||Racing Point F1 Team RP20||1:20.049||+ 1.162|
|9.||Alexander Albon||Red Bull Racing RB16||1:20.090||+ 1.203|
|10.||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia AlfaTauri AT01||1:20.177||+ 1.290|
|Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*|
|11.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia AlfaTauri AT01||1:20.169||+ 1.217|
|12.||Esteban Ocon||Renault F1 Team R.S.20||1:20.234||+ 1.282|
|13.||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari SF1000||1:20.273||+ 1.321|
|14.||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing C39||1:20.926||+ 1.974|
|15.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team VF-20||1:21.573||+ 2.621|
|Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**|
|16.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team VF-20||1:21.139||+ 1.625|
|17.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF1000||1:21.151||+ 1.637|
|18.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing C39||1:21.206||+ 1.692|
|19.||George Russell||Williams Racing FW43||1:21.587||+ 2.073|
|20.||Nicholas Latifi||Williams Racing FW43||1:21.717||+ 2.203|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q2 lap time of 1:18.952 set by Valtteri Bottas
** Denotes gap to fastest Q1 lap time of 1:19.514 set by Lewis Hamilton
Images via Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team and Scuderia Ferrari
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