Qualifying for Formula 1’s Italian Grand Prix turned out to be one of the more peculiar in more recent memory. When things don’t go as usually expected, the weather tends to feature in the narrative. Sometimes the culprit could be the tires. Then, in a few exceptions, the track itself provides an added element of problem.
On Saturday (Sept 7), the teams had only themselves to blame.
Charles Leclerc benefited from his Ferrari team executing better than the rest of the teams, but the fact that his Ferrari has been fast is the real reason he earned the pole. Following his first F1 win at the Belgian GP at Spa last weekend, where he also started from P1, Leclerc remained at the front with a time of 1m20.126s on the 3.6-mile Monza course.
Lewis Hamilton slotted in at second with a time .039 behind, with his teammate Valtteri Bottas placing third. The second Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel fell to fourth in a session that required teammates to work together to use the slipstream to earn their best times.
That slipstream issue is why the qualifying at Monza has been called a “farce” by some.
Nico Hulkenberg reported that using the tow of a teammate, created by the wake of the car in front allowing the trailing car to gain an advantage, gained the trailing car a half-second. There was little that could be done to change this matter, as the track is one where straight-line speed is more important as compared to most of the rest of the stops on the schedule.
Because of the slipstream importance, teams did their best to time sending out their drivers in tandem. That idea does not seem to be too much of an issue, but the teams tried to gain as much of a boost as possible and thus tried to send their drivers out with other drivers. When the time came for their flying laps to lay down their best times, all the teams on track missed the timing and blew it, with none of the drivers being able to lay down what is frequently their best time.
This mismanagement may have hurt Vettel more than any other driver. Ferrari indicated it would have one driver lead for one attempt, then switch positions for the second attempt. Because of the missed opportunity, Vettel never got to driver his flying lap with a car that has proven to be fast, notably leading FP3. At Ferrari’s home track with a car that should have battled his teammate’s for the pole, this mistake is another in a season of Ferrari collecting them like grandmothers collect coupons.
The mistake in no way will help Vettel feel better during a complicated year when his teammate looks to be passing him in stature in the organization. Any kind of boost for the embattled driver would be vital but qualifying adds to a season of woes.
Some of this overt mess would have been avoided without Kimi Raikkonen wrecking his car during the middle of Q3. The ensuing red flag disrupted everyone’s timing, and when it came time to go again, everyone blew it.
As for the rest of the order, the Renaults were surprisingly quick. with Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg placing fifth and sixth. Their speed was something unexpected, as they have struggled to even beat McLaren through the year, the team to which they supply engines. Yet the McLaren of Carlos Sainz followed the Renaults, in seventh. Alex Albon took eighth in his Red Bull, with Racing Point’s Lance Stroll taking ninth and Kimi Raikkonen being 10th.
While Leclerc looked great out front, the stewards have already said they will look into the last stretch of qualifying to analyze what went wrong and what can be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
The Italian Grand Prix can be found on Sunday, Sept. 8, at 9 a.m. EST, on ESPN.