Valtteri Bottas was fastest in qualifying for Saturday’s sprint qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix, after beating his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton by nine-hundredths of a second. The Finn pipped his teammate to pole in the closing moments of the session to start the sprint from pole position.
Throughout Friday it appeared that the German manufacturer had the upper hand after out pacing Max Verstappen in first practice. Hamilton did manage to improve on his final run but was left in second, while the Red Bull driver was four-tenths behind the Mercedes. This weekend Mercedes is looking like the team to beat at the high speed circuit.
While Bottas will start the sprint race from pole, regardless of where he finishes the sprint race, he will start from the back of the grid for the Grand Prix after Mercedes introduced a fresh power unit. This is a strategic decision by Mercedes as Monza is a power circuit and there is less power dependant circuits in the remainder of the season.
Hamilton had looked the favourite for pole having topped both Q1 and Q2, as well as first practice earlier in the afternoon.
Verstappen was aided on his final run by a tow from his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez but couldn’t improve to challenge for pole. The Mexican finishing the session ninth. Verstappen currently trails his championship rival by three points with a maximum of twenty nine on the table this weekend.
The Dutchman was the only non-Mercedes powered car in the top five. Red Bull lacking the power on Monza’s long straights and getting it down on exiting the corners.
Bottas’s first lap in Q3 when he dipped his wheel into the gravel at the Variante della Roggia chicane, sending stones and sparks flying. But on the final lap, he picked up a tow from his Mercedes teammate. Verstappen is expecting it to be difficult in both the sprint qualifying and the Grand Prix to stay with the Mercedes.
Hamilton said, “Congrats to Valtteri – he did a mega lap. It was looking pretty good until then, then he went quicker and I couldn’t match it – well deserved. It’s great to see Valtteri driving so well – particularly with the news this week.”
Verstappen added, “I think for us around this track it’s always going to be difficult. We struggled a little more than we wanted in practice but I think we recovered quite well in qualifying.”
McLaren look to be the fastest of those in the midfield, Lando Norris two hundredths behind Verstappen in fourth after going six-thousandths of a second faster than his teammate Daniel Ricciardo. This weekend, the British team should be the strongest of the midfield having shown great pace at this type of circuit.
Pierre Gasly put his Alpha Tauri sixth going two tenths faster than the Ferrari’s of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc. Ferrari openly admitted that this weekend wasn’t going to be a strong one, but Sainz managed to improve on his final lap moving himself half a hundredth ahead of his teammate.
Sergio Perez was ninth fastest ahead of Antonio Giovinazzi, the Italian getting through to the final part of qualifying for the second time in a week. Sebastian Vettel was fastest of the drivers knocked out in Q2, he was a tenth faster than his Aston Martin teammate Lance Stroll.
However, Vettel nearly had an accident in the pit lane when he was released into the fast lane ahead of Mercedes and Verstappen. The German ending up very close to banging wheels with Hamilton, he went around an Aston mechanic that had to hold Stroll.
Fernando Alonso was thirteenth, the two-time champion going four hundredths ahead of teammate Esteban Ocon with George Russell fifteenth. All five drivers knocked out in the second part of qualifying failed to improve as the pack backed up through the Parabolica.
Russell once again made it through to Q2 after Yuki Tsunoda had his fastest lap deleted after Q1, when it was found he exceeded track limits going through the final corner. The Williams driver was lucky to get through as he failed to improve on his final lap in the first part of qualifying.
Meanwhile, Russell’s teammate Nicolas Latifi missed out on a place in Q2 by three-thousandths of a second meaning he starts the sprint qualifying sixteenth.
Traffic proved to cause a headache in the closing moments of the first part of qualifying, Yuki Tsunoda, Mick Schumacher, Robert Kubica and Nikita Mazepin all managing to improve on their final lap.
Mazepin had been placed under investigation for impeding Kubica through the First Lesmo on the final runs, but will not be investigated for the near-miss when pulling out ahead of the Ferrari’s at the start of Q1.