After last weekend’s thrilling Grand Prix at Spa, F1 travels across the Alps to Italy for the annual Ferrari madness surrounding the race at Monza. Find out right here who’s looking the strongest at the last European race of the season.
Pirelli carried the same tires to Monza as they did in Spa: mediums, soft and super-softs. All drivers went for one or two sets of mediums – it’s a tire that’s going to see race action for the drivers that want to fully commit to a one pitstop strategy. The soft is the race tire of choice, offering a good compromise of grip and durability, while the super-softs seems to be a pure sprint and qualifying tire.
With that in mind, Mercedes had a solid start into the weekend, just as they usually do. Rosberg was two tenths quicker than Hamilton, and the Mercedes drivers each did over 35 laps. Ferrari was already one second off pace, with Vettel in a rather cranky mood: complaint after complaint could be heard on the team radio, either because of traffic or track position or handling. At least the engine upgrade is looking like a slight improvement and could help the Scuderia in the fight for a podium.
As Monza is essentially a bunch of long straights linked by chicanes, Red Bull was at disadvantage. There just aren’t enough fast, flowing corners in which the team can compensate for the Renault’s lack of power. In FP1, both Verstappen and Ricciardo just barely made it into the top 10. Perez, Grosjean and Bottas went quicker, but long run pace should favor the Red Bulls. Apart from that, the session was rather ordinary: a few laps of cars with the Halo device mounted was the most exciting part, and nearly all drivers missed the apex of a corner once or twice.
The result of FP2 is a more representative power ranking ahead of Qualifying and the race. Mercedes was dominant, more so than in Spa. Some reporters went as far as claiming that Mercedes was in a galaxy of their own when it comes to pace. The proof? Hamilton exercised a near perfect stint on the Soft Tire. Even after 19 laps and with a heavy car, he was the only driver to set a lap under 1:27.
Behind Nico and Lewis, the race is going to be a fight between three teams: Williams can make use of low drag and Mercedes power to catch up to Ferrari and Red Bull. Depending on tire wear, Force India could be up there as well.
A sleepy back marker knock-out opening qualifying round was highlighted by Kevin Magnussen turning his car in to a reverse dust-buster at the exit of Ascari near the end of the first session.
The French factory driver got caught going too deep and too fast near the entry of the final sector in a noble attempt to rustle some pace from his out-powered Renault.
The RE-16 drifted wide and into the silt laden run-off. After a brief butt-pucker that likely triggered an unnecessary flashback to Spa last weekend, all four tires crossed over the white line as the car kicked up a dust cloud that was only amplified and by the rear diffuser. The floor’s dark carbon silhouette ejected a debris cloud that looked like your Grandma’s vacuum turned on in reverse
The slip-up would see Magnussen drop down and out in Q3 along with Felipe Nasr, Marcus Ericson, Jolyon Palmer, and Manor’s Esteban Ocon. Ocon yellow flagged the opening lap of Q1 reportedly experiencing some wraith of an electrical problem out of his German and British intertwined control systems. Weird.
With the engines up front finally turning up , fresh softs went on for the heavy hitters. Only Red Bull gambled on the yellow-striped option tires and ended up losing out in Q2. The track dropped 2 degrees between the first and second sessions after cloud cover basked the Italian asphalt in shade and so the softer compound didn’t see enough run time to get tacky during Monza’s brief qualifying stints.
Hamilton set provisional pole for Mercedes on the opening lap of Q2 with a 1:21:854. Rosberg was off that pole pace by +.311 seconds sitting in second after a lap in which he hadn’t flat spotted any of his tires. Hamilton had.
The way qualifying is currently set up the tires on which you set the fastest lap in Q2 are the tires with which you must start the race. The car on pole was currently looking at starting the race with a rumble strip on its right front tire. What’s worse is that as a result and during the opening laps of the race - any time that Hamilton gets close to the limit under breaking the asphalt is going to find that scuff, pick up on that spot like scab, and dig in.
The only hope the championship leader had to get a pass on his mistake was by beating his provisional pole time from the opening lap. Lewis immediately requested another shot at setting up his pole time and race-opening tires.
Sebastian Vettel nettled an assortment of rocks with a good portion of his left rear tire on the hot lap, but still managed P3. Bottas ended up looking like a shoe-in toward splitting Ferrari’s hopes of a 2nd row lock-out in Q2 in the Williams. Ricciardo switched back to softs to land P6 ahead of Esteban Gutierrez in a Haas seeing single position digits before anyone’s crashed out of anything for the first time ever.
Mercedes tripped the white line at the pit lane exit for the last time with 2:40 to go in the Q3. Hamilton had tried to set a better lap in Q2, but only got within a few tenths of beating his early tire-eating time. With his current set of race tires up for argument over safety prospects, getting within a few tenths looked like a strong investment towards getting the pass that Lewis was looking for.
The big surprise is the Haas that showed up in Q3 for the first time. Felipe Massa starts his last Italian Grand Prix in the hot seat as the first guy with free tire choice ahead of Grosjean - who eventually accepted a grid penalty over a gearbox swap.
In the final moments, Nico Rosberg curiously missed out and somehow started what should have been his last quick lap after Q3 was already over. As Rosberg jogged back to the pits suddenly on idle, Raikkoenen was able to overtake Bottas as Hamiltion nullified Rosberg’s earlier gains, and then some - setting up the top five for Sunday.
[Qualifying addition by Jesse Shaffer]
|5||77||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Mercedes||1:23.264||1:22.499||1:22.388||12|
|6||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer||1:23.158||1:22.638||1:22.389||17|
|7||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer||1:23.229||1:22.857||1:22.411||15|
|8||11||Sergio Perez||Force India Mercedes||1:23.439||1:22.922||1:22.814||15|
|9||27||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India Mercedes||1:23.259||1:22.951||1:22.836||18|
|10||21||Esteban Gutierrez||Haas Ferrari||1:23.386||1:22.856||1:23.184||21|
|11||19||Felipe Massa||Williams Mercedes||1:23.489||1:22.967||10|
|12||8||Romain Grosjean||Haas Ferrari||1:23.421||1:23.092||14|
|13||14||Fernando Alonso||McLaren Honda||1:23.783||1:23.273||13|
|14||94||Pascal Wehrlein||MRT Mercedes||1:23.760||1:23.315||14|
|15||22||Jenson Button||McLaren Honda||1:23.666||1:23.399||13|
|16||55||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso Ferrari||1:23.661||1:23.496||12|
|17||26||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso Ferrari||1:23.825||9|
|18||12||Felipe Nasr||Sauber Ferrari||1:23.956||8|
|19||9||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber Ferrari||1:24.087||7|
|NC||31||Esteban Ocon||MRT Mercedes||DNF||2|