F1 – Italian GP – Qualifying

Ciao, MiniFans! We’re in Monza, our Temple of Speed, a track that has seen a handful of different drivers being victorious in the past five years, including newcomers and underdogs. Adding to this small detail, it was decided that it would be the second circuit to host a trial run of a possible future qualifying format, which will use hards for Q1, mediums for Q2 and softs for Q3.

With a race predicted to be a one-stopper with the firmer compounds, teams weren’t exactly in a hurry to go out to set their times, as they wanted to use their white rimmed tyres as little as possible, to save them for Sunday. The first times to be set saw Verstappen nowhere near the top, as Albon topped the sheets and the Red Bull driver had his lap time deleted due to track limits, a fate suffered by Alonso too, leaving a sight on the timing tower that is not the usual one, as both of them were at the bottom, but they’d soon fix their mistake, jumping to first and third.

The mix of track improvement and hard tyres meant that drivers stayed out, doing a single stint with charging laps in between. Among those usually in the top 10, both AphaTauri had managed to squeeze in, trading spots with the Alpines, who were both deep in the pits and trying to save themselves, but their attempts were unsuccessful despite improving their times. A few drivers aborted their laps when it was clear that they wouldn’t be booted out of the safe zone and the session finished without great changes. However, Ferrari always manages to find a way to mess up what could be a great weekend and they got handed an investigation for both drivers for failing to comply with instructions from race direction involving a maximum time lap designed to avoid traffic and incidents while preparing for a fast lap. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Zhou (P16), Gasly (P17), Ocon (P18), Magnussen (P19) and Stroll (P20).

Q2 was kicked off a bit quicker than Q1, knowing getting a tow would be slightly harder. This time, Verstappen sat on top since the beginning, with Albon once again getting everything out of his Williams and slotting himself between the Red Bulls. But Ferrari hadn’t said their last word and Sainz took hold of first place, lowering his previous time by a whole second, way more than anyone else had done between sessions. After the first attempts, the drivers headed to their garages for fresh sets of tyres and they lined up, ready for their last lap, and a small traffic jam formed, forcing teams to insist their drivers should overtake as many cars as possible.

Eyes settled on Hamilton, at risk for the second race in a row, but the British driver managed to climb up to fifth as Verstappen became a rocket and reclaimed first place from Sainz, who had had a few problems in his lap and ended up aborting it. McLaren managed to scramble into the top ten at the last second despite their lack of top speed, kicking AlphaTauri out. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Tsunoda (P11), Lawson (P12), Hulkenberg (P13), Bottas (P14) and Sargeant (P15).

Drivers left the pitlane in formation for Q3, knowing that getting a tow from a random rival would be harder. Those teams with both cars in the session tried to take advantage of that fact, giving each other tows. Despite Verstappen’s first attempt seeing him kissing the gravel, he managed to land a time only a tenth behind the Ferraris. Meanwhile, Albon was still managing to infiltrate in between the top dogs, scoring a fifth place in front of Pérez.

The dreaded traffic jam as drivers left the pitlane in pursuit of their last attempt never happened this time around, and the fight for pole position went down to the last second, as Leclerc, Verstappen and finally Sainz stole it from one another. The Spaniard achieved his fourth career pole by barely a hundredth of a second to Verstappen and a bit over half a tenth to his teammate, giving the tifosi at the track one reason to celebrate.

Monza’s Q3 is infamous for its traffic jams at the end of it as drivers look for a tow. However, after seeing it happen with the supporting classes, Race Direction sent instructions to avoid it and managed it thanks to the threat of penalties. Ferrari managed to clinch pole position via Sainz and the fear that loomed over the team disappeared as Race Direction confirmed that the investigation they had been notified of had come out with no penalties for them, setting in stone that they would start from first and third in front of their crowd.

MiniDrivers – F1
2023 Italian GP