Drivers will compete in a 100km race on Saturday to determine the grid for Sunday’s race
By Olivia Kairu
Valtteri Bottas topped Friday track action in Monza as the sprint qualifying format makes a return for the Italian Grand Prix.
The promise of an action-packed weekend on the fastest track of the season started with a far from dull Friday that set the grid for Saturday’s 100km Sprint Qualifying session. Championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen followed in second and third, respectively.
Drivers will compete in a 100km race on Saturday to determine the grid for Sunday’s race.
The Briton led a blisteringly quick FP1 earlier in the morning but lost out to his teammate during his last flying lap in the Q3. Bottas, who is on the way of Mercedes after signing a multi-year deal with Alfa Romeo, claimed P1 with a 1:19.555s lap time, beating Hamilton by 0.096s in a Mercedes 1-2.
Bottas, however, will start Sunday’s race from the back of the grid for adding new power units elements to his engine.
“That qualifying lap was nice. It feels so good when you get a nice lap and I managed to save it till the end and had a bit of a tow as well, finally, so it was good fun, enjoyed it,” said Bottas after the session.
“I feel good, I feel relaxed, and everything is sorted for the future. Obviously, yes, really pleased with the team today; the car has been so good and obviously further on next year there will be new, exciting things for me and I’m looking forward to it. But for now, focus for tomorrow’s sprint race.
“Of course, starting from the front, expecting to get maximum points tomorrow and then do the best job we can on Sunday.”
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Mercedes are especially quick in Monza with the track favouring the W12’s low rake design. The Brackley-based team is also confident in their ability to overtake in the circuit, solidifying their decision to introduce a new MGU-K, ICE, MGU-H, turbocharger and a new exhaust to Bottas’ engine and take the penalty in Italy instead of the following tracks.
“Valtteri (Bottas) did a mega lap. It was looking good for me up until then but he went quicker and I couldn’t match it,” said Hamilton, who also commented on the three points that will be up for grabs in Saturday’s sprint qualifying.
“Championships have been lost by one point. There have been a lot of points lost on both sides, and these sprint races will help so we need to capitalize on that.”
Red Bull, on the other hand, seems to be struggling this weekend.
“For us, around this track, it’s always going to be difficult,” said Verstappen. “I’m still happy to be third here.”
The championship leader endured constant battles with McLaren’s Lando Norris, who held P3 in both Q1 and Q2.
Verstappen relied on a slipstream from teammate Sergio Perez throughout the session. The Mexican ended on an underwhelming P9, asking on team radio for a tow of his own at some point whilst struggling to get further up the grid.
Both McLaren impressed with flying laps that earned frequent jumps within the top 5 slots throughout the qualifying session.
Norris eventually lost out to Verstappen for P3 by just two-hundredths of a second to qualify fourth while teammate Daniel Ricciardo finished the qualifying session with a strong P5, six-thousandths off Norris’ time.
Antonio Giovinazzi’s home race weekend performance earned him a steady position within the top 10 throughout all of the Friday sessions.
The Italian qualified P10, well ahead of Alfa Romeo test driver Robert Kubica. The veteran Polish driver is standing in for Kimi Raikkonen, who tested positive for COVID-19 and also didn’t take part in the Dutch Grand Prix last Sunday.
Pierre Gasly, who handed Italian team AlphaTauri their first win in 2020 by winning the Italian GP, lined up in P6 for the sprint qualifying.
His teammate Yuki Tsunoda lost out in Q1 due to track limits violations at the Parabolica chicane that saw his last attempt cancelled. The Japanese rookie qualified P17, allowing George Russell into Q2 after his lap time was deleted.
Powered by its home fans, Ferrari also saw a difficult start after Charles Leclerc complained of difficulty driving due to a suspected engine brake issue in Q1. Sainz was able to outpace his teammate and qualified seventh, followed by Leclerc, who had the issue fixed by Q3.
Pit lane incidents
Sebastian Vettel nearly rear-ended Hamilton’s Mercedes with an abrupt jolt out of his box and into the pit lane.
The Aston Martin driver also nearly came into contact with an Alpine mechanic whilst joining the scramble onto the track. After a speedy FP1, the Canadian-owned team slipped out of Q2 with Vettel in P11 and Lance Stroll following in P12.
Aston Martin and Alpine were both fined for unsafe releases.
Both Alpine drivers also seemed out of luck falling out of the Q2 running just behind both Aston Martins. Fernando Alonso’s incident at Turn 1, kicking up gravel proved costly to his lap time.
Newly-signed Mercedes driver Russell rounded off the Q2 knockout to qualify fifteenth.
Out in the Q1
Nicholas Latifi headed the Q1 eliminations qualifying P16. The re-signed Williams driver was joined by Kubica, 19th, and the Haas duo of Mick Schumacher, 18th, and Nikita Mazepin, 20th.
Saturday’s sprint qualifying race will start at 10:30 AM E.T., after the weekend’s second free practice session at 6:00. The race is set for Sunday at 9 AM E.T.
Drivers will have their choice of tires for the sprint race and the Grand Prix, after all of them ran on the red-marked soft compound tire during Friday qualifying.
See the full qualifying results below: