Leclerc takes pole at Monza as farcical final runs hamper contenders

by Harry Slade
Charles Leclerc

Charles Leclerc has taken Pole Position for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, ahead of the Mercedes AMG Petronas pairing of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas as gamesmanship in the hunt for a slipstream saw the majority of the top ten drivers miss out on a final run in Q3.

Qualifying three began with gamesmanship from the Silver Arrows who waited at the end of the pitlane to avoid towing their scarlet rivals. In the ensuing chaos Sebastian Vettel locked up and went through the polystyrene bollards through turn one as the whole pack squabbled for track position.

As the runs began, Charles Leclerc went to the head of the order, just ahead of his Belgian Grand Prix adversary – Lewis Hamilton. Vettel managed to salvage third in spite of his compromised out-lap, just ahead of the Renault pairing, as Carlos Sainz Jr. completed the top six.

Kimi Raikkonen then slammed into the barriers into the Parabolica in a crash reminiscent of the one that befell the Finn in the weekend’s opening practice session, ultimately bringing out a red flag.

The red flag left Alex Albon and Lance Stroll limited to one run in the session – compromising their first run. However, Valtteri Bottas himself almost suffered a phantom lap as he was initially left off the time sheets following the red flag, only to be reinstated and move to third fastest, demoting Vettel to fourth.

The intermittent minutes between the session resuming drew similar levels of tension to a Mexican stand-off between the four main Pole pretenders; Hamilton, Vettel, Leclerc and Bottas. When the session eventually resumed Leclerc was warned of a ten second margin as the drivers dawdled over track position.

The seen became so farcical that only Carlos Sainz Jr. crossed the line, however, the Spaniard couldn’t improve his grid position, and stayed seventh. This all left Albon eighth and Stroll ninth to complete the runners, albeit without a lap time.

The final runs in qualifying now remains under investigation due to the chaos. The FIA Formula 3 Qualifying session saw numerous grid penalties dished out for a similar incident in the hunt for a slipstream.

In the second segment Leclerc went fastest of all in the opening runs, with Hamilton and Vettel in hot pursuit – just over a tenth behind after the opening runs. Meanwhile, Ricciardo threatened an upset as the Aussie was fourth, ahead of Bottas and Albon and only 0.280s away from the benchmark.

For the final runs even the out-laps proved to be high-octane, with both Ferrari’s getting far too close to Daniil Kvyat’s Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda through the Roggia chicane. As the final runs began, Albon couldn’t improve, staying sixth. However, the London-born Thai driver did enough to make the final part of qualifying. Meanwhile, Hamilton went fastest of all to dampen the ardent Tifosi prior to the top ten shootout.

Antonio Giovinazzi was arguably Qualifying’s hard-luck story as he missed out on a top-ten birth by two-thousandths of a second to his team-mate Kimi Räikkönen. However, the Italian does hold a position of high magnitude in regards to race strategy as he will be the first of the drivers to start on fresh Pirelli rubber for tomorrow’s race.

Albon’s former team-mate Daniil Kvyat complained of the mess that was his session, ultimately leaving the Russian a disappointing thirteenth. He was just behind Kevin Magnussen in the Haas as the Dane couldn’t find his way into the final segment of Qualifying.

With Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly both making it into the second stage of Qualifying, in spite of their penalties it would be expected that they would both be utilised to tow their respective teammates into the top ten shootout. This left them fourteenth and fifteenth respectively with Norris ahead of Gasly.

Their own performances in regards to the slipstream were mixed as Norris delivered Sainz into the finals segment of qualifying as Gasly ended up tripping over Räikkönen through the Parabolica corner.

In Q1 it was the home-team in Scuderia Ferrari who made the first strategic move as the Maranello outfit chose to initially run on Pirelli’s yellow-striped medium compound tyre. However, while the intention was surely to set a lap that would lift the prancing horse safely into the second part of Qualifying, they would only put in laps provisionally good enough for fourth and tenth respectively for Leclerc and Vettel.

Conversely, their perennial rivals Mercedes AMG Petronas both ran on the softer of Pirelli’s three available compounds for this weekend and duly went second and third, albeit behind surprise pace-setter Hülkenberg in the Renault. However, Ferrari’s first warning shot was dropped as Leclerc proceeded to go fastest of all – still on the harder Medium compound.

A red flag was then brought out by the Racing Point F1 Team car of Sergio Pérez with just over four minutes of the session to go as the RP19 pulled over at the side of the circuit through Curva Grande. With the Mexican in a lowly seventeenth he was confirmed as the first of the drivers ejected from Q1 to severely hamper his weekend.

Ferrari, perhaps intent on saving their blushes in front of their home-crowd sent Vettel out as a precaution on a set of soft tyres to defend against potential track evolution, only to not complete his lap.

Max Verstappen then showed his ire at his Honda engine as a loss of power plagued his Qualifying session, leaving him twentieth and last. However, this wouldn’t effect the grid due to the Dutchman’s prior penalty.

Romain Grosjean was the sole Rich Energy Haas F1 entry to fall at the first hurdle, with the under-fire Frenchman only managing to go sixteenth fastest. With the shadow of Hülkenberg looming large in the mirrors of Grosjean, this wasn’t the result he needed to bolster his chances of being retained by the Kannapolis outfit.

It was then left to the ROKit Williams Racing pairing to once again complete the qualifying one exodus with George Russell continuing his lock out against Polish team-mate Robert Kubica as the Grove-squad were eighteenth and nineteenth respectively.

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