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Teams prepared for the qualifying session at the Italian Grand Prix with mixed emotions. For AMG Petronas Mercedes it was business as usual, do the homework, prepare the cars, drivers do their job and a front row start. However, things had not necessarily gone to plan in P3 as Hamilton appeared to struggle with the balance of his car and was fortunate to avoid a massive collision with a slow moving Haas and Williams during his last fast lap of the session. The near miss occurred despite demands from Race Control that all cars must comply to a minimum lap time in order to avoid that very situation from arising. Drivers were summoned to the Stewards at the conclusion of P3 to ensure that the mandates on car speeds were adhered to during qualifying.
Problems reared at Renault when Daniel Ricciardo, who had set the 4th fastest time in P3 slowed near the Less Curves and pulled to the side of the track. The team had installed a new power unit for the weekend and concerns were raised as to the severity of the issue. It was later revealed to be a faulty fuel pump, which was a much simpler exchange than a power unit module.
Red Bull were another down on speed, a fact not helped by a crash for Max Verstappen in P1 due to what was described as a “disconnect in balance,” by team boss Christian Horner. Alex Albon’s attempt at a fast time were thwarted by track limit sensors that saw lap after lap deleted by race officials.
Ferrari returned to their home track knowing that they were consigned to the mid pack at best for the weekend. The one saving grace for the team was the empty spectator areas, with the ‘tifosi’ forced to endure the Italian Grand Prix from the solitude of their own homes. It meant that Ferrari were only left to deal with the media each day and not endure the frustrations from their exceptionally passionate and loyal, yet unforgiving, fans.
Raikkonen, Albon, Grosjean, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Russell and Latifi sat in the relegation zone at the end of the first runs in Q1. Cars returned to the track with a little more than 2 minutes left to run, with a gaggle of cars that included the bottom five running line astern to gather a tow. Vettel’s lap was compromised at the exit of turn 1, while Raikkonen was baulked by Ocon’s weaving Renault near the Curve Grande. Leclerc jumped into 10th at the chequered flag, Albon and Raikkonen made it through to Q2, though Vettel was relegated as was Grosjean, Giovinazzi, Russell and Latifi. Hamilton had topped the session from Bottas and Perez.
“He’s blocking me all the time, this idiot,” Raikkonen radioed to his team. “Yes we can see, we can see,” came the team’s reply.
“I don’t know there was no point to start overtaking each other,” Sebastian Vettel said to Sky Sport when asked if there was a respect issue out on track. “It a minimum time so everyday should be making it. The moment you start overtaking it falls apart and that what it was.”
Q2 began more sedately with Hamilton, Bottas, Perez and Sainz completing the top 4. Cars returned for a second run with 2 minutes left on the clock, with Hamilton leading a train of cars that included both Racing Point entries and a Red Bull car, while Renault had sent Ricciardo and Ocon out in formation. “It’s going to get messy,” warned Mclaren to driver Lando Norris.
Bottas reversed the order to top Q2 from Hamilton, Sainz, Perez, Verstappen, Gasly, Stroll, Norris, Ricciardo and Albon. Kvyat, Ocon, Leclerc, Raikkonen and Magnussen were all eliminated.
“The best I can do,” admitted a rather solemn Leclerc to his team on the cool down lap.
Bottas took the early lead in Q3 courtesy of track position with Hamilton jumping into top spot seconds later in a time of 1:19.068. Perez, Verstappen, Sainz, Norris, Albon, Ricciardo, Gasly and Stroll ended the first runs in that order. Stroll reports possible damage to his Racing Point after running hard over the kerbs during his first flying lap.
Cars headed out for a last gasp run for pole with Verstappen and Albon trailing Hamilton around the circuit on their warm up lap. Bottas lowered his time to a 1:18.956, only to see Hamilton lower the time by 6/100ths of a second. Sainz jumped into 3rd with is final effort, ahead of Perez, Verstappen, Norris, Ricciardo, Stroll, Albon and Gasly.
“It’s not too bad, a fantastic effort from the team today, just in terms of timing when they put us out on track.” Hamilton said to Sky Sport. “It was not the easiest, you can tell how close it is between us all. It demanded a clean lap and I think that I got that on both runs. I’m really happy with the actual laps that I did and Valtteri was very close. Fortunately I made some big changes going into qualifying I knew it was the right thing to do. In the years I have been here there have been times when I have had less grip and less downforce. Today, with the temperature, there was more slip out there Less is pretty awesome, so you are moving around when you get to the low speed sections through 4-5 and it is a bit tricky through there, but the rest of it you just try to gauge how much you can attack, keep the minimum speed up and make sure you get the exit for these long straights. So it’s trying to find the balance really.”
After the issues in P3, Daniel Ricciardo felt somewhat fortunate to have a competitive car ready for qualifying.
“I’m feeling okay with seventh place as it was quite a good recovery through the session,” Ricciardo told Renault Sport Media. “We were a little behind in qualifying and we didn’t really show the speed of yesterday or even this morning. It was good to reach Q3 and to get seventh means we’re in amongst it on the grid and in a position where we can fight for positions. Our car in the race is strong, so I’m confident we can pick it up a bit and have a good one.”
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