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Formula One returned to the racetrack for the third weekend in a row with the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. The long straights and sweeping corners ideal for slipstreaming, overtaking and mayhem. With just one practice session before qualifying it was the perfect script for the theatrics of F1 and did not disappoint. From long, spaghetti inspired lines of slow moving cars, to the insane release of cars from the garages there was action aplenty.

It didn’t take long for the Monza freight train to raise the ire of drivers trying to complete fast laps. Both Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly radioed back to their teams with expletive laden outbursts after narrowly avoiding a line of slow moving cars all trying to gain an advantage from a slipstream, once the cars ahead actually started to move.

Lewis Hamilton and Bottas were comfortably ahead of the rest as Q1 drew to a close, the pair enjoyed almost a half a second advantage over Verstappen. Lando Norris sat in the relegation zone until his final flying lap which saw the McLaren driver jump Verstappen for 3rd. Daniel Ricciardo had sat well inside the top 10 as did Antonio Giovinazzi, the Italian determined to impress the Alfa Romeo hierarchy at their spiritual home.

George Russell received a late reprieve after finishing the session in 16th place, when Yuki Tsunoda had his lap time deleted for a track limit violation. That penalty elevated Russell to Q2 and eliminated the Alpha Tauri driver, as well as Nicholas Latifi, Mick Schumacher, Robert Kubica and Nikita Mazepin.

Q2 hadn’t even seen the cars exit the pit lane before further controversy broke out. Not content to queue on the racetrack, cars were dispatched from garages directly into the path of those already moving down the lane and one into the direction of a rival pit crew. Those actions resulted in fines to the Aston Martin Cognizant and Alpine race teams.

“Unbelievable what they are doing here, Max Verstappen radioed to his engineer as he accelerated past Hamilton, Vettel and one of the Ferraris at the pit exit.

Hamilton and Bottas continued to lead the way throughout Q2 and retained their positions at the head of the field, while McLaren continued to impress with Norris snaring the 3rd fastest time in the final moments of the session. Verstappen separated the two McLarens in 4th place and Giovinazzi stole the kudos by slotting his Alfa Romeo into 7th, ahead of both Ferraris. Sainz was 8th and Leclerc, who complained of an unspecified engine issue, in 9th. Sergio Perez scraped home in 10th, which saw Vettel, Stroll, Alonso, Ocon and Russell exit the final stage of qualifying.

Lewis Hamilton set the early benchmark for Q3 with a 1:19.949 and Verstappen, who followed the #44, responded with the 2nd fastest time a mere 17 thousandths of a second in arrears. Norris used a tow from Ricciardo for 3rd and 4th respectively followed by Bottas, Gasly, Leclerc, Sainz, Perez and Giovinazzi, who had not yet set a time.

As the clock counted down to the final minute of Q3 drivers were out on track for one last crack at a fast time. Valtteri Bottas was the big improver with purple sector times and the fastest lap of the session with a 1:19.555. Daniel Ricciardo, who had briefly held P2, found himself less than a blink of an eye from Verstappen in 3rd and 6/1000ths behind teammate Norris in 4th. Gasly was 6th from Sainz, Leclerc, Perez and Giovinazzi.

Mercedes stunned the paddock with the announcement of a strategic decision to replace a number of power unit components on Valtteri Bottas’ car, which will see the Finn relegated to the rear of the field for the Grand Prix, though he maintains his position for the Saturday sprint race. Given the speed advantage of the low rake Mercedes on the low downforce circuit, it may not be the ‘kiss of death’ so often considered by such a change.

“Pole position feels great and I really had fun and enjoyed it out there, Valtteri Bottas said to Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Media. “The car has felt good all day, with our performance little stronger than we perhaps expected, especially when you look at the gap to Red Bull. Hopefully it will be similar on the race pace for us.

I know I’ll be starting from the back on Sunday with the PU change but the focus is on tomorrow and trying to extract as many points as possible. We know Sunday will be a fight, but our pace is good and I’m sure we can finish strong then too. But our eyes are set on tomorrow and hopefully we have another good day.

Fifth place on the grid for the Sprint race and a minuscule margin to Verstappen and Norris should have had Daniel Ricciardo over the moon, though their was a sting of frustration with the final result for the Australian.

“From a general standpoint, I’m happy. We were fast and were fighting for top three on the grid, so I’m happy we had the potential to do that. But I’m so frustrated that we got that close but not quite close enough,Daniel Ricciardo explained to McLaren Media. It was more of a tease than anything, but it’s all good. “I think the team performance was great. We didn’t put ourselves in a difficult situation with any of the out-laps and I was in the right places in terms of track position, we had good tows. My only frustration is that it’s so close and, unfortunately, I was on the wrong side of the milliseconds. It is what it is and I’m now looking forward to the racing.

Like the classic Italian cuisine, the qualifying results from Monza promises the same mouth watering expectations for the Sprint race and Sunday’s Grand Prix.

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