Mercedes’ outgoing driver Valtteri Bottas has taken the Pirelli Speed King Award at Monza, going fastest in qualifying at the Italian Grand Prix, and meaning he’ll start P1 for Saturday’s F1 Sprint, having beaten team mate Lewis Hamilton.
Bottas, who announced earlier this week that he’ll head to Alfa Romeo for 2022, set a blistering pace on his final flying run in Friday evening’s qualifying session at Monza, stopping the clocks with a 1:19.555s, 0.096s quicker than Hamilton.
And while Bottas will start Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix from the back of the grid after taking a raft of engine penalties for this weekend, he will nonetheless have a role to play for Mercedes by starting P1 in the F1 Sprint in the hope of taking points away from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Verstappen had looked off the pace of the Mercedes across Friday. And that was confirmed in qualifying, as the Dutch driver took P3 on the grid for Red Bull, 0.411s off Bottas.
McLaren were one of the surprises of qualifying, with Lando Norris ending both Q1 and Q2 in P3 and ahead of Verstappen. But Norris eventually slotted into fourth, just two-hundredths behind the Dutch driver, with team mate Daniel Ricciardo also impressing to take fifth.
Pierre Gasly was sixth for AlphaTauri, ahead of the two Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc – both Ferraris making Q3 this year, as opposed to last year when neither car made the final segment of qualifying. Sergio Perez was a disappointing ninth for Red Bull, ahead of the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi.
Aston Martin were a surprise Q2 exit, having gone well in Friday’s FP1 session, Sebastian Vettel taking P11 to Lance Stroll’s P12, with the Alpines of Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon behind in P13 and P14, ahead of the Williams of George Russell and Nicholas Latifi.
AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, Haas’ Mick Schumacher, the second Alfa of Robert Kubica and the second Haas of Nikita Mazepin rounded out the 20 cars.
With Ferrari having earmarked their home race at Monza as one where they might struggle due to a power unit deficit, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were sent out early onto the track, seeming to play around with the powerful tow at the Temple of Speed – said to be worth up to seven-tenths a lap here.
Traffic in Q1 was always likely to be a problem with 20 cars on track – and so it proved, with a number of edgy moments as drivers encountered cars when they were on fast laps, Pierre Gasly particularly incensed as he called the situation “a f****** joke”.
Once the jostling was done and the laps recorded, Hamilton carried on Mercedes’ form from FP1 – where he’d headed the session from Verstappen by 0.452s – to go fastest, 0.142s up on team mate Bottas, as McLaren’s Lando Norris took an impressive third, just 0.373s behind Hamilton, and over a tenth ahead of Verstappen in P4.
Sainz and Leclerc’s tow antics, meanwhile, netted them fifth and seventh – with Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi doing a good job to split them in P6.
It initially looked as though both Williams had been knocked out in Q1. But Yuki Tsunoda subsequently had his final lap deleted for track limits at Turn 11 – the newly-named Curva Alboreto – promoting newly-signed Mercedes driver Russell into Q2, as Nicholas Latifi, Tsunoda, Mick Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen stand-in Robert Kubica and Nikita Mazepin went out.
Knocked out: Latifi, Tsunoda, Schumacher, Kubica, Mazepin
The big surprise after the opening gambit in Q2 was the pace – or lack of it – of the Red Bulls, with Verstappen P6 after the first runs, 0.774s off Hamilton’s early effort of 1m 19.936s, as Perez took P10, 1.210s off – both Bulls with work to do.
2019 Monza winner Leclerc, meanwhile, having detected an issue on his SF21 in Q1, was complaining vociferously about the engine braking on his car, which appeared to be sapping his trust in his Prancing Horse.
With the drivers heading out for their final efforts in the segment, Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel came within an ace of hitting Hamilton in the pit lane as he was released from his garage.
Once the drivers had got themselves in order, though, Hamilton and Bottas failed to improve from their first runs on used soft tyres, but had still been fast enough to head the session, with Norris once again taking P3 to Verstappen’s P4 (Verstappen at least having closed to within 0.293s of Hamilton on his final run), as Ricciardo took fifth.
Fernando Alonso had headed into the final Q2 runs as the only driver yet to set a lap time, having made a Turn 1 error on his first effort. But neither the Spaniard nor his Alpine team mate Esteban Ocon could haul themselves out of Q3, Alonso and Ocon ending up P13 and P14 respectively.
The Aston Martins had been rapid in FP1, but were also unable to proceed to Q3, Vettel taking P11, one spot ahead of Lance Stroll – who’d gone fourth fastest in the morning session – as Russell took P15.
Ferrari, meanwhile, avenged their double failure to make Q3 from 2020, with Sainz and Leclerc graduating to the final part of qualifying in eighth and ninth, ahead of Perez – Leclerc seemingly managing to drive around his issues.
Gasly and Giovinazzi were the other two drivers to make it through.
Knocked out: Vettel, Stroll, Alonso, Ocon, Russell
The first laps in Q3 saw Verstappen much more at the races, Hamilton once more laying down the gauntlet with a 1m 19.949s, but Verstappen just 0.017s behind in P2, as Norris claimed P3, only 0.065s behind Hamilton.
Bottas, meanwhile, was behind Ricciardo in P5, and half a second off, having got a bit wild coming out of the second chicane and kissing the gravel.
As the drivers circulated Monza for their final laps, though, Bottas was in inspired form, setting purple times in the first two sectors before sweeping over the line in 1m 19.555s to take provisional pole.
He’d even been giving a tow to team mate Hamilton – but although the seven-time Monza polesitter improved to a 1:19.651s, that still left him 0.096s adrift of Bottas, who may have been uttering a few “to whom it may concerns…” in his helmet following news of his departure to Alfa Romeo for 2022, as he went fastest in qualifying for the first time since Portimao.
Verstappen ultimately wouldn’t improve on his second lap, but had done enough in his opening run to claim third on the grid for Saturday’s F1 Sprint – albeit that he was a chunky 0.411s off Bottas – Verstappen ahead of the impressive Norris, who took fourth, while Ricciardo would have been pleased to lap just 0.006s adrift of his team mate as he claimed fifth.
As he did at Zandvoort, Gasly beat both Ferraris to take sixth, with Sainz ahead of Leclerc in seventh and eighth, Perez a lowly ninth in the second Red Bull, while Giovinazzi rounded out the top 10, after his second straight Q3 appearance.
So, the battle looks beautifully poised for the return of the Sprint on Saturday. But starting P3 on the grid, will Verstappen go aggressive to try and disrupt the Mercedes? Or save his firepower for Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix?
With qualifying done, the teams and drivers now have one more practice session left tomorrow morning, before tackling the second ever F1 Sprint – with the winner from that contest taking pole for Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix.