Contributor: James Parker, TheJudge13 on track correspondent
With track temperatures peaking at around 43°C, we were greeted with lovely sunshine above the historic Monza Autodrome for Saturday’s qualifying session for tomorrows Italian Grand Prix. After dominating most of Friday’s practice running, Sebastian Vettel was looking incredibly ominous in the pursuit of his 40th career pole, and it is exactly what he produced on a Saturday afternoon where you could not look past Red Bull on the front row. Second was Vettel’s team-mate Webber whilst the major shock came from Nico Hulkenberg who managed to drag his Sauber to 3rd on his final timed run in Q3.
Guttierez and Rosberg were the first men to venture out onto the circuit. After missing out on much of Practice 3 due to a hydraulics problem, Rosberg looked to do a long 8 lap first run in Q1 with 4 timed laps.
The Ferrari’s who were enjoying a much stronger weekend In front of their beloved Tifosi, were quick to get banker laps on the board with the harder compound tyre attached – Alonso setting the pace during early doors with a 1.24.9. However he was soon displaced by Jean Eric Vergne with the Frenchman setting a laptime of 1.24.6, the Torro Rosso car has always had a very strong low downforce package and it was being put to good use by both Vergne and Ricciardo.
It was not until 12 minutes had passed until we got to see 3 time world champion Vettel stroll out on to the circuit for his first run, feeling hugely confident with the step forward Red Bull had made on their low downforce set-up. Whilst the first run was quite steady, on his second timed lap he was quick to jump up to P1 with a 1.24.2, whilst both Force India’s were still struggling near the drop zone – tyre temperature problems once again plaguing both Sutil and Di Resta.
Another miserable weekend looked set for Williams with both drivers in the bottom two with only 1 minute to go. Whilst Maldonado pulled out a solid lap to go 12th at the death, Bottas could not improve and dropped out of Q1 in 18th place behind Guttierez. Van Der Garde continued his strong recent form topping the Caterham/Marussia battle – the Caterham certainly looking to have the edge in pace as the season enters the final stages.
For Q2, both Torro Rosso cars were out early to try and set early bankers. Vergne once again looked to have the edge over Ricciardo as he looked to showcase his improved qualifying speed after his team-mate was announced as a Red Bull driver for 2014 this week.
The session was very flat to begin with, and it was only with 7 minutes left to go that things started to get interesting – Alonso once again going top of the time sheets with a 1.24.2. A man who was not having a good session however was Lewis Hamilton. The drama started when he had a small clumsy off at Parabolica on his warm up lap during his first run. He appeared to have been distracted by something in the cockpit and lost concentration for a second or two.
Once again, the two Red Bull’s left it incredibly late for their first timed runs of the session, waiting for the track to clear in terms of traffic and allow themselves some clean air. Whilst Webber could only manage 3rd behind Alonso, Vettel was the first man to break into the 1.23’s, posting a time of 1.23.9 to go fastest.
With only 1 minute left things were getting tough for Hamilton as he failed to find some clean air for a fast lap and was sitting 10th. As he prepared for his final attempt of Q2, a slow moving Adrian Sutil was preparing himself for a timed lap at the Parabolica, Hamilton came up fast and was compromised going into the final corner – ruining his lap. It was something that caught the stewards attention and Sutil was to be investigated after the session in regards to blocking.
This mishap meant Hamilton dropped out of Q2 for the first time in 66 races, and surely put the final nail into the coffin regarding his championship hopes. He was not the only championship contender to fall by the wayside however, as the Lotus of Raikkonen could only manage 11th lacking pace all day. 13th was the other Lotus of Grosjean summing up what was a torrid afternoon for the Lotus team, whilst Sutil, Maldonado and Di Resta could only manage 14th, 15th and 16th respectively.
Q3 was a very frantic affair, and from the outset it looked as if Ferrari were set to try the famous “drafting” trick they attempted last season in the pursuit of giving Alonso a front row start and the best possible chance of victory.
Only 5 drivers were set to do 2 runs on the medium compound tyres, and Vettel once again led the timesheets ahead of Webber and Alonso with a time of 1.23.8 – 4 minutes remained.
On the second runs, Ferrari once again set Massa off in front of Alonso in an attempt to gain the slip stream advantage. However as both drivers continued on their second timed laps Massa looked to make no attempt in slowing up to help Alonso. Calls from Alonso over the radio came through “Felipe is too far ahead” as the Spaniard looked to be losing his cool. As both drivers crossed the line it became apparent that the experiment failed or simply Massa did not want to play the game – to add insult to injury Massa posted the 4th quickest time ahead of Alonso in 5th.
Up front however away from all the controversy, Vettel cruised to his 40th career pole position with a lap time of 1.23.7 ahead of his team-mate Webber to secure a Red Bull Racing front row lock out.
The big surprise came from the Sauber of Nico Hulkenberg. Opting for 1 run late on, the German popped up into a magnificent 3rd place ahead of both Ferrari cars, just when he needed a strong performance after a frustrating season so far. 6th was the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, whilst Ricciardo captured 7th. Perez out-qualified Button as both McLaren’s finished 8th and 9th with a very underwhelming final session, whilst Vergne topped off a strong Torro Rosso qualifying session with 10th place.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery said: “Monza once more provided a thrilling qualifying session, which showcased the pure speed of the drivers and cars on top of the championship, as well as our tyres. Tomorrow we’re expecting to see most of the teams adopting a one-stop strategy, with the uncertainty being whether they will choose to start on the medium or hard compounds.
Even though we’re expecting slightly cooler weather for the race there will still be huge demands on the tyres, but so far blistering has not been an issue. With a performance gap of around half a second between the two compounds, there is plenty of scope for the teams to adjust their strategy in order to try and gain track position, although Monza also provides plenty of opportunities for on-track overtaking.
In particular, it will be interesting to see which drivers choose to start on the harder compound in order to run a longer first stint. Last year’s race showed just what a difference the right tyre strategy can make, with Sergio Perez in the Sauber finishing second after having started from 13th on the grid.”
The Pirelli mystery strategy predictor
In theory, a one-stop strategy is the fastest for the 53 laps of Monza, but a fast car could make use of a two-stop sprint strategy – so teams are likely to build in some degree of flexibility to their strategy plans.
The fastest one-stop strategy goes as follows: start on the medium, change to the hard on lap 25 and then run to the end. Equally as fast could be to start on the hard tyre, with a change to the medium on lap 28 and then run to the end.
An alternative two-stop strategy is: start on the medium, change to the medium again on lap 22 and then run a final set of hard tyres from lap 41.
|16||di Resta||Force India|
|19||van der Garde||Caterham|