Leclerc takes controversial Monza pole


Putting aside what the weather gods might have in store for us tomorrow, this morning's free practice session set us up nicely for what should be a thrilling qualifying session.

The top fourteen drivers were covered by less than a second, while Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas, Charles Leclerc, Daniel Ricciardo and Lewis Hamilton were covered by just 0.301s.

With the Dutch driver feted to go to the back of the grid having taken on a new engine - as do Gasly and Norris - one would normally expect him to play little part in this afternoon's proceedings.

However, this being Monza, Verstappen, like Gasly and Norris, will surely be called up on to assist their teammates.

For as long as anyone can remember, Monza has meant slipstreaming, and as we know from experience, a decent tow can mean the difference between tenth and pole - just think about that 0.5s gap covering the first seven this morning.

Of course, while slipstreaming has its benefits, it can also go horribly wrong, and as we witnessed in Belgium last weekend in their desperation to get a tow drivers can cause all manner of problems for one another.

With this in mind, a number of drivers having tripped up over one another last week, the FIA has imposed a minimum speed that must be observed by all drivers.

This is in addition to the draconian rules regarding the Parabolica which will see drivers lose the times for two laps should they exceed the track limits. A number of drivers fell foul of this rules in practice this morning, including both Haas drivers.

This morning, Vettel set the pace, and with his teammate having topped the timesheets in both of yesterday's sessions this gives Ferrari a clean sweep at its home track.

However, the advantage is not as great as anticipated, and while Verstappen and Bottas were breathing down the German's neck, but for a minor mistake Hamilton would have been up there also.

Yesterday's mixed weather conditions made it difficult to get a grip on the state of play, while this morning appeared to pose more questions than it answered.

The Renaults were both 'up there', as were Giovinazzi, Kvyat, Sainz and Perez, who each appeared to benefit from tows from their teammates. Whether these drivers will continue to benefit this afternoon, or whether it is their turn to return the favour, remains to be seen.

At the best of times success for Ferrari at Monza is good for the sport, and following on from last week's result at Spa the media is hoping to see Leclerc score back-to-back wins.

However, how much would Vettel love to re-establish himself, and what better venue.

Ahead of Q1, the air temperature is 22.1 degrees C, while the track temperature is 34.6 degrees. It remains bright and sunny.

The lights go green, and after a few moments Kubica heads down the pitlane to get proceedings underway. He is followed by Perez, Gasly, Norris and Stroll.

Kubica posts 23.966, but this is soon eclipsed by Gasly, Norris, Stroll, Kvyat and last year's pole-man Raikkonen (21.025).

As the Ferraris head out on mediums, Giovinazzi goes quickest with a 20.657.

"Seb is going very, very quick," complains Leclerc, unable to benefit from the tow.

As Vettel carries on his merry way, Leclerc instead gets a tow from Kubica.

Vettel posts a disappointing 20.877, while Leclerc posts 20.417 to go top, but is almost instantly demoted by Ricciardo and then Hulkenberg (20.155).

The Mercedes pair head out, both on the softs, as Albon goes third with a 20.382.

Neither Mercedes driver can beat Hulkenberg's time, despite the Finn being quickest in the two final sectors. Indeed, Bottas, who is towing Hamilton, is quicker than the Briton.

Vettel improves to sixth with a 20.378, while Leclerc goes top with a 20.126.

With six minutes remaining Verstappen has yet to appear.

A PB in S1 for Vettel, as Bottas also looks set to improve. However, a poor final sector sees Bottas fail to improve while Vettel has to abort his lap due to a red flag.

Perez, who crashed out of FP1, has stopped in the Curva Grande with what appears to be a loss of power.

Under the red flag, with 4:34 remaining, Verstappen has yet to post a time, while Grosjean, Perez and the Williams pair comprise the drop zone, with Magnussen, Stroll and Gasly hovering.

The session resumes, Fernando Alonso watching from the McLaren garage.

One by one the drivers head out, including, surprisingly, Vettel, who is now sporting softs.

"I have no power," complains Verstappen.

Raikkonen improves his time but remains eighth, while Gasly then demotes him having gone quickest of all in S2.

Stroll improves to 12th, while Grosjean is demote into the drop zone when Giovinazzi improves to 14th.

Quickest is Leclerc, ahead of Hulkenberg, Bottas, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Vettel, Albon, Sainz, Gasly and Magnussen.

We lose Grosjean, Perez, Russell, Kubica and Verstappen.

Kvyat leads the way as Q2 gets underway, with the Mercedes and Ferrari duos also eager to get back to work.

Albon is 'Billy No Mates', driving around with nobody to give him a tow.

Kvyat posts 21.016 but this is soon beaten by Magnussen who posts 20.615.

A 19.706 sees Hamilton go top, with Vettel 0.009s slower. Leclerc goes top with a 19.553, as Raikkonen runs wide and into the gravel at the first of the Lesmos.

Ricciardo goes fourth, ahead of Bottas, Albon and Hulkenberg, as Renault continues to impress.

Yet to post a time, Raikkonen heads back to the pits, as does Gasly who also has yet to put a score on the timesheets.

"I think we need some tow, guys," says Kvyat, who is currently tenth and looking vulnerable.

With 2:15 remaining there is a burst of activity, with Albon leading the way. Behind him is Kvyat and the Ferraris. Leclerc isn't happy, and passes the Russian in the Curva Grande.

All 15 drivers are on track... in one long train.

Vettel goes quickest in S1, as Leclerc, Hamilton, Bottas and Hulkenberg posts PBs.

Albon remains sixth, as Hamilton goes quickest in S2 and then S3, going top with a 19.464.

Following a mistake, Leclerc fails to improve while Vettel aborts his lap and heads into the pits.

Hamilton is quickest, ahead of Leclerc, Vettel, Ricciardo, Bottas, Albon, Sainz, Hulkenberg, Stroll and Raikkonen.

We lose Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Kvyat, Norris and Gasly.

And then there were ten...

Check out our Saturday gallery from Monza, here.

Q3 is given the green light, but it is almost two minutes before a car appears, it is the Mercedes of Hamilton, followed by Bottas, Vettel and Leclerc.

The Mercedes pair stop at the end of the pitlane, forcing the Ferraris to continue as pack leaders.

However, in Curva Grande, Leclerc slows and allows a number of drivers through. While Vettel, who made a 'mistake' at the first chicane, is still leading the pack... which is probably not what he intended.

Vettel goes quickest in S2, but Leclerc goes quicker, the Monegasque getting a two from the Renault pair.

Hamilton goes quickest in S2 but Bottas goes quicker.

At the line Vettel goes quickest, by Hamilton (19.346) and then Leclerc (19.307) go quicker.

The session is red-flagged when Raikkonen goes off for the second time this weekend, this time at the Parabolica.

"Red flag, stay positive," Leclerc is told.

Under the red flag, with 6:35 remaining, Leclerc is quickest, ahead of Hamilton, Vettel, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg and Sainz, while Bottas, Albon, Raikkonen and Stroll have yet to post times.

That said, a time for Bottas suddenly appears on the timing screen, a 19.354, which puts him third ahead of Vettel.

As the barriers are repaired and the gravel cleared following Raikkonen's off, race control confirms that the session will resume at 16:07.

The lights go green but there is no rush to get back to work.

The clock counts down... and with 1:58 remaining Hulkenberg break the deadlock, and within moments he is joined by nine other drivers.

Like Vettel before, Hulkenberg misses the first chicane, leaving Vettel leading the pack.

Sainz passes Vettel on the run to the second chicane, but the big question is, will there be time for another flying lap.

Unbelievably, most of the pack fail to make it to the line in time, leaving Sainz as the only driver who can still improve.

However, barring a miracle lap, Leclerc is already celebrating pole.

Sainz fails to improve and remains seventh.

"What a mess," says Leclerc, echoing the thoughts of millions of F1 fans around the globe. "Anyway, pole," he adds.

So, what should have been a thriller is instead a shambolic mess. Indeed, the stewards announce that they are to investigate what just happened.

Leclerc starts from pole, unless the stewards decided otherwise, ahead of Hamilton, Bottas, Vettel, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Sainz, Albon, Stroll and Raikkonen.

Giovinazzi will start eleventh, ahead of Magnussen, Kvyat, Norris, Gasly, Grosjean, Perez, Russell, Kubica and Verstappen.

Not the best advert for the sport, but it comes as no surprise, for the teams have done nothing 'illegal', rather pushed the rules to the absolute limit.

Nonetheless, the many of millions of fans who were expecting a thrilling shoot-out have been short changed.

Let's hope tomorrow can make up for it.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Monza, here.

Article from Pitpass (

Published: 07/09/2019
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