Monacan outpaces Mercedes' Hamilton and Bottas in qualifying
Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff said Formula One looked idiotic on Saturday after the final qualifying laps for pole position at the Italian Grand Prix, won by Charles Leclerc, saw only two cars of the final 10 taking part.
Ferrari’s Leclerc secured the prime starting position to the delight of the Italian team’s home fans, but only he and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz clocked final lap times while the rest were timed out by the chequered flag.
The ‘cat-and-mouse’ procession as the teams crawled round the circuit, backing each other up to claim good slipstreaming positions, resulted in a farce that saw eight cars timed out by the chequered flag.
“You have been around for 35 years — have you seen anything like this? That was worse than a junior formula,” Wolff told Sky Sports F1. “The problem was everyone wants a slipstream and nobody wants to go first — and then everyone looks like idiots.”
The race stewards immediately launched an investigation into the non-spectacle that left the paying public without any sporting action.
“It was a mess, just a mess,” said Leclerc, whose pole success gives him the chance of a second straight GP win after his maiden victory in Belgium last week.
Defending five-time champion Lewis Hamilton qualified second courtesy of his initial lap in the controversial Q3 session, which ended farcically as the teams jostled in a slow processional battle for slipstreaming positions.
“Honestly, I have to be grateful we’re on the front row to have a fight with the Ferraris,” said Hamilton. “It’s a bit of an anti-climax, but we just timed out.”
Leclerc’s Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who qualified fourth behind Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes, was irritated by the mix-up.
“I was trying to get through but there was a McLaren and a Renault blocking the road,” he complained. “We didn’t make it to get the second attempt, like many others. I was the one out front alone on the first run — and I shouldn’t have been the one in the second run. There was no point in Charles overtaking me. He should have been ahead the whole way. I just didn’t have a tow, and that’s the difference between pole and no pole today.”
Lance Stroll, who qualified ninth for Racing Point, blamed Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg for the shambles.
“I was towards the front (of the pack) and then Nico was playing games trying to get me out in front. Then other cars started overtaking and it was a mess.”
Valtteri Bottas qualified third in the second Mercedes ahead of Sebastian Vettel in the second Ferrari, the two Renaults of Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg and Sainz, who was seventh.
Red Bull new boy Alex Albon was eighth ahead of Lance Stroll of Racing Point and Kimi Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo, both of whom failed to clock a time in Q3 when Raikkonen crashed. He was uninjured.
Max Verstappen in the leading Red Bull was eliminated from qualifying when he suffered a power failure in Q1. Along with Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and McLaren’s Lando Norris he is set to take penalties and start at the rear of the grid.