Neck on neck – Qualifying analysis

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Italy, Autodromo Nazionale di Monzait

Despite to the expectations, Mercedes was very much in contention for the pole position for today’s Italian Grand Prix. After Ferrari’s impressive performance in the qualifying session at Spa, many believed that the Italian could carry their superior one-lap performance over to their home race, but that was not the case.

The Friday practice sessions already indicated that Mercedes would be able to take on the fight to Ferrari on qualifying runs which was then confirmed during the qualifying session. Even if the dying minutes of the all-important Saturday session was interrupted by crazy tactics, the pattern was clear when it came to Ferrari’s and Mercedes’ strengths. Mercedes drivers’ hands were tied in the last sector because of Kimi Räikkönen’s crash at the Parabolica corner. Both drivers were on a better lap than the pole-sitter Charlec Leclerc, but they had to take it easy due to the yellow flags. However, Ferrari drivers’ last laps were also not perfect, that is why the very last hots laps could have brought a change to the final order.

Sector by sector comparison

Charles Leclerc was the fastest in the first sector with a time of 26.469 followed by his teammate Sebastian Vettel with a time of 26.565. The faster Mercedes driver in the first segment of the 5.793km track, Lewis Hamilton was 0.233 seconds down on the Monegasque’ best time while the second Mercedes driver, Valtteri Bottas was 0.326 adrift. The weekend also showed how late Mercedes turns up its power unit. While both drivers was carrying a deficit of just four tenths of a second across the practice session and even in the first qualifying segment, that gap converged when Bottas and Hamilton were permitted to use higher engine modes from the Q2 session.

In the second sector, Mercedes were in a league of its own. Bottas laid down an impressive time of 26.152 with his teammate Hamilton only 0.049 seconds adrift. Carrying significantly lower cornering speeds through the two medium-speed Lesmo bends, Ferrari drivers Vettel and Leclerc recorded times of only 26.330 and 26.412 respectively.

Hamilton also made profit of the W10’s downforce advantage in the last sector of the track. The Briton set a time of 26.264 which was 0.129 seconds faster than Vettel’s time. Bottas completed the last segment of the track in 26.407 while Leclerc needed 26.426 seconds to do that. Even if Ferraris were gaining a little bit between Turn 10 and Turn 11, Mercedes could gain a considerable time both in the Ascari chicane and the Parabolica corner thanks to visibly higher mid-corner speeds. It is worth noting that Bottas could also have found a significant amount of time in the last sector when he was on his fastest qualifying lap, but he had to slightly lift off the throttle because of the yellow flags induced by Kimi Räikkönen’s crash at Parabolica.

No significant straight-line advantage

Interestingly and surprisingly, Ferrari did not enjoy a healthy advantage when it came to straight-line performance as it has done in many rounds so far this season. While many believe that the unique layout of the Monza race track would highlight the SF90’s strengths even more, especially after last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, Ferrari was unable to gain the same amount of time on the straights compared with its arch-rival Mercedes. When asked about it during a post-qualifying session, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen explained that the extremely skinny rear wings used exclusively at Monza means that any straight-line deficit coming from a different aerodynamic concept appears to get smaller. It is the reason why Ferrari could not regain the time lost in the medium-speed corners such as the Parabolica or the Lesmo corners.