- C​redit: McLaren

Saturday talk: Verstappen on engine modes, Sainz's surprise & more

The topic of engine modes was raised again post qualifying for the Italian GP as Mercedes dominated, with McLaren beating Red Bull Racing.

2w ago


In a sport traditionally so acclaimed for its unpredictability, the continued dominance of Lewis Hamilton in Qualifying for this year's F1 Italian GP might have been viewed as uncharacteristic, if not for the fact that the Brit has controlled the 2020 season, particularly on Saturdays.

At Monza, Hamilton broke the track record for the circuit on his way to a 94th pole position, snatching pole from his teammate Valtteri Bottas. The nearest non-Mercedes car in the session was eight tenths off his time, despite an anticipated decrease in speeds for the German outfit, whose party mode, as well as those of rival F1 teams, were banned.

The six-time F1 champion stated his car is the best its ever been at Monza, saying a sweet spot has been found. "We did say last week when they brought in this rule to slow us down that it wasn’t going to make a difference but we have a great, great car and we are better in other areas," said Hamilton. "I think this is definitely the best we’ve ever been here. We’ve really got the car in a sweet spot this weekend. It’s such a hard thing to do and I think people take it for granted because we do it weekend in, weekend out. It was very, very close."

By only the narrowest of margins did Bottas miss out on pole position, as he was seven tenths behind. For his second place, the Finn was somewhat disappointed, as one might expect. "Close gap, and I was expecting it to be close," he said.

"I’ve been feeling pretty fast this weekend, so obviously a bit disappointed to be second instead of first but ultimately it came to the choice of running first or second. I took the first because, from our analysis, there shouldn’t be much of a difference, or maybe even better to be first, so you can really focus on the clean laps, and not to have any messy out-laps but I just experienced once in qualifying a tow, end of Q2 and it didn’t feel too bad and that’s when I had the quickest time so, otherwise just cutting the wind at the front. In the corners I was fast. It’s impossible to say without seeing the data, which one’s better."

Mixing up the formula to some degree, though, Carlos Sainz was the man to qualify third, assuming Max Verstappen's typical starting position after a scintillating lap in Q3. The Spaniard, of McLaren, was thrilled to be starting on the second row, his feelings only accentuated by the missed opportunity that was the F1 Belgian GP weekend.

"Very happy to fight back after obviously a very disappointing Spa, and to fight back with a P3 in qualifying… definitely didn’t expect to be so high up," said Sainz. "We normally expect the Red Bulls or the Renaults at this track to be ahead of us but honestly since the start of Q1 I felt like I had a chance to put it in the top three today and by nailing good laps since the beginning of Q1, saving myself again another two sets for Q3, that gave me the opportunity to really risk it on the last set at the end of Q3 and it paid dividends."

Teammate Lando Norris (6th) added that he made several smaller errors throughout his final Q3 lap, which ultimately cost him in a tight mid-field pack as he couldn't replicate the performance of Sainz.

To the side of Sainz on the grid will be yet another mid-field regular, this one a Racing Point driver in Sergio Perez. The Mexican expressed surprise over his pace in qualifying given the prioritization of race pace within his car set-up. He also stated that he has confidence in his ability to fight for a podium on Sunday - something that the new rule on engine modes might help him to achieve in his Mercedes-powered RP20.

"We’ve worked so hard to improve the car in every session," said Perez. "We’ve focused on getting the car set up for the race, so I’m surprised with how competitive we were in qualifying. It’s always important to qualify well here – because overtaking isn’t easy – and P4 is a great starting position. We’ve taken some steps forward and I’m confident we can fight for a podium finish. There’s been a lot of talk about engine modes, and it probably affected us a little in qualifying, but it should help our race pace," summed up Perez, while Lance Stroll, P8, said that a sloppy session compromised what could have been a good result after immense progress overnight.

Only managing fifth, meanwhile, was Red Bull's Verstappen, the dutchman - by his own admission - lacking the pace to get into the top three, partly by virtue of an uncooperative RB16. "It’s just not a good weekend for us," he said. "Already from the start, just struggling for pace. It seems like on the low downforce our car seems to struggle a lot more with a sensitive rear, just not really gripping up like it should do. I tried everything, very low, medium low, and a little bit more. I end up doing the same lap time all of the time, so it just shows that our car is not good enough at the moment.

"Just around here, we know top speed-wise, we are down on power to Mercedes especially, and that’s a given, but that is not the deficit we have to them at the moment. It’s not that big, the deficit in power. From our side, we just yeah, didn’t have a good balance in the car, but not only that, but we’re also lacking grip," summed up Verstappen, as his teammate Alexander Albon lacked pace to a greater extent, as the Thai driver only managed P9. He did, however, still label it as one of his better qualifying sessions, only appearing worse due to the tightness of the field, and the relative competitiveness of his car.

In terms of engine mode, Verstappen did not thing Honda faltered. "Honestly I don’t think we went backwards," he said. "I think this is also a bit of a track to really see the full benefit or differences, because Monza, everybody is in the tow, some have a better tow than others, so I think we have to wait a bit until we go to a normal track again. Nobody wants a tow and to drive in clear air. Too early to say anything about that.

"But I never expected it to be very different, but of course some other people were shooting some different words. It is what it is. As you can see, it didn’t really shake up anything, but I also didn’t expect that."

Meanwhile, for Ferrari, a worse day would have been hard to conceive, as the Italian F1 team had no one in the Top 10 with Sebastian Vettel abandoning his attempt at getting into Q2 after it was marred by excessive traffic, with several cars all vying for the slipstream.

The German complained of the overtaking in the queue he found himself in, which hampered all those involved, though he did admit that he and his team could have paid more care to not getting stuck in such a scenario. "There’s not much to say about this session." said Vettel. "There were a lot of cars in front of me when I started my second quick lap. In that moment I knew it wouldn’t be possible to improve my time. I don't know why the other drivers started to overtake on the warm up lap. I found myself in the middle of the mess and didn't get a lap. Everybody should stay in the position they are in the line, then everybody opens a gap and it should be fine to set a time."

Meanwhile, teammate Charles Leclerc also didn't manage any better than 13th in the end. "Coming into the weekend we expected it to be like this," he said. "We knew that Spa and here are probably the two worst tracks for us but this is our situation at the moment. It’s tough, because once you do a good lap and you end up P13 it doesn’t feel good. But for now I need to try and extract the maximum out of the car in the situation we are in."

Renault were another team to have a day plagued by mediocrity, with Esteban Ocon in P12, and his teammate Ricciardo, P7. The former narrowly lost out on Q3, and this, he says, is partially because his teammate kicked up gravel during an off moment at the second chicane. "Coming into Q2, obviously the last run was slightly compromised with our track position and how everything went," said the Frenchman. "I  came in front of the pack, which wasn't the plan.

"Obviously Daniel he went off about and put gravel on the track and I was just behind and then obviously I couldn't improve my lap time because I was left alone in the front so yeah not an ideal session, I think. There basically wasn't a clear lap there, and there was a possibility for Q3 that is for sure. So we are a bit disappointed with how it went," Ocon said, while the man responsible for the gravel was, in his own right, less than thrilled about his result, even though he was happy with his Q3 lap.

[​This story was written by me for FormulaRapida, and edited by Darshan Chokhani]

Join In

Comments (2)

  • It’s a farce today, all of Marko and Red Bull’s BS about Party Mode is showing a horrible effect, and Hamilton is still leading. Hell, up the McLarens and Racing Points.

      20 days ago
  • when was f1 unpredictable not atleast since last 4 decades

      20 days ago