Valtteri Bottas will start Formula 1’s sprint qualifying race at Monza from first position ahead of his teammate Lewis Hamilton, as Mercedes dominated Friday evening qualifying at the Italian Grand Prix.
Hamilton’s championship rival Max Verstappen qualified third for the sprint race, which will set Sunday’s main race grid, but finished 0.411 seconds adrift of Bottas, who was running a newly fitted fresh power unit for the Q1-Q2-Q3 session.
After the first runs in Q3, it was Hamilton who led the way with a one minute, 19.949 seconds, where Verstappen trailed in second just 0.17 seconds adrift.
But although Hamilton followed Bottas around for the final flying lap – the Mercedes cars had not given each other tow in the earlier segments – Valtteri gained ground throughout.
Bottas posted purple sectors in opening two thirds of the Monza lap and roared around to post a time with one minute, 19.555 seconds, as Hamilton improved on his own personal best, but wound up 0.096 seconds adrift.
After taking a fourth engine of 2021, Bottas will serve a grid penalty for Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix, with the sanction only applying once Saturday’s sprint qualifying race has finished.
Verstappen had been significantly adrift of the Mercedes pair earlier in qualifying, but his pace on the first Q3 lap raised hopes of a Red Bull challenge.
But despite running close behind teammate Sergio Perez, who qualified down in ninth, Verstappen could not set a personal best on his final effort in any sector.
Lando Norris was just 0.065 seconds behind Hamilton after the first Q3 runs and although he found time on the second efforts – both times Norris followed teammate Daniel Ricciardo – Lando finished 0.434 seconds behind Valtteri’s best.
Ricciardo took fifth, along with the fastest time in the final sector, while Pierre Gasly was sixth for AlphaTauri.
Carlos Sainz made a late improvement to jump ahead of Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc in Q3, with Leclerc grappling with an intermittent engine braking problem throughout Q1 and Q2.
Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi made it through to Q3 for the second successive race, this time on home soil, with the Italian driver rounding out the top ten.
Q2, topped by Hamilton, ended with a flurry of fast times, which followed a pitlane scramble to get back onto the track ahead of the final runs.
The Aston Martin cars appeared be released into the path of the Mercedes drivers and Verstappen, with Sebastian Vettel ending up very close to Hamilton’s right-side wheels as he went around an Aston mechanic that had to hold Lance Stroll before a path was cleared.
Ocon also appeared from the Alpine garage as the pack ran down the pitlane, with Leclerc also getting out ahead and the entire incident set to be investigated after qualifying.
All five drivers that were knocked out in Q2 set personal best times on their final fliers, with the pack backing off ahead of the Parabolica but all the drivers getting through in time to complete a final lap.
Vettel was vocally frustrated to be knocked out in P11 ahead of Stroll, with the Astons followed by Alpine duo Fernando Alonso and Ocon.
George Russell qualified P15 for Williams, after only making it through to Q2 after Yuki Tsunoda lost his Q1 personal best for running too wide out of the final corner on his last lap.
Traffic was a major issue in Q1, with Verstappen and Gasly particularly aggrieved to come across cars at the della Roggia chicane and the Ascari chicane in separate incidents midway through the opening segment, the former arriving with the Alpine cars and Stroll going slowly in front of him, while the latter had to back out of a lap after coming across Leclerc going slowly through Ascari’s first apex.
A massive pack of cars toured slowly down the back straight in the final seconds before the chequered flag came out, but all were able to get in one final effort.
Improvements from Alonso, Ocon and Tsunoda shuffled the Williams drivers down the order and both seemingly out.
Russell nearly paid the price for not setting a personal best on his final Q1 flier, something Latifi also did not do as he ended up behind Tsunoda before the AlphaTauri lost its final time, while Mick Schumacher, Robert Kubica and Nikita Mazepin saved their best for last.
But personal bests right at the end of Q1 could not get them any higher up the order than P18, P19 and P20, with Tsunoda’s second fastest time good enough for P17.
Mazepin faces a post-qualifying investigation for appearing to impede Kubica at the first Lesmo ahead of the final runs, but will not face an investigation for an incident where he was called out of his garage only narrowly in front of Leclerc and Sainz during Q1’s early stages.
So congratulations Valtteri Bottas with this P1. This is not pole position for the Italian Grand Prix due to the format change. This is a top slot for the sprint, qualifying race on Saturday. Winning this quick race will be the official pole position at Monza.
Italian Grand Prix, qualifying positions:
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:19.555
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:19.651
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:19.966
4 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1:19.989
5 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:19.995
6 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:20.260
7 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:20.462
8 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:20.510
9 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:20.611
10 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:20.808
11 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:20.913
12 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:21.020
13 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1:21.069
14 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1:21.103
15 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:21.392
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:21.925
17 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1:21.973
18 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1:22.248
19 Robert Kubica Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:22.530
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1:22.716