Ferrari makes a strong start
Five days after his maiden win Charles Leclerc started his first race at Monza by topping both FP1 and FP2 for Ferrari. In FP1 which saw limited running in wet conditions, he was three tenths ahead of the McLaren’s, while in the dry part of FP2 he was six-hundredths of a second after outpacing Mercedes Lewis Hamilton.
Spa I think proved that Ferrari has the pace, we know that the car is good in a straight line and Monza is basically four straights broken up by the chicanes. While you have to believe Ferrari has the edge, don’t believe Mercedes is out of this race either.
Ferrari knows it has a deficit in the high-speed corners, where it lacks grip. But at Monza, I believe the only real corners are the chicanes, where the braking points are. Ferrari will know their big advantage is between Turns Eight and One.
I also believe Mercedes and Ferrari cannot be that far apart, we know this is Friday. But can Mercedes recover the ground this time, unlike last week where they struggled to find the pace, allowing Leclerc to go onto taking that pole and win?
Hamilton has been surprised by how small the gap became in FP2, when Monza is about straight-line speed. He said, “[It’s] not a massive amount different to how it was in the last race. Obviously, they [Ferrari] are quite quick in a straight line, we’re quite strong, I think, on race pace, but actually perhaps a little bit closer potentially on single-lap pace.”
“So looks like we may have a fight. It definitely is surprising – but honestly I just didn’t know what to expect this weekend, apart from them being quick on the straight, which they are. But there’s enough corners in which we’re able to gain it back, they’re not really that quick through the corners, so it kind of balances out.”
Bottas echoed Hamilton’s impression of how Mercedes’ pace stacked up to Ferrari in Monza practice. Adding “We knew coming here that they [Ferrari] are going to be strong, but it didn’t look for sure any worse than Spa for us, so for sure we have a good chance this weekend .”
Practice “not real picture”
Charles Leclerc says topping both FP1 and FP2 is not the “real picture” at Monza and thinks his Ferrari team’s day “looks better on paper”. He backed up the speculation ahead of the teams home race that the Italian manufacturer was the team to beat.
However, Leclerc only marginally beat Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton to the quickest time in Friday’s rain-hit second practice session but is not convinced that form is “the real picture of everything” because Mercedes’ fastest FP2 times came when the track conditions were not at their best.
He said, “It’s a good day of course, first and first, but I believe it looks better on paper than it actually is. Mercedes is very, very strong. In FP2 they didn’t have the chance to do the lap time when the conditions were at their best and they did a very strong lap time when it was raining a bit. I expect them to be very strong tomorrow.”
Hamilton says it was “surprised” to be so close to Ferrari in FP2.
In his review of Friday’s running, Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin’s view backed up Leclerc’s theory that Mercedes had more to unleash. He added, “We didn’t want to take risks with the car in the wet so stayed in the garage for most of the first session.”
“In the second session we were late going onto the Softs so missed the best window with the track. Apart from missing some running, the day has been pretty good.”
Red Bull difficulties
Red Bull knew this was one of the more difficult races because the Honda engine struggles with power, they maintain their position as the third-fastest team. Max Verstappen, should be encouraged by the pace of the car to be only a hundredth behind Bottas in FP2.
However, the Dutchman was three tenths off the pace despite the team reckoning he was losing a second on the straights. However, he also lost time on his quickest lap in the first sector then had to abort his second attempt thanks to the rain coming.
Verstappen said, “It was a good day. Of course, the conditions were a bit tricky out there, but the car was working really well and we seem quite competitive on a track that doesn’t normally suit us. Around Monza, the real lap time is hard to see because of the tow but my fastest lap was done on my own and it felt good.”
“We know we won’t battle in qualifying as we will start at the back but looking at the long runs the pace was good and the car felt really nice to drive in all conditions which is always a big bonus.”
Alex Albon, who served his grid penalty last weekend so already has the latest engine available, was two tenths slower in sixth place. I think this is not a good race for Red Bull, but I think in the race Verstappen should be able to get up into the top six.
Albon added, “We are expecting similar conditions on Sunday so that is why everyone was out there trying to do some laps. I found the short runs were more positive than the long runs.”
“I have a good idea about the things I need to change and work on for Sunday’s race. Of course, it’s not easy adjusting to less downforce, the braking feels different, but overall it didn’t feel too bad.”
Norris gets a penalty
Following his retirement on lap fourth three of last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix Lando Norris will switch to Renault’s Spec C power unit and will take a grid penalty and thus start Sunday’s race towards the back of the pack.
Norris has taken a fresh internal combustion engine (ICE), turbocharger, MGU-H, MGU-K and energy store, triggering a string of grid penalties for the Italian Grand Prix.
His teammate Carlos Sainz has a new engine but ran it during practice in Spa, thus allowing him to run at Monza’s Temple of Speed with a fresh new specification.
Norris will be joined at the back by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, who have taken Honda’s Spec 4 power unit for this race, as per their plan.
While both Ferrari’s have new ICE, turbocharger and MGU-H – but they remain within their allocations so they enter the race penalty-free
Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, “I think we had a decent Friday and managed to get a lot of mileage covered. We were able to complete our plan and the car is behaving quite well, I think we can try to optimise the package further for tomorrow and see if we can squeeze a bit more out of it.”
Carlos Sainz Jr, McLaren, “Mixed conditions and lots learned. Positive Friday with encouraging pace even though I didn’t run the Soft tyre. Tomorrow we’ll see where we are but it’s a good baseline to start with.”
Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, “It was okay today, although, our running was a little bit interrupted with the weather.”
Daniel Ricciardo, Renault, “Monza and it’s good to be back here.”
It’s hard I think to see Mercedes making major inroads into Ferrari in qualifying. We know this is a power circuit, so Ferrari will be on it and it could be a question of which driver gets the better tow. Last year, that went a little bit wrong as Sebastian Vettel should have got the pole, but teammate Kimi Raikkonen ended up on pole.
This session isn’t as important for the bigger teams as it is possible for drivers to overtake, this could make for some different strategies throughout the session. Those like Lando Norris who have grid penalties may run a ‘normal’ session because of the effects of the tow, and that’s a question.