The drama of qualifying at Monza today was overshadowed in part by the deluge of grid penalties facing nine of the drivers in the field — all for taking new engine components. With the upcoming two races notoriously difficult for overtaking, teams opted to take new parts, and the penalties that come with them, at this weekend’s race where moving up the pack is considered much easier.
While both Red Bulls and both Haas took new parts, five other teams only chose for one driver on the team to do the same. This meant that five teams began qualifying today with the opportunity to utilize a penalized driver for strategy to assist their teammate.
With a track as fast and as straight as Monza, teams in this situation could have utilized their penalized driver to effectively punch a hole in the air ahead of their teammate and give them what is known as a “tow.”
A tow is a tactic “when a driver is able to catch the car ahead and duck in behind its rear wing to benefit from a reduction in drag over its body and hopefully be able to achieve a superior maximum speed to slingshot past before the next corner,” according to F1.com
The key to executing such a move to its maximum benefit is to ensure both drivers get into the third and final qualifying session, so that a tow can be deployed, effectively sacrificing the lap time of the penalized driver for the benefit of their teammate. In a sport where hundredths of a second matter, a tow can be the difference between securing pole position or not.
Of the five teams with such an opportunity, only Ferrari and Mercedes saw their penalized drivers, Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton, respectively, advance to the final qualifying session. Neither were able to pull off an effective tow for their teammate, but in the end, Ferrari did not need it. They would take down pole on pure pace alone.
In front of Ferrari’s home crowd in Italy and rambunctious fanbase known as the Tifosi, Charles Leclerc dominated the field in the final session. After his teammate Sainz put in the fastest lap time thus far, Leclerc roared back to take provisional pole ahead of Max Verstappen, who was just beginning his final attempt.
But in the end, even with a stellar lap from Verstappen, Leclerc’s time was 0.145 seconds faster. Verstappen finished second, splitting the two Ferraris.
Behind the top three, Sergio Perez of Red Bull finished fourth, followed by the two Mercedes with Hamilton in fifth and George Russell finishing sixth.
However, after factoring in the slew of grid penalties, George Russell moves into second followed by the two Mclarens of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo. Drivers Championship leader Max Verstappen drops down seventh after his five-place penalty.
Nyck de Vries, getting his first qualifying session in Formula 1 ever due to Alex Albon falling ill with appendicitis, moved into eighth place behind Verstappen after all penalties were assessed. De Vries had a strong showing in his first qualifying and if not for violating track limits and having a lap time deleted, would’ve made an appearance in the day’s final session.