Feature F1 Unlocked
PRACTICE DEBRIEF: Will Ferrari’s Friday pace at Monza translate to Italian GP podium glory?
Formula 1 teams tweaked their traditional approach to Friday practice at Monza to prepare for the second running of the Alternate Tyre Allocation (ATA), which will see drivers required to run hard tyres in the first part of qualifying, mediums in Q2 and softs in Q3.
It meant teams had to test all three compounds on lower fuel loads to ensure they are competitive in qualifying – and as a result, it’s even more tricky than normal to gauge who are looking good and who are struggling head into the Italian Grand Prix weekend. That said, we’ve still given it a go…
Red Bull still favourites despite not topping times
Red Bull have made a habit of setting their stall out early in the weekend this season. But third was the best they could muster on the timesheets in FP2, 0.185s off the pace on the soft tyre, with the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz and McLaren’s Lando Norris ahead.
Part of that is down to the team’s decision to run a few different rear wing levels over the course of the day to see how much high downforce they could get away with (for gains in the chicanes) without leaving themselves too exposed on Monza’s long straights.
As you’d expect, championship leader Max Verstappen was confident the team would find the right direction overnight and be in fine shape for the remainder of the weekend. It’s hard to doubt his confidence based on previous form.
It wasn’t so smooth for his team mate Sergio Perez, who understeered off at the exit of the final corner and as he tried to keep it nailed, he touched the gravel and spun, gently kissing the barrier.
Despite the incident, which lost him 10 minutes of running, Perez still declared this “the best Friday in a while” for him and reckons he is in “a good position for the rest of the weekend”.
Ferrari pace gives the tifosi hope
Ferrari were hopeful that Monza’s long straights would suit their package – the lack of downforce required at the Temple of Speed playing to their strengths. And based on the early signs in Friday practice the tifosi, who are expected to pack the place out this weekend, can be encouraged.
Carlos Sainz looked strong – on both soft and medium compound tyres in particular – as he topped the times on Friday, the Spaniard easing through his programme with ruthless efficiency on what is his 29th birthday. And had he got all his best mini sectors together, our data shows he would have been even further ahead.
His team mate Charles Leclerc was very much in the mix, but couldn’t demonstrate the same sort of pace as his team mate.
It seems Ferrari could well be in the fight at the sharp end of qualifying, maybe even the front row if they get everything right. Their form on Sunday isn’t as good – but they do appear to still be best of the rest behind Red Bull, which opens the door for a podium that would leave their red army smiling.
Mercedes’ ultimate pace remains an unknown
This was not the finest of days for Mercedes, whose trackside chief Andrew Shovlin said the team have “not got the car in a good place”.
Fresh from inking his new Mercedes contract for 2024 and 2025, George Russell was certainly the happier of the two team mates, the Briton saying the high fuel pace “was looking pretty strong” (they were third overall in our rankings) so that the focus was “on finding more speed for qualifying”.
His fellow re-signee Lewis Hamilton wasn’t as upbeat, but that’s largely because he ran a higher downforce level in FP2 which did not deliver the expected gains in the corners at the expense of straight-line speed.
As a result, he didn’t run the soft tyre at all and will do his work on that compound in FP3, when the team will have had time to do the sizeable set-up changes that are required.
McLaren sparkle on soft tyre but have plenty to do
McLaren had two cars in the top-four in second practice, with Lando Norris just 0.019s off the pace, as the papaya-clad cars made the most of the extra grip the C5 tyre (which is the soft here and the softest in Pirelli’s range) to achieve a better balance overall.
Norris conceded the performance was not so good on the hard compounds – or when they top up the fuel in the car – so they have work to do in this area.
But the Briton felt the team made good progress in terms of performance with the changes they made through the day, and says they have plenty of ideas to work on overnight to get the car in a better window for Sunday.
Their race pace looks reasonable, the team fourth best overall in that metric, so points with both cars on Sunday should be their goal.
Williams in the mix at low-downforce Monza
Ahead of the season, Monza was one of the circuits Williams marked out as one they could excel at – and while Alex Albon believes Red Bull and Ferrari “are in a different league” on this track, Williams are hopeful they can be in the fight for Q3 and points.
The data suggests they should be able to get both cars in the final part of qualifying, with Albon saying they focused on running the medium tyre on low fuel because that’s the rubber they have to use and need to be quick on in Q2 to progress.
Their race pace isn’t so good, but there’s time to work on that in FP3. Plus they will know that their slippery car will be very tricky to overtake on Monza’s long straights – so if they can get a good grid slot on Saturday, they’ve got a very good shot of defending when the points are handed out on Sunday.