Sainz pips Verstappen and Leclerc to pole in ultra-close Italian GP qualifying
Carlos Sainz came out on top at the end of a thrilling qualifying hour for the Italian Grand Prix as the Ferrari driver narrowly got the better of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and team mate Charles Leclerc to secure his first pole position of the season.
Sainz led the way after the first Q3 runs but improvements from Verstappen and Leclerc meant the Spaniard needed another gain of his own to get the job done – a 1m 20.294s giving him top spot by little more than one hundredth of a second.
Verstappen and Leclerc had to settle for second and third, with less than a tenth of a second covering the top-three positions, while Mercedes’ George Russell beat the other Red Bull of Sergio Perez for the ‘best of the rest’ spot.
There was some concern for Ferrari earlier in the session, as both Sainz and Leclerc came under the spotlight for potentially failing to follow the Race Director’s instructions regarding maximum lap time, but the stewards confirmed there would be no further action just as the pole shootout ended.
Alex Albon produced another fine qualifying display to take sixth for Williams, while McLaren pair Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris sandwiched Lewis Hamilton in positions seven to nine, and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso completed the top 10 places.
FORMULA 1 PIRELLI GRAN PREMIO D’ITALIA 2023
|1 Carlos Sainz SAI Ferrari||1:20.294|
|2 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||1:20.307|
|3 Charles Leclerc LEC Ferrari||1:20.361|
|4 George Russell RUS Mercedes||1:20.671|
|5 Sergio Perez PER Red Bull Racing||1:20.688|
AlphaTauri came close to getting into Q3 on their home soil, but ultimately had to settle for 11th with Yuki Tsunoda and 12th with Liam Lawson, the latter continuing to close on his team mate after a solid start to his F1 career in the Netherlands.
Nico Hulkenberg was the fastest of the Haas drivers on his way to 13th position, with Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas and Williams’ Logan Sargeant – via a costly mistake on his final lap – the other drivers to drop out in Q2.
Zhou Guanyu narrowly missed out on a Q2 spot in the other Alfa Romeo after losing a lap time for exceeding track limits, leaving him 16th, while Alpine followed up their podium finish at Zandvoort with a surprise double elimination in the opening phase – Pierre Gasly taking 17th after team mate Esteban Ocon experienced a wild moment at the Ascari chicane.
The final two spots on the grid for Sunday’s race go to the Haas of Kevin Magnussen and the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll, who felt the effects of missing FP1 to give reserve driver Felipe Drugovich a run in the AMR23 and then sitting out most of FP2 amid technical issues.
AS IT HAPPENED
Q1 – Verstappen leads Albon as Alpine lose both cars
After Verstappen led the way in FP1, it was Sainz who set the pace for Ferrari in FP2 and FP3, setting up an intriguing qualifying session that included the added element of Pirelli’s Alternative Tyre Allocation (ATA), enforcing hard tyres for Q1, mediums for Q2 and softs for Q3.
As Q1 got under way, using the hard tyres, it did not take long for all 20 cars to hit the track and get some banker laps in, with Verstappen briefly going quickest before losing his initial time for exceeding track limits at the second Lesmo corner.
With more laps filtering in, Albon and his slippery Williams moved into P1, a couple of hundredths up on Russell, as Perez, Sainz and Sargeant – backing up his team mate’s early pace – rounded out the top five places for the time being.
There was drama elsewhere when Norris came close to banging wheels with Ocon on the approach to the Curva Alboreto (formerly the Parabolica), the slower moving Alpine changing direction just before the braking zone and forcing the McLaren to take avoiding action.
Putting his deleted lap to one side – Alonso and Stroll also falling victim to track limits – Verstappen stormed to the top of the order with his second effort, clocking a 1m 21.573s, while Perez made it a Red Bull one-two ahead of the two Ferraris.
Ocon’s session took another turn for the worse with a high-speed snap exiting the Ascari chicane, taking him through the gravel and forcing him back to the pits for a check of the floor – the Frenchman another to lose a lap time and sitting in the drop zone alongside team mate Gasly, Piastri, Hulkenberg and Stroll.
As the final laps came in, with the Red Bulls remaining in the pits but the other 18 drivers squabbling for track position, nobody could topple Verstappen’s time, though Albon came close when he jumped all the way up to second, from Leclerc, a similarly impressive Tsunoda and Perez.
Sargeant made it two Williams cars safely through in sixth, ahead of Sainz, Hamilton, Norris and Alonso, as rookies Piastri and Lawson, along with Russell, Bottas and Hulkenberg, secured the final spots in the second qualifying phase.
Zhou just missed the cut in 16th after getting a lap deleted, Alpine endured a painful double Q1 exit (Gasly also losing a time but slotting ahead of Ocon), Magnussen wound up 19th, and Stroll, having failed to complete a lap in Friday practice, brought up the rear.
As Q1 drew to a close, news came in that the stewards would be looking into Ferrari pair Leclerc and Sainz for potentially failing to follow the Race Director’s notes regarding maximum lap time (the latter appearing to hinder Zhou’s final-lap preparations). However, to the relief of the home fans, no further action was taken.
Knocked out: Zhou, Gasly, Ocon, Magnussen, Stroll
Q2 – Verstappen stays on top but the Ferraris loom
With the reduced field resetting for Q2, this time on mediums, Friday practice pace-setter Sainz stated his intentions as he moved back into P1 on a 1m 20.991s, ahead of Verstappen, team mate Leclerc, the ever-rapid Albon and Perez.
Sitting in the drop zone after the first runs was seven-time world champion Hamilton, who reported that he got held up by Perez and also had “no grip” on his way to 12th, with Hulkenberg, Lawson, Sargeant and Bottas joining him in the provisional drop zone.
The final few minutes brought another flurry of improvements and ended with Verstappen leading the way on a 1m 20.937s, only a few hundredths clear of Leclerc and Sainz’s Ferraris, with team mate Perez fourth and Albon still featuring at the sharp end in fifth.
Mercedes pair Hamilton and Russell progressed in sixth and seventh respectively, followed closely by Piastri and Alonso, while Norris sealed the final Q3 spot at the expense of AlphaTauri drivers Tsunoda and Lawson.
Hulkenberg and Haas could go no further than 13th, with Bottas and Sargeant the slowest of the Q2 runners – the American rookie apologising over the radio for a mistake at the final corner that left him seven-tenths down on team mate Albon.
Knocked out: Tsunoda, Lawson, Hulkenberg, Bottas, Sargeant
Q3 – Sainz nets pole to send the tifosi wild
Following a short break, the remaining 10 cars returned to the track for the pole position shootout, with some early drama occurring as Verstappen dipped two wheels into the gravel exiting the Variante della Roggia chicane, leaving him behind the Ferraris after the first runs.
It was Sainz holding P1 on a 1m 20.532s, three-hundredths in front of Leclerc, followed by Verstappen, Russell, Albon and Perez, as Norris, Piastri, Hamilton and Alonso rounded out a top 10 covered by just under a second.
A sensational climax to Q3 saw Leclerc, Verstappen and then Sainz all improve on their final laps to the chequered flag, the latter doing just enough with a 1m 20.294s to secure his first pole since last year’s United States Grand Prix.
While the top-three were covered by hundredths after their scrap for pole, there was a gap of three-tenths back to Russell in fourth, the Mercedes man pipping Perez and Albon to a place on the second row of the grid.
Piastri and Norris put their McLarens seventh and ninth respectively, surrounding the other Mercedes of Hamilton, as Alonso posted the slowest of the Q3 times in his Aston Martin, cut adrift by half a second.
“It’s been such an intense qualifying, especially in Q3, where we all three went for it – we were very, very on the limit,” said pole-sitter Sainz after jumping out of the car and taking the applause from Ferrari’s passionate fans. “In that last lap, I knew I had some lap time to come in Ascari and Parabolica. I went for it and it worked well, thank God, because I really pushed hard in that last lap!”
The 2023 Italian Grand Prix is set to begin at 1500 local time on Sunday. Head to the RACE HUB to find out how you can catch the action from Monza.