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Friday Pace Analysis: Who is looking quickest in the super-tight midfield battle at Monza?

F1 Correspondent & Presenter

Lawrence Barretto
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Monza Pace

Mercedes were in a class of their own in Ferrari’s own backyard on Friday, the Silver Arrows setting a blistering pace across both practice sessions at Monza. But is there a glimmer of hope for any of their Formula 1 rivals ahead of the Italian Grand Prix? And can Red Bull be challenged for a podium position? It’s number-crunching time…

One-lap pace

The chances of a dream repeat of Charles Leclerc's 2019 pole position for Ferrari’s faithful fanbase at the Temple of Speed are remote, the Scuderia lacking performance both in terms of power and aero. You have to look as far down as seventh in our short run data charts to find the team, the SF1000 1.4s adrift of pace-setters Mercedes.

FP2: Hamilton heads Bottas as Norris takes impressive third in second practice at Monza

2020 r08 ita p2 qualifying

To be fair, it’s perhaps not as awful as they thought it would be, as at least they are ahead of customers Alfa Romeo and Haas, and one second ahead of Williams.

But it of course does not match the high expectations of their fans, who would have packed the place out if it wasn’t a closed-door event, but instead have to make do with a spot in front of the TV or a cardboard cut-out – alongside Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc no less after the duo made their own too as part of a charity drive – in the grandstand.

READ MORE: Meet cardboard Seb and Charles! Vettel buys slots in Monza grandstand for Ferrari team members

The happiest faces in the Monza paddock were dressed in silver and black, with Mercedes surprising even themselves with their supreme pace on Friday, as the car performance data shows they have sacrificed some straight line speed for performance through the corners. And ominously for their rivals, both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas said there’s still plenty they can do to improve the car…

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 03: Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Mercedes GP and Lewis Hamilton of Great

Bottas and Hamilton ended the day as the happiest drivers

Their closest challengers were Red Bull, but the Milton Keynes-based squad were 0.8s off the pace, suggesting it’s unlikely they’ll be in the fight for pole.

They will also face a battle to lock out the second row, given they only have a two-tenths advantage over Renault and Racing Point, with AlphaTauri – whose drivers were very happy with their pace after impressive positions on the timesheets – and McLaren only 0.2s further back.

With a tow worth several tenths at Monza, and lots of drivers suggesting qualifying will be messy as drivers jostle for position to ensure they get that advantage – rather than be the one towing everyone else – it’s really all to play for from row two down to five.

READ MORE: 'It's going to be a nightmare' – Hamilton braced for more qualifying shenanigans at Monza this year

Formula One F1 - Italian Grand Prix - Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Monza, Italy - September 4, 2020

Expect to see plenty of this in qualifying

Race pace

Fortunately for Red Bull, they are closer to Mercedes in race trim – but not anywhere near as close as they would like. The RB16 is 0.5s/lap off the pace, perhaps not a surprise with Max Verstappen – who crashed in first practice – saying he struggled with balance and grip. “There is still quite a bit of work to do,” he said.

2020-r08-ita-p2-race-pace.jpg

Both Racing Point drivers said they haven’t got the car where they want it, but their long run pace looks pretty reasonable according to the data. They are third in our rankings, with just 0.1s/lap separating AlphaTauri, Renault, McLaren and Ferrari, suggesting it could be a very tight fight for the lower end of the points.

It’ll likely be a tough final weekend in F1 for the Williams family, though, their cars bottom of the pile in this metric. On the positive side, they are neck-and-neck with rivals Haas and Alfa Romeo, showing how far they have come since last year, when they were cut adrift 0.5s/lap away from the rest of the pack.

READ MORE: Ferrari drivers targeting Q3, despite labelling SF1000 ‘a handful’ around Monza

Verdict

It's clearly advantage Mercedes, both in qualifying and race trim. But one point of interest on Saturday afternoon will be the impact of new rules on the use of engine modes.

A Technical Directive now dictates teams use a single mode in qualifying, effectively outlawing the so-called party modes where some teams turned up their engines for extra power.

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 04: George Russell of Great Britain driving the (63) Williams Racing FW43

It will be the Williams family's last weekend in charge of the team

Mercedes trackside chief Andrew Shovlin reckons the Mercedes-powered teams – which also include Williams and Racing Point – “are probably going to be the most affected on a single lap” because of the clampdown – but he still thinks Mercedes’ “overall package has looked pretty good” so far at Monza.

Come race day, conditions are expecting to be warm and sunny – consistent with Friday practice through qualifying.

READ MORE: Binotto hoping Spa was low point in Ferrari season as he reveals engine mode approach for Monza

Pirelli are expecting teams to target a one-stop strategy, with teams carrying out long runs across all three compounds and the hard potentially playing a key role on Sunday afternoon.

That’ll heap plenty of importance on the start and the run down to the first corner, then, with an intriguing battle between the Mercedes drivers set-up nicely – and a fierce battle for the remainder of the points-paying positions.

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