The champagne is well and truly on ice for Mercedes in Italy, with their party revving up to assume some truly bacchanalian levels of revelry. As Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position for the Italian Grand Prix, securing a one-two with his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, any fears the constructors’ champions would be impaired by the ban on using qualifying engine modes that came in to effect here were summarily dismissed.
Hamilton set the fastest lap in F1 history, hurtling round the 3.54 miles of the Parco di Monza circuit at 164.267mph, smashing Kimi Räikkönen’s record of 163.785mph, set two years ago. Only Bottas was even close to his coattails, seven-hundredths back. The gulf to the rest of the field was breathtaking. Carlos Sainz in the McLaren equalled his best qualifying place of third but was in a different time zone, eight-tenths behind Hamilton.
In stark contrast, and at their home race, Ferrari could manage only bitter milestones. They had expected to struggle and their worst fears were realised. Sebastian Vettel went out in Q1 in 17th and will be the first Ferrari driver to start outside the top 15 at Monza since Giancarlo Baghetti started in 16th in 1966. Charles Leclerc was in 13th, making it the first time since 1984 that Ferrari have not had a car in the top 10 in qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix.
This was an ominous demonstration of superiority by Mercedes. This weekend is the first meeting where the teams have been banned from using qualifying modes for their engine. The ability of Mercedes to turn their engine up during qualifying has been referred to as “party mode”, although all teams have used enhanced engine modes in qualifying. Mercedes have been clear they believe it was an attempt to slow them down but have shrugged it off with disdain.
“We said last week before they brought in the rule to slow us down it would not make any difference,” Hamilton said. “Because we already have a great car and we will be better in other areas. It was just an incredible performance this weekend, this is the best we have ever been here, we really put the car in a sweet spot.”
So far ahead of the rest were Mercedes that they were not even concerned by trying to find a slipstream, which was the desperate focus of every other team. They simply went out on their own and did not even use one another for a tow, believing they were operating better in clean air. On their final outings the pair were neck and neck until the final sector, when once more Hamilton had the edge, finishing with a time of 1min 18.887sec.
Mercedes have taken pole at all eight meetings this season and achieved a front-row lockout in all but one. It is estimated the team’s ability to turn up their engine gives it as much as a 28-horsepower advantage over their nearest rivals, Honda and Renault. However, the team were not perturbed by the regulation change, insisting that having not pushed their engine during qualifying they will be able to run with more during the race – potentially extending what is already a major advantage.
The world champion was prompted to dismiss the import of the rule change. “I don’t even think we ever had a party mode,” he said, wryly. “That is something someone else made up.”
There was no smiling at Ferrari and just scoring points might be accepted by the team who were struggling like never before at Monza. They have suffered retirements here but outside DNFs, since the championship began in 1950 they have always had at least one car finish in the top 10 of the Italian Grand Prix, a record that looks under threat.
They have struggled with their engine power since the FIA clarified fuel-flow regulations at the end of last season. After a difficult time at Spa, Leclerc and Vettel had a torrid afternoon and a long race lies ahead. Having their shortcomings so starkly illustrated at their home track will have been a painful experience.
Sergio Pérez was fourth for Racing Point and Max Verstappen in fifth for Red Bull. Lando Norris was sixth for McLaren, with Daniel Ricciardo in seventh for Renault. Lance Stroll was eighth for Racing Point, Alex Albon ninth for Red Bull and Pierre Gasly tenth for AlphaTauri.
Daniil Kvyat was in 11th for AlphaTauri, in front of the Renault of Esteban Ocon. Kimi Räikkönen was 14th for Alfa Romeo and Kevin Magnussen in 15th for Haas.
Romain Grosjean was in 16th for Haas, Antonio Giovinazzi 18th for Alfa Romeo, and George Russell and Nicholas Latifi in 19th and 20th for Williams.