Bottas may be ordered to let Hamilton pass him in F1 Italian GP sprint race

  • Bottas starts sprint in first, ahead of Hamilton and Verstappen
  • Finn to start main race from back of grid after power unit change

Valtteri Bottas qualified in first place to take the front of the grid for Formula One’s second trial of its sprint race format at the Italian Grand Prix, forcing Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton into second place.

In the week his Mercedes departure was confirmed, however, any consolation Bottas might have taken from the win was tempered by more ill-fortune. Bottas had to take a full new power unit beyond Mercedes’ allocation before qualifying, and will start from the back of the grid in Sunday’s main race regardless of how he performs on Saturday.

With Bottas not competing for pole position on Sunday, he could be ordered to let Hamilton pass him in the sprint race, with Max Verstappen in third and drivers’ championship points on offer as well as grid position.

“You have to do this because it has been so tight,” said the Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff. “Nobody wants to use team orders because we are all racers and it is ugly, especially if someone puts in a lap like Valtteri did today, completely on merit.

“We need to see how the race pans out, and if the positions stay like they are, then we will have to make that call. But maybe tomorrow it is more acceptable to do it than other times because there is a point or two at stake, and Valtteri goes all the way back to the grid on Sunday with the engine penalty.”

In the first race after Mercedes announced he was to be replaced by Williams’ George Russell next season, Bottas found some of the form that has deserted him this season. The qualifying was run as it is traditionally on a Saturday and Bottas was on fine form, hurtling round the high-speed challenge of Monza on the absolute limit.

Hamilton held the early advantage, on his first hot run in Q3 he set a time of 1min 19.949sec but he was pushed by Verstappen who was only one-hundredth back in second. On their final runs Verstappen went out first and could not match Hamilton but Bottas was putting in one of the best laps he has managed this season. Hooking it up perfectly through sectors one and two, he took the pole by nine-hundredths from Hamilton.

Monza will host F1’s second sprint qualifying race on Saturday, following on from the format’s debut at Silverstone. Bottas qualified first but pole position will be awarded to the winner of the sprint, with three, two and one championship points going to the top three of a race that will run to approximately one-third of the grand prix’s distance and last half an hour.

Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez and Max Verstappen during sprint qualifying at Monza
Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez and Max Verstappen during sprint qualifying at Monza. Photograph: Jennifer Lorenzini/Reuters

Hamilton goes into the weekend trailing Verstappen by three points in the world championship and was aware he had to make the most of Saturday’s race. “Every point counts,” he said. “It was looking good for us up to then but he went quicker and I couldn’t match it. We’ve lost the championship [in the past] by one point. These sprint races can help.”

Bottas will drive for Alfa Romeo next season and was clearly buoyed up by his lap. “It was good fun and I feel relaxed now everything is sorted for the future,” he said. “The car has been so good and next year will be exciting for me.”

The new format is set to be used once more this season, in Brazil, but F1 is evaluating changing it for next season so the sprint race would be a standalone event. F1’s sporting director, Ross Brawn, is considering that qualifying would decide the grid for both Saturday’s and Sunday’s races, with the sprint race then being allocated more points for more drivers.

“That will be probably the key issue, whether we make another step and make [the sprint race] standalone,” Brawn told Autosport magazine. “I think that we’ll have to look at the number of points awarded, and how do we determine the starting grid. So should it just be what was done on Friday?

“Sergio Pérez dropped out at Silverstone and then obviously his Sunday race was heavily compromised. So should we determine the starting order on Friday for both Saturday and Sunday?”

Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo were in fourth and fifth for McLaren and Pierre Gasly sixth for AlphaTauri. Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc were in eighth and ninth for Ferrari. Pérez was in ninth for Red Bull and Antonio Giovinazzi in 10th for Alfa Romeo.

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Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll were in 11th and 12th for Aston Martin. Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon were in 13th and 14th for Alpine, with Russell in 15th for Williams.

Nicholas Latifi was in 16th for Williams, with Yuki Tsunoda in 17th for AlphaTauri. Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin were in 18th and 20th for Haas, with Robert Kubica – again deputising for Kimi Räikönnen – in 19th for Alfa Romeo.


Giles Richards at Monza

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