Valtteri Bottas will start the Saturday sprint at the Italian Grand Prix from pole position after just edging teammate Lewis Hamilton in qualifying.
The Finn started Q3 with a scruffy initial lap, leaving him fifth and 0.4s off Hamilton’s pace after dipping a wheel on the gravel at the Roggia chicane, but his second attempt was clinical, setting two purple sectors a the first to splits to beat Hamilton by just 0.069s.
Bottas is equipped with brand-new power unit this weekend after Mercedes made a tactical change to sure up his allocation to the end of the season, which means the Finn will serve the back-of-grid penalty for Sunday’s race, but not before he gets an opportunity to score three points for a sprint victory beforehand.
“That qualifying lap was nice,” he said. “I’m really pleased with the team today, the car is so good.
“Starting from the front, I’m expecting to get the maximum points tomorrow and then do the best job we can on Sunday.”
Hamilton enjoyed a comfortable 0.4s margin over the rest of the field to qualify on the front row for the sprint, and the Briton’s eyes were on the minor points for the top-three places to close his three-point gap to Max Verstappen in the championship.
“Every points counts,” he said. “There have been a lot points lost this year on both sides. These sprint races can definitely add and help.”
Verstappen was pleased with the damage limitation of third on the sprint grid after his Red Bull Racing car looked surprisingly far from the benchmark throughout Friday.
“I think for us this track was always going to be difficult,” he said. “I think we recovered quite well throughout the qualifying.
“I think for the race hopefully it can be a bit closer. You never know around here.”
McLaren was rapid in its low-downforce configuration, with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo closely matched through the day through to the end of the qualifying, taking fourth and fifth and separated by just 0.006s.
Pierre Gasly qualified sixth for AlphaTauri ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, the latter having dealt with an engine braking problem for much of the qualifying hour.
Sergio Perez’s qualifying session was sacrificed to generate a slipstream for Verstappen to ensure the Dutchman could get ahead of the McLaren drivers, leaving the Mexican out of position in ninth ahead of only Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi at the end of Q3.
Aston Martin duo Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll were knocked out 11th and 12th ahead of Alpine teammates Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon, but both teams will face a stewards investigation after the session for an incident in the pit lane.
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Vettel was released into Hamilton’s path as the field left their garages for the final runs of Q2. Both drivers checked up to avoid a crash, blocking the lane, but Stroll continued to be waved out of his garage, almost collecting his own mechanic in the process.
Now effectively three wide in pit lane, an Alpine mechanic found himself in the path of the oncoming cars just as Alonso exited his garage, momentarily cornering the member of staff in the traffic. Contact was avoided, and the drivers eventually made it to pit exit unscathed, but the stewards had listed the incident for post-session investigation.
Williams teammates George Russell and Nicholas Latifi were knocked out in 15th and 16th. Yuki Tsunoda followed in 17th, the AlphaTauri driver dropping into the bottom five after the flag when his fastest lap, good enough for 15th, was deleted for exceeding track limits.
Mick Schumacher will start 18th ahead of Robert Kubica in Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo and Haas teammate Nikita Mazepin.