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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Italian Grand Prix: Max Verstappen on pole after Valtteri Bottas wins sprint


Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will start the Italian Grand Prix from pole with title rival Lewis Hamilton only fourth.

Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, won the’sprint’ qualifying race but will start last due to a power unit change penalty.

After an uncharacteristically poor start, Hamilton finished third behind McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris.

Verstappen now leads Hamilton in the title race by five points after finishing second in the sprint.

Bottas finished first with three points, while Ricciardo finished third with one.

The usual qualifying session was replaced by a half-hour, 18-lap race to determine the grid for Sunday’s 53-lap grand prix, which produced drama from the start.

Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, who won at Monza last year, collided with Ricciardo at the first Rettifilo chicane, sending him careening into the barrier after his damaged front wing failed.

The Frenchman did an excellent job of avoiding a high-speed collision by steering a badly damaged car as far away from the barrier as possible as it skipped across the gravel at more than 100mph.

“The race was better than expected – we had good strategy and scored nice little points, and I’m starting on pole for tomorrow,” Verstappen said. I’m going to give it a shot and stick close by. We did tune our car to have a decent top speed, so I’m not concerned about our top speed in the race, but Mercedes has a very good pace throughout the lap, so I’ll give it a shot.”

Behind Hamilton were the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, who finished sixth and seventh, respectively, and Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi, who finished eighth.

After collapsing heavily in morning practise and requiring a medical check, Sainz will be relieved, and Leclerc will be relieved after feeling ill and having to cut his practise session short.

Sergio Perez of Red Bull and Lance Stroll of Aston Martin rounded out the top ten.

Britain’s George Russell, who is still on a high after the announcement that he will partner Hamilton at Mercedes next season, will start 15th, but will be overtaken by teammate Nicholas Latifi.

It’s the second’sprint’ qualifying session in a new format tweak introduced by F1 to some race weekends this season, with the first taking place at the British Grand Prix in July.

The race at Monza took place in warm, dry conditions in the Lombardy region of Italy, near Milan, on a track affectionately known as the ‘Cathedral of Speed’ due to its rich motorsport history and old, disused banked corners nestled among the trees in Monza’s royal park.

What happened to Hamilton?

The seven-time champion got off to a bad start, with Verstappen and the McLarens swamping his car by the time they reached the first chicane.

He was then passed by Gasly as he was squeezed into Rettifilo with Norris on his right before the Frenchman crashed as he attempted to negotiate the Curva Grande.

Following the race, Hamilton cut a dejected figure, blaming a poor launch away from the starting line.

He told Sky Sports that Mercedes “need to figure out how to get past the McLarens tomorrow and limit the damage.”

He continued, saying: “You saw Red Bull’s pace – I’m not sure if they’re faster than Valtteri, but [Verstappen] should have an easy win. They have more speed, and from what I’ve heard, they bring upgrades to every race.”

The fast, low-downforce Autodromo di Monza is thought to suit the Mercedes car’s characteristics slightly better than the Red Bull, which has outperformed on most other tracks this season.

Only Stroll and the McLarens used the faster soft tyre, with the others opting for the medium compound, which Pirelli believes is around 0.4secs slower per lap.

However, there did not appear to be a significant difference between the two, as the McLarens did not suffer a loss of pace due to tyre wear near the end of the race, nor did they have an impact on Verstappen or Bottas once positions were established early on.

For Sunday’s race, teams can start on any compound they want.

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