Mercedes will have both cars start from the Monza front row for the first time since 2016, and such was the margin poleman Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas dominated qualifying that there’s little reason to believe anyone can challenge in the race.
Qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix took place against the backdrop of a technical directive banning the use of special qualifying modes — or ‘party modes’, as originally coined by Lewis Hamilton — a long-telegraphed change to aid the policing of technical regulations and, just maybe, condense the battle for pole.
Effectively the internal combustion engine has become subject to parc fermé conditions, its settings unable to be changed from the beginning of qualifying until the end of the race.
But anyone hoping it would dent Mercedes’s qualifying supremacy was sorely mistaken, and even without its acclaimed qualifying engine mode it commanded a 0.8-second advantage over the rest of the field.
Moreover, the change may perversely benefit Mercedes in the race. By not running its engine in its highest and most damaging setting in qualifying it can instead run it at a higher average mode during the race. What was already the sport’s most powerful engine may just have become more powerful still.
Quite aside from the sheet speed advantage, we got a glimpse of how effective that engine-chassis package is during the top-10 shootout. At a circuit around which the slipstream is critical to peak performance Mercedes eschewed the search for the tow.
Not only was the slipstream evidently not required to fight for pole, but the fact no-one who did get the advantage of a slipstream could get near Mercedes in Q3 with what we now know is race-day power indicates strongly how far up the road Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas are likely to be by the end of the race.
|PROVISIONAL STARTING GRID|
Distance: 5.793 kilometres
Lap record: 1:21.046 (Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari, 2004)
Track record: 1:18.887 (Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 2020)
Lateral load: low
Tyre stress: very high
Asphalt grip: low
Asphalt abrasion: medium
Downforce: very low
Safety car probability: 20 per cent
Pit lane speed: 80 kilometres per hour
Pit lane length: 417.5 metres
Pit lane time loss: 18.7 seconds
Fuel consumption: 2.1 kilograms per lap
Tyres: C2 (hard), C3 (medium), C4 (soft)
Estimated tyre delta
Hard–medium: 0.4 seconds
Medium–soft: 0.6 seconds
The Italian Grand Prix is a one-stop strategy, and with all three compounds working well through practice, there’s little reason to expect variation in that regard.
That leaves the sole pit stop window as key to moving up the order.
But it won’t be as simple as executing the undercut. Despite Monza being mostly flat out, the traction events at the chicanes and the increasingly fast Lesmo turns and Parabolica make this a particularly stressful race for the tyres.
Pirelli has also pumped up the minimum tyre pressures this weekend in anticipation of the increased loads being generated by the 2020-spec cars on these 2019-spec tyres.
In the warm weather these aspects combined will put a premium on achieving proper tyre warm-up on out laps, that crucial tour in nailing the undercut.
Get it wrong and Kimi Raikkonen’s fate at the 2018 Italian Grand Prix could await. Then the Finn overheated his tyres too fast too early in the lead, leaving him and his badly blistered rubber vulnerable to Hamilton on his fresher rubber late in the race, relegating him to second.
Don’t forget too that these are the same tyre compounds that badly cooked on both Mercedes cars at the second race at Silverstone — obviously a dramatically different circuit, but a demonstration nonetheless of how easily the rubber can expire if treated poorly.
Looking at the location of the window itself, Pirelli forecasts a relatively balanced mid-distance stop when switching between soft and medium. The contrastrategy will be switching from soft to hard for a frontrunner trying to pull the undercut trigger early, from lap 15 onwards.