Italian GP: Farcical tactical qualifying gaff sees Leclerc take pole from Hamilton

An extraordinary qualifying session for the Italian Grand Prix saw Charles Leclerc take pole position with his first effort in Q3 as no cars crossed the line in time to set a final flying lap.

With getting a slipstream tow more important at Monza than possibly anywhere else, there were all sorts of fun and games at the start of Q3, the Mercedes duo stopping at the end of the pitlane to avoid being alone in dirty air and helping their rivals behind.

And, after Kimi Raikkonen had spun into the barriers at the Parabolica to bring out a red flag at the start of the session, the tactical waiting game intensified with no cars coming out of the pit lane. That was until, with time running out, Nico Hulkenberg led a slow crocodile of cars around, much like the Keirin in track cycling.

It quickly became apparent that, with the clock winding down, few cars were going to make it past the start/finish line, only Carlos Sainz and Leclerc himself beating the clock. It meant that most of the times from the opening run were the final qualifying times after a farcical finish to Q3.

“What a mess,” said Leclerc after the farcical session ended. “Pole position anyway guys sorry for the last lap. Happy with the pole, but it’s a shame that, at the end. That was a big mess and I hoped for a last lap but that was impossible with what happened for the pole.”

Hamilton, who missed out on a seventh pole at Monza, was just grateful of being on the front row. He will start the race ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel.

“Honestly I have to be grateful that we’re on the front row. We get to have a fight with the Ferraris tomorrow, which is nice to split them. As a team it’s a really good position for us to be in. It definitely is a little bit of an anti-climax that we all couldn’t go out and do that last final lap, that’s one of the most exciting ones. But it’s crazy with the timing system we now have where everyone backs up, everyone is trying to get a position and timed, us out. It’s interesting. So get pole position in the first run then time everybody out!”

Renault will be happy with their qualifying effort with Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg fifth and sixth fastest ahead of Carlos Sainz’s McLaren. Alexander Albon, Lance Stroll and Raikkonen rounding off the top ten.

“It becomes obvious at the end but we’re all looking for the tow because if you want a fast lap around here if you drive on your own you just lose on the straights and you can’t make up that lap time in the corners and hence we ended up with these conditions,” said Hulkenberg. “Sometimes it’s down to the cars as well because the tow effect is massive but of course it was a bit weird and strange for sure, that fast lap.”

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.