Even without ‘party mode’ the front starting row for Mercedes

Max Verstappen will start Sunday at the Italian Grand Prix from fifth place. Lewis Hamilton took his 94th polepostion on Saturday afternoon, Valtteri Bottas starts second.

In the first qualifying session without the so-called ‘party mode’ Verstappen effortlessly made it through the first two qualifying laps.

In the decisive third lap it was Hamilton and Bottas who were the first to set a time. Verstappen had to yield seven tenths on the two and also saw that Racing Point driver Sergio Pérez was faster.

At the second attempt to set a time Verstappen improved himself, but he saw Carlos Sainz (McLaren) driving himself to third place. Pérez also stayed ahead of the Dutchman.

Ferrari disappoints again

For Ferrari, qualifying on the home circuit was far from flawless.

The teased race stable saw Charles Leclerc qualify as thirteenth while four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel didn’t even make it through the first qualifying round and will have to leave as seventeenth on Sunday. It is the first time since 1984 that no Ferrari will start in the top ten at Monza.

“I was in the middle of the crowds, so there was no point in trying to set another good time,” responded Vettel, who went in early during his last lap. “It’s what it is, a very short day.”

This weekend it is therefore forbidden for the first time to use the so-called ‘party mode’ (the engine setting with which Hamilton and Bottas in particular can temporarily boost their power) during qualifying.

It’s one of the measures to make the Formula 1 races less boring, but it didn’t help much. It’s already the seventh time in eight races that Hamilton and Bottas have taken the front row of the grid this season.

Little hope

Verstappen didn’t expect much from the new regulations beforehand. “I have no idea what it will bring. I hope it brings the field a little closer together, but it’s all speculation”, he said at the press conference on Thursday ahead of the race weekend.

“Our party fashion wasn’t that big anyway, so we don’t have that much to lose. I don’t expect it to change much for us. I never come close to Mercedes anyway. Everyone thinks that Mercedes suddenly gives up half a second. Of course it doesn’t.”

Third free practice

Earlier in the day Verstappen had clocked up sixth fastest time in the third free practice session. That wasn’t exactly an improvement after two difficult free practice sessions on Friday as the Red Bull driver clocked the fifth fastest time in Monza twice.

It should be noted that in the third free practice session he was the only one in the top ten to set his time on the somewhat slower yellow tyre. The rest of the top ten drove on the faster red tyre.

Daniel Ricciardo was forced to abandon his Renault just before the end of the last practice session. The session was stopped for a while, leaving little time for the other drivers to set their fastest laps in qualifying.

Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton were then unable to improve. In his free lap the Brit even had to pull out all the stops to avoid a major accident. Hamilton approached the Parabolica curve at high speed, where there was a heavy traffic jam. With a quick steering movement he could only just avoid Romain Grosjean’s car.

Valtteri Bottas turned out to be the fastest, the McLarens of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris completed the top three in the final practice session. Ricciardo (fourth) and Hamilton (fifth) also stayed ahead of Verstappen.