[EN] Italian GP: Race Pace Analysis [FP2]
For the second time in the 2021 season, Formula One returns to Italy – this time at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, the Temple of Speed. The fastest track on the calendar is a challenge for the Power Unit, as power sensitivity around the Italian circuit is very high. With only 11 corners and a length of 5.793 km, this track is all about straight-line speed, stability on the braking and traction coming out of those very tricky chicanes.
This weekend also sees the return of the Sprint Qualifying format, which debuted in Silverstone earlier this season and will be proposed again for the Brazilian Grand Prix. The starting grid for today’s Sprint Qualifying race was decided in yesterday’s qualifying session, and the results of the short race of this afternoon will instead replace the traditional Qualifying format, and decide the grid for Sunday’s race.
This means that the teams will focus on this last session of practice to gather data on their race pace on at least two different tyre compounds: drivers will have a free tyre choice for Sunday, so it will be important to test the tyre strategy already today.
For the most part, the session was fairly clean and “by-the-numbers” – until Carlos Sainz crashed his Ferrari in the middle of the Ascari chicane. That brought out the red flag which lasted about 10 minutes, leaving the teams with only 20 minutes in the session on a very busy race track.
RACE PACE ANALYSIS FP2:
After their dominant showing on Friday’s qualifying for the Sprint race, Mercedes confirmed their pace in the simulation, suggesting that they will once again be a leading force for the Sprint race and the main Sunday race. At the start of the session, Mercedes was mostly focused on the heavier fuel runs. Hamilton had an average of 1:25.638 on the Soft tyre compound, while Bottas took to the track on the Hard tyre (he will start the race on Sunday from the back of the grid due to an engine penalty) and averaged a very stable 1:25.577.
Later in the session, Hamilton tried the Hard tyres with a lower fuel load (which suggests he was testing for the Sprint Qualifying) and matched Max Verstappen (on the Medium compound) with a rapid 1:24.071 average. Bottas switched to a set of Soft tyres instead, averaging a very good 1:23.985 – the fastest out of anyone on that compound.
The team from Milton Keynes wants to be a bit closer to Mercedes than they were on Friday. Red Bull was not able to match the top speeds and cornering ability of Mercedes in yesterday’s Qualifying, which left them with the task to try and match them in the race.
Max Verstappen and his teammate Sergio Pérez started FP2 focusing on their lower fuel runs. Verstappen was able to register the second-best average on the Soft tyre, just behind Bottas with 1:24.097 (about 0.150 slower), while Pérez was averaging a 1:24.554 (about half a second down on Max per lap) on the same compound. Verstappen’s average on the Medium compound was 1:23.893, and the difference with Pérez could be explained with a bit more fuel in the car at the start of the FP2 session. The Mexican driver will have a big task for today and especially tomorrow considering Bottas’s penalty. Overall, Red Bull looked decent although a bit slower than Mercedes on average.
The Scuderia knew coming into this weekend that their under-powered car would struggle on a power-hungry track such as Monza. Still, they improved in comparison to the horrible 2020 performance here, as the engine got a decent upgrade over the winter.
Unfortunately, 30 minutes into the session, Carlos Sainz lost the rear of his car and crashed hard into the barriers in the middle of the Ascari chicane. The driver was okay despite the big impact, but shaken up. The Ferrari mechanics will be very busy this afternoon, “sprinting” to fix his car in time for the afternoon race. Before the crash, Sainz was able to do a 10 lap stint on the Medium tyre, averaging only 1:26.552 as he struggled to find pace. Leclerc was doing the opposite of his teammate on the Soft compound, averaging a 1:26.612 which puts him behind McLaren, Aston Martin and potentially Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri.
In the second stint, things looked a bit better as Leclerc was able to average 1:25.131 which was matching McLaren on the Medium compound and Gasly on Soft tyres. This was a Sprint race simulation and we can expect that teams will be favouring the Medium tyre compound as it gives good performance and longevity.
Overall, things were bitter-sweet today for Ferrari, as Leclerc had to cut his FP2 short with minutes to the end due to what the team later confirmed being a slight health issue.
The McLaren duo looks very competitive this weekend as both Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo look fairly close pace-wise. Thanks to the aerodynamic efficiency of their package and the boost of the Mercedes Power Unit, McLaren feels at home on tracks like Monza and Spa. The team opted for a split programme in FP2, doing simulations for both this afternoon’s race and Sunday’s main event.
Norris was averaging 1:25.340 on the Medium compound with a lower fuel load (Sprint levels of fuel), while Daniel was averaging 1:25.100 which puts them both behind Red Bull but in front of Ferrari for Saturday’s race. On the other hand, they looked more convincing with heavier fuel onboard, as Ricciardo averaged 1:26.015 on the Soft tyre, while Lando had a bit of a struggle as he averaged 1:26.491 on the same compound.
Overall, McLaren looks very competitive and we can expect a big battle for the 3rd placed team in Monza.
The 007 team was the only team out of the six teams that we follow that tried all three compounds today. Both Vettel and Stroll tested all three tyres, focused it seems on Sunday’s race. Lance Stroll was averaging 1:26.038 on the Soft tyre with more fuel on board, which actually puts him in front of both McLaren and Ferrari. Bit of a surprise for sure, but both Aston Martins are behind on the starting grid, and they will have to try to gain position in the Sprint Qualifying in order to do well on Sunday.
Vettel also averaged a respectable 1:26.164 on the Soft compound, which puts him in the mix with both McLaren cars. On the Medium tyre, the German driver averaged 1:26.273, while Stroll was just behind with 1:26.480. Both also went for some lower fuel runs on the Hard tyre, with Vettel averaging 1:26.159 and Stroll averaging 1:26.480.
Overall, Aston Martin had some struggles this year and their race strategy on Sunday has been a hit-or-miss.
The team from Enstone looked fairly quiet here in Monza, not a threat for either McLaren or Ferrari, but never a team to underestimate either. Alonso averaged 1:26.588 on the Medium tyre while his teammate Ocon was averaging a 1:26.670 on the Soft compound, with a different fuel load. When both Alonso and Ocon were sent out on a lower fuel load for a run on the Soft tyre, Alonso averaged 1:25.353, while Ocon was a bit quicker on average with 1:25.142.
Overall, although Alpine did not look impressive, Alonso can surprise in the Sprint Race as he did in Silverstone – and maybe give them a chance to battle with the rest of the midfield.
The Italian Grand Prix is set to be an interesting battle once again between Red Bull and Mercedes – but first, both teams need to go through the Sprint Race. The battle in the midfield looks really tight between McLaren and the rest of the challengers in Ferrari, AlphaTauri and AM.
Author: Toni Sokolov
Editing: Sara Esposito