Italian GP Qualifying: Vettel and Red Bull dominate as Hulkenberg astounds

Sebastian Vettel powers around Monza

Sebastian Vettel powers around Monza

Italian Grand Prix qualifying was packed with surprises, one of which was not Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull dominating proceedings at Monza on an afternoon which saw Nico Hulkenberg in the Ferrari powered Sauber out qualify both Ferrari drivers while Lewis Hamilton’s run of four pole positions came to a dramatic end.

Other surprises were that both Lotus drivers failed to make it into Q3, while both McLarens made it through to the final stanza, as did the Toro Rosso pair making it five Ferrari powered cars in the top ten.

Since Friday afternoon, when Vettel stepped up a gear the writing was on the wall: the triple world champion was going to be hard to top. His final lap time of 1:23.755 was good enough to claim top position.

Indeed, in qualifying no one really came close as the German controlled proceedings to claim his fourth pole position of the season and set himself up nicely for victory at the circuit where he scored his maiden win in 2008. It was also Red Bull’s 50th F1 pole position and Vettel’s 40th.

Monza qualifying top three (L to R) Mark Webber (second), Sebastian Vettel(pole winner) and Nico Hulkenberg (third)

Monza qualifying top three (L to R) Mark Webber (second), Sebastian Vettel(pole winner) and Nico Hulkenberg (third)

Vettel summed up his afternoon at the self styled ‘citadel of speed’,  “It’s a special track…always nice to come back here. My memories of 2008 are great. I had another win in 2011 but your first win is always special. This weekend, the car was fantastic. We had a really strong pace yesterday and we were able to take that into qualifying today. In the end, it’s a bit of a surprise to have both cars on front row at a place [where] historically we’ve had bad years. This year seems to work well and hopefully we’ll have a good race tomorrow. We’re able to match other cars down the straight and we know in [the] corners, we have a strong car.”

Mark Webber did his bit to claim second place on the grid and guarantee a Red Bull lock out of the front row. The Australian, racing in his final grand prix on European soil, was 0.213 seconds down on his teammate which has been about the gap between the two all weekend.

Webber was pleased with his effort, “I said to the boys I was looking for a qualifying PB, it’s a nice step towards a good race tomorrow. I got there in the end when it mattered. Seb did a really good lap. It was a bit of a mixed up session and it’s usually difficult at Monza. Brazil will be a little more emotional and I’m still enjoying my driving and hopefully will get a few good results in the coming races. I’m not retiring and people can come and see me race at Le Mans next year.”

Nico Hulkenberg impressive with third in qualifying

Nico Hulkenberg impressive with third in qualifying

Hulkenberg, perhaps wanting to impress Ferrari in their home race, sensationally claimed the third best time, in the Ferrari powered Sauber, which thus far this season has only been good for mid-pack life. The talented German stumped the established hierarchy with a tremendous lap.

The modest German described it as a perfect lap and cheerfully admitted, “I don’t know [ where the lap came from] either. A really a nice surprise, I didn’t expect it especially after a very difficult Friday. The guys have done a fantastic job to turn the car around.”

Ferrari had spent much of free practice running in tandem, in an effort to use the slipstream to advantageous effect in qualifying. The plan was for Felipe Massa to run at the front, about a second or so ahead of Fernando Alonso and on their flying laps the tow from the Brazilian’s car would was expected to provide an advantage for Alonso.

The trick worked a treat, but when it really mattered in the final shootout they timed it badly and Massa shot away into the distance; Alonso simply lost the tow.

Felip Massa out-qualified his teammate

Felip Massa out-qualified his teammate

Alonso had to settle for fifth, with Massa taking fourth. However La Gazzetta dello Sport reports that Alonso was livid over the radio “You’re really idiots. Mamma mia guys.” He later yelled: “Massa is too far away!” The report points out that some heard Alonso use the word ‘geniuses’, sarcastically, rather than idiots.

With Luca di Montezemolo and several high ranking Ferrari connected dignitaries in the team’s pit garage this latest incident is going to be interesting to monitor.

Massa said afterwards, “I lost a little bit on the Ascari, just too … for the lap. I don’t know if it would have been possible to be third, but it was a good lap, I tried to get everything out of the car. Tomorrow is the race and let’s concentrate on doing the best job. We know the cars in front are quick, but it would be fantastic to do a great race for the fans. He’s fighting for the championship, I’m not fighting, I’ll do whatever is important for the team.”

It was strong performance by Nico Rosberg who sat out most of FP3 with an overheating issue on his Mercedes. He was compromised in terms of set up and track time, but extended himself to claim sixth place on the grid.

Nico Rosberg will start from sixth

Nico Rosberg will start from sixth

No doubt inspired by his Red Bull deal, Daniel Ricciardo was seventh fastest in the Toro Rosso, who are enjoying one of the strongest race weekends of their year thus far. Jean Eric Vergne was tenth best, he may have been further up the order had he not had a huge moment exiting Parabolica on his last flying lap.

McLaren were without doubt the team to make up the most ground between Spa and Monza, proof was in the fact that both their drivers made it into the top ten with Sergio Perez and Jenson Button eighth and ninth respectively. By all accounts their race pace is not too shabby either. A change of fortunes may be on the cards for the Woking outfit.

If anyone was expected to challenge the Red Bull supremacy, Hamilton would have been a logical bet to do so despite the Mercedes driver looking ragged all weekend.

But his ongoing feud with former best mate Adrian Sutil came back to haunt him, as the German clearly baulked the Briton when the Silver Arrows was on a hot lap and scuppered any chance of a strong lap in Q2. It was an early shower for Hamilton, and Sutil too – the latter given a three grid place penalty by the stewards for his actions.

Sergio Perez was eighth

Sergio Perez out qualified his teammate and will start from eighth on the grid

A forlorn Hamilton told reporters, “I just drove like an idiot. That’s the worst I’ve driven for a long, long time. I’m sorry to the team.”

Asked if he felt Sutil had impeded him, he said,  “Yep, but there’s nothing you can do about it. I should have done a lap before that. I just didn’t drive well. There’s not really much more to say. I was quick in Q1 and then I dunno. I’ll do whatever I can from where I am but it’s going to be tough.”

Final word to pole winner Vettel, “I’m very happy obviously; it was a scary performance yesterday. We didn’t expect to be so strong here with both cars on [the] front row. A lot of hard work, we did our homework. This circuit has been up and down for us – more up this year – so let’s see what we can do tomorrow.”

With the kind of dominance he has shown on the day, it is looking more and more likely that the 26 year old from Heppenheim will bag his fourth successive world title long before the season ends. (GP247)

Subbed by AJN.

Italian Grand Prix, Qualifying at Monza – Saturday, 7 September 2013

Pos No Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Laps
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:24.319 1:23.977 1:23.755 15
2 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:24.923 1:24.263 1:23.968 18
3 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1:24.776 1:24.305 1:24.065 21
4 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:24.950 1:24.479 1:24.132 21
5 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:24.661 1:24.227 1:24.142 15
6 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:24.527 1:24.393 1:24.192 26
7 19 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:24.655 1:24.290 1:24.209 24
8 6 Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1:24.635 1:24.592 1:24.502 17
9 5 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:24.739 1:24.563 1:24.515 21
10 18 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:24.630 1:24.575 1:28.050 20
11 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1:24.819 1:24.610 16
12 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:24.589 1:24.803 14
13 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:24.737 1:24.848 14
14 15 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:25.030 1:24.932 19
15 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:24.905 1:25.011 19
16 14 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:25.009 1:25.077 18
17 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1:25.226 13
18 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1:25.291 11
19 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1:26.406 9
20 20 Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1:26.563 10
21 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1:27.085 11
22 23 Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1:27.480 10
Q1 107% Time 1:30.221