Leclerc pole overshadowed by ‘Towgate’ chaos
Leclerc delighted the home crowd with pole position     Credit: Andrej Isakovic - Getty Images

Leclerc pole overshadowed by ‘Towgate’ chaos

Charles Leclerc romped to a second consecutive pole position as rivals failed to set their final Q3 runs in a largely embarrassing end to qualifying. 

jaquobcrooke
Jaquob Crooke

What could have been a thrilling and intense end to qualifying in Monza eventually transpired into a farcical nightmare as seven of the nine drivers competing in Q3 failed to start their final hot lap before the end of the session.

With Kimi Raikkonen prematurely exiting the session after crashing at Parabolica, the drivers returned to the circuit only to cause a scene of congestion, as they held back in order to seek the all important tow to help reduce their lap times.

And with just seconds of the session remaining, the confusion got the better of the drivers as they failed to pass the pit-straight before the chequered flag was waved, meaning Charles Leclerc’s provisional lap time was enough for him to secure his second consecutive pole position.

Q1 - Renault keep pace

Renault have proven at high-speed circuits such as Montreal and Spa-Francorchamps that they have a package far superior to other midfield competitors.

A similar degree of performance was predicted in Monza, however not many anticipated Nico Hulkenberg to be ousting the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas following the first qualifying session.

Hulkenberg chalked up a 1:20:155 in his RS19, 0.029 seconds short of Leclerc’s benchmark lap time, though the Ferrari had used a set of medium compound tyres.

Although he had a plethora of grid penalties to his name, Max Verstappen’s participation in Q1 was hindered by yet more engine worries, with the Red Bull driver unable to post a lap time.

With the inevitable elimination of George Russell and Robert Kubica in P18 and P19 respectively, it was Sergio Perez and Romain Grosjean who perished in the Monza heat as both crashed out at the first stage of qualifying.

Perez could consider himself to be slightly aggrieved having not navigated his way into Q2, with an engine failure halting his charge and temporarily bringing out a red flag towards the end of the session.

The Mexican’s shortcoming means that it is the first time this season that Lance Stroll has out qualified his team-mate - the 13th attempt.

Q2 -  Hamilton on top

It was a revitalising session for championship leader Hamilton as he topped the timesheets in Q2 with a 1:19:464.

The Mercedes driver slotted himself above the Ferrari pairing of Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel, with the duo both abandoning their final laps at the end of the session.

Daniel Ricciardo was the standout performer of the second qualifying phase as he blizted to an excellent P4, recording the best first sector time in the process.

After a minor escapade at the start of Q2, Raikkonen mustered enough performance from his Alfa Romeo to sneak into Q3 at the expense of his team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi with a 1:20:515 - just a breathtaking 0.002 seconds separating the pair.

The four other victims of the session were Kevin Magnussen, Daniil Kvyat, Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly.

It was somewhat of a missed opportunity for the Toro Rosso team, who had found complications with their ‘tow’ strategy and Kvyat was unable to maximise the car’s straight-line speed.

Meanwhile in the McLaren garage, Norris’ qualifying was defunct before any of the sessions had begun, with the Brit set to start at the back of the grid thanks to the grid penalties he collected from his Belgium retirement.

Q3 - Leclerc rises above chaos

You only have to look at the replay’s of the remaining seconds in Q3 to understand the chaos that had unfolded.

Seven cars - including Hamilton, Bottas and Vettel - loitered through the final sector of the Autodromo Monza in a bid to get the best tow heading into their final lap, only for them to not pass the start/finish line before the end of the session.

Raikkonen’s Q3 mishap, similar to the error he made in FP1 where the rear of his C38 veered opposite to where the Finn was aiming, meant that he was unable to post a lap time and ultimately brought out a red flag for the session, thus being a major instigator in the ensuing ‘Towgate’.

Whilst the Tifosi will be over the moon with Leclerc’s pole, the opportunity of a front-row lockout was missed with Vettel only managing to produce the fourth quickest lap time, despite not having a tow in his one and only timed lap.

Hamilton finished the session only 0.039 seconds adrift of Leclerc and will start P2 with Bottas in P3, resulting in a fairly respectable day for the Brackley-based manufacturers.

Ricciardo and Hulkenberg produced their second-best qualifying performance of the season to claim P5 and P6 respectively, with the Aussie dragging his Renault into the 1:19 barrier, just four tenths adrift of Leclerc’s pole time.

Carlos Sainz finished P7 for McLaren and was one of the nine drivers who was able to post one more flying lap at the end of the session, although he was unable to alter the final classification.

Alexander Albon and Lance Stroll did not set a final lap time in Q3 and will start from P8 and P9, with Stroll producing his best qualifying result so far for Racing Point.

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