The Italian Grand Prix, hosted at the legendary Monza circuit, has historically been a breeding ground for some of Formula 1’s most tumultuous qualifying sessions. Remember the adrenaline-charged days when drivers were jostling for position on Monza’s elongated straights, hoping to catch a favorable slipstream?
This frenzy reached its peak in 2019, with drivers overwhelmingly hesitant to take the plunge and be the first one to cross the line. The hesitancy stemmed from not wanting to offer a slipstream to competitors while gaining none in return. This led to a somewhat comedic scenario during the third qualifying session (Q3), where only McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc managed to cross the line before the session timer hit zero. This left the other eight Q3 contestants, which included both Mercedes cars and Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari, looking rather foolish as they ran out of time for another hot lap.
Fast-forward to the 2020 and 2021 seasons, and most of the qualifying chaos seemed to shift to the first qualifying session (Q1). Drivers were observed leisurely driving on their out-laps, dangerously obstructing other racers flying past on hot laps.
However, with the arrival of F1’s new generation of cars, it seems Monza’s qualifying theatrics have been largely tamed. While drivers still jockey for position, the gamesmanship has reduced significantly. The reason? The aerodynamic properties of the new ground-effect cars have diminished the impact of drafting or “towing” on straight-line speed.
Lando Norris of McLaren noted this when asked about the improved traffic situation during qualifying. “While slipstreams were all the rage in the previous years, giving up to seven-tenths of a second advantage, the benefit has now reduced to a measly one or two tenths,” Norris stated.
Team Principal Andrea Stella concurred with Norris, emphasizing that McLaren’s straight-line speed struggles made them a unique case study. “The added speed from slipstreaming isn’t as impactful as it used to be,” Stella said, pointing out that they’ve adjusted their distance to the car in front accordingly.
Despite these improvements, there have been instances this season where traffic still caused concern during qualifying, such as recent races in Belgium, the Netherlands, and particularly Austria. And let’s not forget the uproar during Monza’s F3 qualifying, where slipstreams still hold tremendous sway, and drivers backing off even led to a crash.
To mitigate these dangers, FIA race director Niels Wittich extended the maximum delta time regulation to both out-laps and in-laps, a move endorsed by drivers for its potential safety benefits. Though it nearly led to a collision between Norris and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, it otherwise contributed to perhaps the smoothest Monza qualifying session in recent years.
Ferrari’s senior performance engineer Jock Clear noted that the diminished importance of towing was a byproduct of F1’s ongoing efforts to reduce “dirty air,” making it easier to tail other cars through corners. “The absence of tow necessities has simplified the whole qualifying dynamic,” Clear added.
Regarding race dynamics, drivers expect fewer overtaking opportunities, due to reduced effectiveness of the DRS system and smaller low-downforce rear wings. George Russell, who qualified fourth in a Mercedes car with less-than-stellar top speed, expects pit strategy to play a bigger role. “Our best shot against Ferrari is to outperform them in the pits,” Russell opined.
So, what’s the moral of the Monza F1 saga? The sport’s changes, aimed at reducing dirty air and enhancing competition, appear to have an unexpected but welcome side effect: They’ve turned down the dial on Monza’s qualifying mayhem. Cheers to safer and more sensible racing!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Monza F1 Qualifying
What has changed in Monza’s F1 qualifying sessions over the years?
The Monza F1 qualifying sessions have evolved from chaotic slipstreaming duels to more regulated and orderly events. This shift is largely due to the new aerodynamic features of the latest generation of F1 cars, which have reduced the advantage of drafting or “towing.”
Why was the 2019 Monza F1 qualifying session particularly chaotic?
The 2019 session was chaotic because drivers were hesitant to be the first one across the line. They didn’t want to give their rivals the benefit of a slipstream while not gaining one themselves. This led to a scenario where only two drivers, Carlos Sainz of McLaren and Charles Leclerc of Ferrari, crossed the line before time ran out in Q3.
How have new F1 car specifications impacted the Monza qualifying sessions?
The new generation of F1 cars comes with ground-effect aerodynamics, which have reduced the significance of slipstreaming. As a result, the chaotic gamesmanship traditionally associated with Monza qualifying has lessened.
What measures have been introduced to improve safety during Monza’s F1 qualifying?
The FIA race director has extended the maximum delta time regulation to both out-laps and in-laps to reduce dangerous situations. This measure aims to discourage drivers from cruising too slowly or dangerously on the track.
Will the new aerodynamics affect overtaking opportunities during the actual race?
Yes, drivers expect fewer overtaking opportunities during the race due to the reduced effectiveness of the DRS system and the smaller low-downforce rear wings. These changes mean that strategies like pit stops will likely play a more significant role in race outcomes.
What was the opinion of team members and drivers on the new qualifying dynamics at Monza?
Most team members and drivers view the changes positively. Lando Norris of McLaren mentioned that the tow benefit has significantly diminished. Ferrari’s senior performance engineer Jock Clear noted that the reduced importance of towing has simplified the qualifying dynamic, making it easier for everyone.
How does the Monza qualifying experience compare to other tracks this year?
While Monza has seen a significant reduction in qualifying chaos thanks to new aerodynamics, other tracks like Belgium, the Netherlands, and particularly Austria have still experienced traffic concerns during qualifying.
More about Monza F1 Qualifying
- Monza’s Historic F1 Moments
- Understanding F1 Aerodynamics
- FIA’s Safety Measures in Formula 1
- Interview with Lando Norris on Monza Qualifying
- The Evolution of F1 Cars
- 2019 Monza F1 Qualifying Recap
- What is DRS in Formula 1?