A fantastically exciting 2023 Italian GP qualifying saw Carlos Sainz claim pole position from Max Verstappen by just a hundredth of a second, raising home hopes for just a second Ferrari win at Monza since 2010.
However, Verstappen didn’t seem too downbeat when race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase broke the news that he’d missed out on pole with Red Bull focussing their setup on the race.
But regardless of whether that faith is well-founded, there should be a quality battle for the podium at the quickest race of the year. Charles Leclerc made it two Ferraris in the top three ahead of Geroge Russell, with Sergio Perez outside the top two rows of the grid and lining up alongside Alex Albon.
They should be the main contenders for the rostrum, while Lewis Hamilton splits the two McLarens led by Oscar Piastri as outsider shots. Aston Martin are the only frontrunner likely out of that battle, with Fernando Alonso tenth and Lance Stroll 20th.
Can Ferrari halt the Flying Dutchman?
Amazingly, Ferrari are only as successful at the Italian GP as their compatriots AlphaTauri since 2007 – both teams have recorded two wins, with the Scuderia often missing out even when they’ve been in the title race.
This year isn’t one of those seasons – Red Bull aren’t far off tripling Ferrari‘s constructors’ championship total 13 races in, and Verstappen is just counting down the days until he takes his third drivers’ title on the trot.
But despite that dominance, Ferrari arrived at Monza or Saturday with fans optimistic of a result, and they delivered.
Verstappen topped the first two qualifying sessions but Sainz rose to the fore when it really mattered, going just quicker than the Dutchman on his final run to the delight of the home faithful.
It’s going to be an even taller order for him to defend that though. Red Bull haven’t been particularly subtle about the fact they’re focussing on race pace, which certainly looks superior based on free-practice running.
They’ll be planning a repeat performance of Hungary, where Verstappen started second but took the lead from Hamilton at turn one and went on to win by 33 seconds, his biggest victory margin of the season.
Sorry Tifosi, Verstappen just looks too good in race trim at the moment. For Ferrari to win they’ll surely need to rely on misfortune befalling the Dutchman.
One-stop race strategy favoured?
However, Ferrari should be pretty optimistic of a second successive Monza podium. The SF-23 would just shred its tyres earlier in 2023, but the team seem to have got more on top of that problem as of late.
Perez has been off Verstappen‘s pace all weekend while Russell, Albon and the rest all have ground to make up before they can challenge for a trophy.
That’s if Ferrari can nail their strategy. Pirelli predict a one-stop race tomorrow, but concede at two-stopper could be the ideal strategy is there’s a stoppage in the race and Monza has seen six safety cars in the last five years.
“Looking ahead to tomorrow’s race and possible strategies, we can confirm that a single stop is the quickest option, with the hard compound being the main protagonist,” Pirelli‘s Motorsport Director Mario Isola told the media.
“It remains to be seen if some will decide to start on the medium to have more flexibility, with a good level of grip at the start, or risk starting on the soft to try and make up places in the early stages.
“The two-stop strategy is conditioned by the fact the pit lane is very long and therefore time is lost at each pit stop, but it could be a valid choice if the race is neutralised at any point.”