The Italian Grand Prix has been the scene of many chaotic qualifying sessions in Formula 1’s recent past, with drivers playing a game of chicken trying to position themselves for a strong slipstream on Monza’s long straights.
In 2019, the situation got completely out of control when riders were very hesitant to cross the finish line first and therefore did not benefit from a draft but only helped their competitors.
In Q3 2019, only McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc barely managed to cross the finish line before time ran out, while the other eight Q3 entrants, including both Mercedes cars and Sebastian Vettel’s second Ferrari, everyone looked silly as they crossed the finish line line too late to start another flyer.
In 2020 and 2021, most traffic problems occurred in the first quarter as drivers drove dangerously on their out laps while cars flew by on a fast lap.
But with the new generation of F1 cars, the Monza problem seems to have almost solved itself. The typical jostling for position still occurs, of course, but as the effect of dragging has diminished with the current equipment of ground effect cars, most of the silly gamesmanship has also diminished.
“Overall it was cleaner than I expected,” said McLaren’s Lando Norris when Motorsport.com asked him about the traffic situation.
“I think more cars didn’t want to get as much towing. Towing was big in 2019, 2020, 2021. Here it was about six tenths, seven tenths with slipstream. Now it’s probably a maximum of one or two tenths qualifying.
“No one wants to start first, but I would say no one cared too much about getting the perfect slipstream because I don’t think that really existed today.”
“In the end it turned out for us that we had hardly gained anything on the straights, much less than I had hoped, and it seemed to me that in the middle sector it seemed perhaps a little hampered by the two Lesmos and the Ascari.”
“It just seems better to be almost a little too far away than too close. Too close hurt me a little more.”
Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60
Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images
Team principal Stella confirmed Norris’ findings about the trailer’s lack of utility, although McLaren was perhaps a more extreme example due to its straight-line limitations.
“The extra speed you get with this new generation of vehicles is no longer as worthwhile as it was in the past,” explained team boss Andrea Stella.
“We thought about three or four seconds was the right distance [to the car in front]. Here was actually Lando at the end and pretty much Oscar [Piastri] as well as. We are therefore satisfied with the positioning of the cars in qualifying.”
However, traffic in qualifying has still been a problem this year, as shown in recent races including in Belgium, the Netherlands and especially Austria.
There were also absurd scenes in Monza F3 qualifying, where the slipstream is still a big advantage and the drivers’ retreat even led to a collision.
To further reduce dangerous situations, FIA race director Niels Wittich published an addendum to his event documents in which the usual maximum delta time was extended to both out-laps and in-laps.
This is a measure that has already been used in the past and was supported by the drivers in the briefing on Friday evening as a significant improvement in safety.
Ironically, the move almost led to a collision when Norris and Esteban Ocon had a close encounter at the entrance to Parabolica in the first quarter, forcing Norris to overtake the Alpine rider to stay under the maximum delta time.
But otherwise the optimization seemed to work as intended, resulting in perhaps the smoothest Monza qualifying in years.
“I think what we saw in qualifying yesterday was relatively clean,” said Ferrari’s chief performance engineer Jock Clear.
“Obviously the race director made some changes before qualifying to anticipate what we have seen in recent years. I think that’s been helped by the fact that people have decided that towing is actually not as critical as it has been in recent years.”
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Esteban Ocon, Alpine A523
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
The lower drag speed is a side effect of Formula One’s efforts to reduce dirty air, which has made it easier to follow in corners but had the opposite effect on the straights.
“We usually hear from people complaining about not being able to follow cars,” he added. “And of course it is precisely these characteristics that mean that when you come to Monza you have to follow a car.”
“Well, we’ve gotten away from that, the cars follow each other better now. And you don’t have to go to Monza two seconds behind the car in front to make sure you make a qualifying lap, and that makes life so much easier for everyone.
“It is a testament to the work that the FIA and the teams have done.”
The drivers also assume that there will be fewer overtaking maneuvers in the race than in previous generations of vehicles, as the smaller, low-downforce rear wings further reduce the already diminishing effect of the DRS overtaking aid.
“With the thin rear wings, overtaking is actually not that easy, because even if you open the DRS you only gain one or two tenths,” said George Russell, who qualified fourth in the Mercedes, which is at the bottom of the top speed table .
“I expect a better breakdown than Ferrari, so our only chance is to be quicker in the pit stops and do something different.”