The 2021 Italian GP at Monza is the second race to feature F1’s new ‘Sprint’ qualifying format. This is the fourth qualifying format to be used in the 21st century although spring does include the current standard ‘Knock Out’ session as part of it.
Whether Sprint is the right format for F1 won’t be discussed here but it is already known that it wouldn’t work everywhere with Monaco being the obvious example. As such there have been discussions about having different formats at certain tracks and while I don’t really support this, Monza has shown that such a system may be necessary. In my opinion, the knock out format is the best solution as it has been proven to work and does the job of organising the cars by who is fastest individually.
Monza however is quite unique in terms of its layout with it effectively being 4 long straights connected by a few corners. This means that the dirty air effect of modern F1 cars is actually of benefit to following cars. This is particularly true in qualifying where the tow (slipstream at a greater distance) can give a driver several tenths advantage. Although this usually hasn’t caused many issues, in the last three years it has lead to ridiculous situations where drivers desperately back up to try and get a tow.
This came to a head in 2019 where on the final out lap of Q3 all drivers left the pit as late as possible giving them just 1:40 to get around and start a lap. Additionally, they all drove at a snail’s pace as everyone wanted to stay behind each other, this included Hulekneberg taking the escape road at turn one so that the rest of the grid would end up ahead (which didn’t happen). In the end, Sainz was the only car to make it to the line and set a lap time.
Again in 2020 in Q1 the same problem caused 5 cars to enter turn one at the same time… ON A QUALIFYING LAP! Sebastian Vettel was the major casualty from that incident with the German being knocked out of Q1 as a result.
And then we come to 2021 with Friday qualifying complete and yet again we saw multiple incidents around cars trying to get a tow.
Firstly Verstappen on a flying lap had to weave through three cars on into the second chicane and in the end, had aport the lap as cars were on the racing line. Then into Ascari, a queue of four cars going slowly saw Gasly almost collide with the Ferrari of Leclerc and that was just Q1.
Q2 saw the worst incident of the day with all several cars flying out the pits at once, Sebastian Vettel drove out ahead of his teammate almost colliding with Hamilton and coming way too close to hitting an Aston Martin and Alpine mechanic.
Thankfully some had become wise to this and decided to get on with it, with Verstappen overtaking three cars on the pit exit who were again driving at a snail’s pace. And for the final runs in Q3 Red Bull sent their drivers out first to avoid any incidents with slow cars.
So clearly there is an issue with qualifying at Monza however this time it’s not the cars or track layout, it’s the teams and drivers doing anything possible to get the best tow advantage over their rivals regardless of the consequences which as we’ve seen can end up in no one being able to set a lap.
So while is don’t agree with F1’s constant need to change up the qualifying format, I do feel that changes could be made to prevent situations like this from happening again.
For me, one way this could be solved is to keep the current qualy system but have the cars go out one by one with a large enough gap in between that no one can get a toe. This would mean there would be no clashes of drivers slowing down and make it an even playing field with no one getting an advantage. It may seem harsh but if the teams and drivers can’t be trusted to organise themselves to avoid these situations then it’s on them. I know it’s not perfect it at least solves the main problem.
So what do you think about qualifying at Monza should it be changed and if how? Let me know in the comments and please share.
Title image from Autosport.com Credit: Mark Sutton