Round 9 recap

Round 9 recap

What happened in Monza?

Coming fresh on the heels of Spa, the teams were probably hoping for a drama-free race weekend at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, but if that was the case they had come to the wrong place: Italians are addicted to drama, particularly in racing, and it’s simply impossible to think of a weekend passing without comment at their national circuit.

But there are few who would have predicted it would come from the weather. Spa is traditionally wet at some stage over a weekend but Monza, like the rest of Italy, is generally hot and bone dry at this time of year, which made the forecasts all the more surprising as the teams arrived in Italy on Wednesday to prepare for the races ahead.

There were a few clouds overhead as the teams made their way to the pitlane for free practice on Friday, the remnants of a brief shower earlier in the morning, but the track was dry as all of the drivers made their way onto the circuit for their programmes. Artem Markelov grabbed the top spot at the 15 minute mark, with championship leader Charles Leclerc falling in just behind the Russian before being nudged back a spot by Luca Ghiotto, putting his local knowledge to good use.

If everyone was fearful of the usual Leclerc roadshow in qualifying, they were to be happily surprised for once when Nobuharu Matsushita grabbed his first pole position at this level, and stopped the Monegasque driver taking P1 on the road for the first time this season, with a stunning lap in warm and sunny conditions for the top spot.

The McLaren-Honda development driver claimed P1 on his first flying lap, taking advantage of the F1 rubber laid down in the previous session to set a target to which his rivals could only aspire. Alexander Albon and Leclerc both briefly claimed the top spot with their first competitive laps, but further back Matsushita ran faster, setting the pace in sector 1 and 2 while missing the top spot in sector 3 by a thousandth, grabbing pole by 0.089s ahead of Nyck De Vries and Louis Deletraz.

“It is a really special day for me,” Matsushita smiled after the session. “Last week I had a really big crash in Eau Rouge, and it was a really difficult, really tough weekend for me, and actually this morning I had really good pace and we spoke a lot with the team about set ups for qualifying. My qualifying first lap was really good, no mistakes, really calm and not pushing: I think it was the best lap in my life!”

“At Monza it is easy to overtake because of the DRS and the long straight, but I’m in the best position to start and my main target is to get big points tomorrow, not make a mistake at the start and then take it easy, but not too easy! I think my pace will be very quick tomorrow, and then it’s all about degradation. It will be a good day, I think.”