Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz claimed the second pole position of his F1 career in Italian Grand Prix qualifying at Monza.
The Spaniard’s third pole comes almost a year after his last at Austin 2022 with Sainz joined in the top three by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc.
Here are the main winners and losers from Saturday at Monza…
Somehow still without a podium in 2023, Carlos Sainz deserved that. Really deserved it.
He may not have the ceiling of Leclerc when it comes to raw performance, but in a season in which his team-mate has pushed things too far, too hard, too often, Sainz has been tremendously consistent in scoring points at all but two races (and one of those was Australia, where the most outrageous penalty dropped him from fourth to 12th at the chequered flag).
As Leclerc has tried all manner of acrobatics in an effort to coax performance out of the Ferrari and usually landed on his head, Sainz has driven the package he has and found value in the simple art of being reliable.
Uninspiring? Maybe. But useful.
Smart too, for while Leclerc inexplicably elected to go without a tow in Q3 Sainz positioned himself nicely in the queue behind Verstappen’s Red Bull – not too close but just close enough, maybe, to account for the 0.013-second difference – and let physics do the rest.
With rumours of a potential switch to Audi intensifying, that moment on the grid at the end of Q3 as he celebrated pole in front of the Tifosi should come as a timely reminder to Sainz that there really is no team in F1 quite like Ferrari.
Who in their right mind would willingly walk away from this?
With Fernando Alonso tipping a potential Williams podium here, qualifying lower than he did at small, max-downforce Zandvoort last weekend may come as a slight disappointment to Alex Albon.
But who’s to say it’s not still possible?
Nobody will welcome the sight of that bullet-quick, navy-blue Williams in the mirrors in a race situation.
The key for Albon on Sunday will be to avoid pushing too hard in the parts of the lap where the Williams will be inevitably weaker compared to the cars around him: the chicanes, the Lesmos, the quick change of direction at Ascari and Parabolica – pretty much every single corner.
His race-ending crash while running as high as sixth in Melbourne earlier this season should serve as a warning of the perils of overdriving when at dizzy heights.
Keep it on the island and Williams will take a big step towards securing seventh in the Constructors’ Championship on Sunday.
While Daniel Ricciardo is away, Liam Lawson will play.
It was unwise to judge him, for better or for worse, on the evidence of his short-notice debut in the most challenging conditions imaginable at Zandvoort, with the coming weeks set to provide a more accurate gauge of his suitability for a full-time AlphaTauri seat in 2024.
He was outqualified by Yuki Tsunoda here but, just one place and two tenths behind, is close enough for a driver taking his very first steps in F1 over the course of this double header.
With the Mercedes, McLarens and Alonso’s Aston Martin all potentially vulnerable in the straight-line speed stakes, might points even be possible with Honda power from 12th on the grid?
First and third on the grid reinforced Ferrari’s re-emergence as a Red Bull-matching force, but it will hurt Leclerc that pole at Monza did not go to him.
It could so easily have been his too, for even without a tow in Q3 Leclerc was within 0.067s of his team-mate when all was said and done.
Given the Ferrari drivers have already had a couple of controversies in qualifying this year at Melbourne and Silverstone, possibly harming the trust between them in teamwork scenarios, Leclerc may have reasoned that it was worth going it alone and sidestepping all the confusion, all the mess the slipstream can sometimes bring.
Maybe not, he later acknowledged with regret, when it left him third on the grid and Sainz celebrating pole.
In this most challenging season of his F1 career to date, here was a little nugget of gold – something sacred to cling to – that slipped away.
Two more years of this?
Lewis Hamilton will very much hope not but the nature of his session followed the worrying pattern seen at Mercedes over the last two seasons, the seven-time World Champion complaining of “no grip” halfway through Q2 in the eternally temperamental W14.
Having mocked the quality of Verstappen’s F1 team-mates coming into this weekend, Hamilton found himself ranked as the second-best Mercedes driver in Q3.
Less than two tenths slower than George Russell, he will start four places down.
He may have the tyre preservation to help him move forward on Sunday, but what about the straight-line speed? Albon’s Williams may prove frustrating to get past.
Logan Sargeant may have crashed twice in 24 hours at Zandvoort, but preferred to focus on the positives after reaching Q3 for the first time.
If the car’s performance last weekend came as a surprise, Monza is ideal Williams territory and as such has the feel of a potentially pivotal weekend in Sargeant’s young career.
Hell, even Nyck de Vries – ruthlessly deemed not to be F1 standard by Red Bull/AlphaTauri after 10 races of 2023 – managed to fly in that car at this track last year, so why couldn’t Sarge do the same?
His primal scream over team radio after being classified last in Q2 – with a lap seven tenths off Albon after a do-or-die final corner – was the telltale sign of a driver who knows he is running out of lives.
Lance Stroll/Aston Martin
As scrutiny increases on Lance Stroll’s seat, Aston Martin team principal Mike Krack has been predictably protective of the owner’s son at Monza.
Before asking questions of Lance, he effectively said, ask questions of the team because – through reliability, strategy, and operational errors – the team have let Stroll down too often in 2023.
This weekend will be held up as Exhibit A, for after his car was handed to reserve driver Felipe Drugovich on Friday morning Stroll found himself stopping at the side of the track before he had even set a lap time in FP2.
What chance did he have after that?
Already low on confidence and lacking the adaptability to bounce back from such limited track time – and yes, maybe even the required resilience to bounce back from such setbacks too – Stroll’s weekend was over the moment he was wheeled away by the marshals.
Qualifying dead last, three tenths slower even than the 19th-fastest time in Q1, was merely the final blow.