While the Tifosi had collective hearts in mouths as the stewards investigated a potential double Ferrari infringement, Carlos Sainz did not feel under threat as he drove to pole for the Italian GP.
Sainz topped the second and third practice sessions to give Ferrari fans hope that pole position could be on the cards for their team, with Sainz duly delivering on that by beating Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to the P1 grid slot by a mere 0.013s.
There was a cloud of uncertainty hanging over Sainz’s achievement though right until the end of Q3, with the stewards looking at a potential infringement by the Spaniard and team-mate Charles Leclerc, related to the maximum allowed lap time at Monza to combat traffic and safety issues from slow-moving cars.
Additional reporting by Thomas Maher
Carlos Sainz preferred to bust the delta rather than impede
As Sainz though was revelling in his achievement as he drove back to the pits, the stewards confirmed that no further action would be take against either Ferrari driver, confirming their P1 and P3 spots on the grid.
Not that Sainz was sweating too much, as he said that exceeding the delta time came about due to slowing to avoid impeding cars on a fast lap, claiming if he had have done that, he would have been at greater risk of punishment.
“I’m not very worried about that,” he told media, including PlanetF1.com, in reference to the investigation.
“Because I had to slow down so much to don’t impede other cars that were in fastest laps, that it was almost impossible to respect the delta, because if I would have respected it, I would have impeded my competitors.
“So I just played it safe, preferred to not impede anyone. And even if I was, I think one or two seconds over delta, I think that’s safer than actually impeding someone.”
Sainz though can now fully put that investigation in the rear-view mirror and enjoy the feeling of scoring a pole position for Ferrari at Monza, the Spaniard saying he “couldn’t fault” the SF-23 as it gave him the confidence to unleash one of his best qualifying laps yet.
“Difficult to put into words to describe the feeling,” he said.
“It’s just amazing, you know just the whole weekend really since we arrived here on Wednesday, the support and the feeling with the crowd and the energy that they put into us, it’s incredible.
“I had my birthday yesterday also, so I enjoyed that and I’m pretty sure it gave me also good feeling, good vibes and good energy into today.
“I’ve been feeling very comfortable with the car and I put together honestly one of my best laps there in Q3 run two to seal pole.
“Since we put it on track in FP1, it just felt completely different to what it did in Zandvoort. It’s what we’re getting this year, we are getting some very good weekends and some other very tough ones, we just need to make sure in the good ones we try to maximise like we did today.
“And in the tough ones, we learn how to suffer and get the best out of it. But honestly, the car today, I cannot fault it. It was a really, really good balance. It gave me a lot of confidence through Sector 2, Ascari and Parabolica, and that I think is where I could make the major difference when it counted, taking a bit more risks.”
Carlos Sainz holds hope Ferrari can beat Red Bull
Ferrari have led the pack away twice in F1 2023 already, Leclerc having scored a sprint and grand prix pole double in Baku, but as has been the case throughout this season, nobody has had an answer for Red Bull come race day.
Verstappen goes into Sunday looking to set a new record with a 10th win in a row, and while Sainz expects Verstappen and Red Bull to be quicker, he maintains belief that a Ferrari win is not impossible.
“We’ve got the motivation and the energy to do it,” he declared.
“The car, it has been very good all weekend, especially over one lap. From what I’ve seen through the long runs, I’m not going to lie, it’s trickier. It’s not the same picture as in qualy.
“Red Bull, as soon as you put five or six laps on the tyre, and everything starts to degrade a bit, it’s where they come [into] their strengths and the race pace that we’ve seen all year.
“But hopefully I can get a good start and then I can make Max and Checo [Perez] behind and Charles’ life as difficult as possible.
“But I think we will need to work good as a team and give it our best shot. I think it’s a good opportunity tomorrow, but also being realistic, the Red Bull should be quicker. We’re just going to try and make their life as complicated as possible and try to take the win.
“They’re going to try a way past one way or another, but something could happen, we also could have a particularly good day tomorrow and get the win.
“So I’m just going to try and go open-minded into tomorrow, drive as I want to win the race and then adapt to the circumstances and to the race pace of each car.”
Charles Leclerc satisfied with recovery to P3
By his own admission, Sainz’s team-mate Leclerc accepted that P3 is rarely a starting position which fills him with joy, though considering how his weekend had been going up until that point, it is a result he will gladly take.
The Monegasque driver revealed that he had gone down the wrong route with his setup choices for the SF-23, but following Sainz’s approach got him back on the right path.
“Q3 was really on the limit,” he told media including PlanetF1.com. “The two laps I’ve done, I was really happy with my laps, but we were very close with Max and Carlos.
“To be honest, it’s not something that I expected. Until now it’s been such a difficult weekend for me. Yesterday, I went into a direction that was completely wrong with the car setup and I really struggled to put a lap together.
“This morning in FP3 was all about adapting to that new car, following the direction of Carlos’ setup, and then in qualy, I managed to put everything together and I’m really happy with the performance we’ve shown today.
“Yes, it’s only P3 and I’m never completely happy with third place, but considering where we started the weekend, it’s not a bad place to be.”
If Sainz or Leclerc were able to deliver the victory at Monza in front of the Tifosi, then it would mark Red Bull’s first grand prix defeat since Sao Paulo 2022.