Nico Rosberg, the 2016 World Champion, feels Charles Leclerc made a “political mistake” by not demanding a tow from Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz at the climax of Italian Grand Prix qualifying.
Sainz secured his third F1 pole position on Saturday at Monza, where he edged out Max Verstappen’s dominant Red Bull by 0.013 seconds with Leclerc back in third.
Although a slipstream has long been regarded as a powerful weapon over a single lap at Monza, Leclerc crossed the line ahead of Sainz during both runs in Q3.
Charles Leclerc starts third at Monza as Carlos Sainz takes pole for Ferrari
Having given Sainz a tow on the first flying laps, Leclerc opted to run alone in second in the queue – with a large gap to Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin ahead – on his final attempt.
Sainz, meanwhile, was positioned behind Verstappen’s Red Bull on track and posted a lap time 0.067s faster than his team-mate to secure Ferrari’s second pole position of the 2023 season and his first since Silverstone last year.
With Sainz also setting the pace in two of the three practice sessions at Monza, Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur said the absence of a tow for Leclerc was immaterial to the final result with Sainz the faster of the two this weekend.
“I’m convinced that without the slipstream, he’s been better,” Vasseur told Sky F1 after the session.
“For sure, you see the advantage of the slipstream in the straight line but for sure you have the disadvantage [in the corners[. Max was without the slipstream also. It was the right call.”
However, Rosberg, whose title-winning GP2 season in 2005 was overseen by Vasseur at the ART Grand Prix team, feels Leclerc made a fundamental error by failing to position himself in Sainz’s slipstream for at least one of his Q3 laps.
He told Sky F1: “I remember that Fred sometimes has these special views, but in this case I would say it’s totally not correct because we know that the tow, if you get it right here, is a huge help.
“I think Charles Leclerc probably made a mistake on the team internal politics there, because it shouldn’t have been that he pulls Carlos two times in a row in Q3 on a track like Monza.
“He should have made sure before there that at least it’s one on one in the last part of qualifying, so I think he made a mistake there.”
Rosberg was full of praise for Sainz’s performance under the pressure of representing Ferrari at the team’s home race, adding: “He’s driven so well all weekend, really on it, and that last lap there was the ultimate pressure.
“You’re in a Ferrari, you’re kind of a favourite by then and putting it together in the way that he did [was] spectacular.”
Sainz is going in search of his first podium finish of the season at Monza, having failed to finish higher than fourth in the first 14 races of 2023.