Valtteri Bottas wins F1 Italian GP sprint race but Max Verstappen takes pole
Valtteri Bottas won the sprint qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix but in a format that is looking unwieldy and turgid he is neither race winner nor does he claim pole position. Formula One admitted it is considering once more adjusting the sprint feature of the weekend in an attempt to inject it with some excitement.
Bottas has a grid penalty, putting Max Verstappen, who was second, on pole for Sunday’s race. He is in a real position to extend his championship lead over Lewis Hamilton, who was fifth after a poor start to the 18-lap event and has conceded that Verstappen should gain an easy win.
Sprint qualifying to decide the grid for Sunday’s grand prix is the race F1 is insisting is not a race. The victor does not claim a race win but pole and yet in this case the driver who finished first, Bottas, will start from the back of the grid having taken a full new power unit this weekend beyond the team’s allocation. Were this not unsatisfying enough from a format that was introduced to enliven the sport, the race itself was once more a processional affair, much as it was when trialled at Silverstone.
Hamilton acknowledged that fans had been disappointed by the sprint races so far and expected the format to be changed for next year.
“I agree with the fans there hasn’t been much overtaking in the two races we have had,” he said. “There will be things to learn from these sprint races and hopefully we can adapt for next year. We have to try and do something different at these tracks where there is no overtaking. As a driver, to not have any overtaking it’s not fun and for fans not to see any action.”
Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez condemned it as “very boring”, saying: “I can imagine it’s also boring for fans, boring for drivers. It doesn’t bring anything to be honest.”
With some drivers understood to favour the sprint being run as a standalone short race with a reverse grid, F1’s sporting director, Ross Brawn, admitted a format change was under consideration, including a mixed-up grid for the sprint on a Saturday and awarding more points than the three, two and one currently on offer for the top three drivers.
“Some of the drivers felt there should be more reward for the sprint and more jeopardy in the sprint,” he said. “Maybe a standalone event is a consideration. Qualifying on Friday, race on Sunday and a standalone event with a decent reward and a little bit of jeopardy in the grid. It would have to go toward the [drivers’ standing], for the drivers to fight hard you have to have some decent reward.”
Verstappen was followed home by the McLarens of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris in third and fourth, the Australian’s best qualifying this season. Yet the order of the top seven remained as it had after the opening lap, when Hamilton slipped down from second on the grid.
Hamilton had a shocking start, admitting he had gone in a little too deep on his clutch, had wheelspin as a result and was swamped off the line, dropping to fifth by the time he went through Curva Grande. Starting from fourth on Sunday, he has already conceded the race will be damage limitation. With the two points from the sprint, Verstappen has a five-point advantage over the world champion.
“It all started with the bad start,” said Hamilton. “We lost a lot of points today. I now have to figure out how I’m going to get past the McLarens tomorrow. I will try to limit the damage.
“Everyone has been able to see the speed of Verstappen and the Red Bull. He is very fast and he is starting from pole so it should be an easy win for him. In the meantime, I just have to try to get past those two guys in front of me.”
The Olympic gold medallist in the 100m at the Tokyo Games, Italian sprinter Lamont Marcell Jacobs, was on hand to present medals to the top three, another experiment with innovation that felt rather hollow for an event that even the drivers seem barely enthused by. The adrenaline-fuelled sense of achievement and excitement they express post-qualifying has been lacking at both sprint events thus far.
Hamilton had places to make up behind Bottas, Verstappen, Ricciardo and Norris but struggled to close enough on the McLarens, who are very strong in a straight line. He pushed hard, almost losing the rear on the exit of the first Lesmo corner, but could not make a dent in Norris’s advantage while Bottas and Verstappen cruised to the flag out front.
Without significant points on offer or a strategic element there was no sense of jeopardy and the format once more lacked urgency or the feeling that the drivers were willing to risk anything, for fear of scuppering their chances when it really mattered.
Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were in sixth and seventh for Ferrari, Antonio Giovinazzi in eighth for Alfa Romeo, Red Bull’s Pérez in ninth, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll in 10th and Alpine’s Fernando Alonso in 11th.
All the drivers will move one place up the grid on their finishing positions after Bottas’s penalty