Sport / 8 September 2019, 11:30am / JONATHAN MCEVOY
Lewis Hamilton warned a nervous Formula One community that it is risking another troubling accident unless it legislates against the farce that blighted yesterday’s qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix.
Following the death of Formula Two driver Anthoine Hubert in Belgium last week, Charles Leclerc capitalised on the jockeying going on behind him to make himself an instant Ferrari favourite by taking pole in front of the partisans at Monza. The Monegasque was not even under pressure in the final seconds of the session because only he and one other driver, McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, crossed the line before the chequered flag had been waved. Leclerc’s time from his first lap remained unchallenged.
The rest of the field were caught out as they jostled for position to gain a slipstream from the car in front. They weaved and diced — sometimes slowly, sometimes fast. The sand ran out and their chance to put in another flying lap of their own had gone.
‘Junior class,’ said Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff. ‘Everyone looked like idiots.’
So qualifying finished with Lewis Hamilton sharing the front row with Leclerc. Valtteri Bottas, in the other Mercedes, was third. Embarrassingly, Sebastian Vettel was only fourth best, again losing out to his ascendant team-mate Leclerc.
But the most important point, made by Hamilton, was with regard to the slipstreaming. One false move in this game of cat and mouse could have resulted in a car going over another.
‘The out-lap was dangerous for us all,’ said the world champion. ‘It is a risky business. It won’t be until somebody crashes that they will change it. Improvements are necessary for safety and the spectators.
‘It was an anti-climax that we didn’t get to do the final lap. It didn’t look good for Formula One.’
The elbowing occurred despite a warning at the drivers’ briefing from Michael Masi, the race director, that offenders would be penalised. Partly, he said, because the bunching up, also evident in Spa, looked stupid on TV. The deeper backdrop was Frenchman Hubert’s fatal accident and the alarming medical bulletin concerning Juan Manuel Correa, the American involved in the terrible smash at Eau Rouge corner eight days ago: a statement yesterday revealed he is in an induced coma.
Correa, 20, is in a critical but stable condition with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome in a London hospital. He also broke his legs and suffered spinal cord damage in the 160mph crash.
‘Juan Manuel is currently in an intensive care unit that specialises in respiratory injuries,’ said his family. ‘We are confident that our son will surprise us like he always does with his tremendous fighting will and strength and will recover completely.’
Leclerc, a friend of Hubert from their childhood karting days, took his fourth career pole a week on from his maiden victory in Belgium, the day after the fatality. The guard is changing at Ferrari with Vettel, who is paid £36million a year, increasingly unable to bring home the bacon.
The fast Monza track — the Temple of Speed — suits to the home team’s car and they will be confident of partly compensating for a dismal season of evaporated hopes by taking a first victory here in nine years.
It is too little, too late for the championship — Hamilton is well clear and does not need to win today to maintain an advantage that will surely see him take his sixth title long before the season ends in Abu Dhabi in December.
Max Verstappen, third in the standings, will start at the back of the grid after an engine upgrade. The Dutchman is 87 points adrift and was ailing again in qualifying as he tried unavailingly to set one fast lap. He lost power and had to abort his trip.
Above him at the foot of the timing sheets were the two Williams cars, with British rookie George Russell once more getting the better of his team-mate Robert Kubica. But there is little to cheer back in their garage.
Lando Norris, the other English new boy, qualified 14th for McLaren but an engine penalty means he will start from the naughty step alongside Verstappen.
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari’s last world champion back in 2007, pranged his Alfa Romeo at Parabolica but climbed out unscathed. The session was suspended for 11 minutes. By then, Leclerc had already delivered what transpired to be the decisive lap. Cue the farce.