Ferrari boosted by Friday performance but Verstappen’s race pace will cause concern RaceFans

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With the two world championship titles almost mathematically decided, the main intrigue ahead of the final seven rounds of the 2022 season is whether anyone can stop Red Bull and Max Verstappen’s winning streak: Zandvoort was his fourth in a row .

Just like in Belgium, the triple-header’s first race weekend which starts the second stage of the championship, Red Bull chose to handicap the future double world champion with a penalty on the grid for having used a fifth engine in power -tour depending on the calendar. It may be just five places on the starting grid, as opposed to a demotion to the back of the grid like at Spa, but the guarantee that Verstappen will not be in the front row is an opportunity for Ferrari and Red Bull . This year.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Monza, 2022
Red Bull’s race pace boded ill for Ferrari

Luckily for the thousands of Ferrari fans who will descend on Monza with as unbridled a fever as ever, they had every reason to return home happy on Friday with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr each completing one of the two fastest practice sessions. faster before the championship – first Red Bull.

Ferrari being fastest on Friday is not an unusual occurrence in 2022 and so often Verstappen has ridden over the weekend to deny them on Sunday. But as the sun set over the Monza paddock, even Leclerc had to admit the signs were encouraging.

“Honestly, the feelings are good,” said the winner of the 2019 Italian Grand Prix, who finished Friday just under two tenths of a second slower than his teammate. “I’m quite, quite happy with the first feelings we had on this track.

“After what happened at Spa, the car is in a similar place, a bit more extreme here, but a similar place in Spa. So we were expecting a bit more difficult day, but it’s a good one. Day 1. Now we have to take a step forward for tomorrow.

Leclerc is one of only two drivers from the top three teams who, as things stand, will qualify on Saturday without a grid penalty. He will authentically fight for pole position, unlike his team-mate Sainz, the two Red Bulls or the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton. But Leclerc is more focused on Sunday than Saturday, and there too he sees reason to celebrate.

“[Our] the race pace actually seemed stronger than the qualifying pace on my side,” he said. “I was happier with my car on high fuel. So it looks good again.

Although he was limited by another start from behind the grid this weekend, Sainz was at least encouraged by being the fastest driver on Friday.

“I have to say that since EL1 the car felt in a much better window, in a much better position than at Spa,” he said. “The lap times came easily. The clock didn’t lie and we were getting more and more up to speed. So it’s a pleasant surprise. »

But in a season where Ferrari has more often tasted disappointment than success at the end of a weekend, Sainz knows very well not to get carried away by looking at the lap times at this stage.

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“I don’t think we are the fastest there, especially in the long stints,” he warned. “But at least we’re closer than we thought.”

George Russell, Mercedes, Monza, 2022
A top-row start looks possible again for Russell

Having won from the middle of the pack and even further in recent races, the prospect of Verstappen starting no higher than sixth on the grid shouldn’t seem too daunting in comparison. Naturally, Red Bull focused on their long-term pace as Verstappen’s pole position was rendered realistically impossible, with the world champion executing a higher downforce setup than his rivals.

“I think the car was pretty good,” Verstappen said. “I’m just trying a few things for the car from FP1 to FP2 to understand if you could do things better. Some worked, some didn’t. Just general long term practice of course with the small penalty we have. Everything seems to be working fine.”

While the Ferrari drivers seemed encouraged by the pace they showed in both sessions, Verstappen focused more on his long-term performance in second practice – and he liked what he saw from data, as he was consistently lapping faster than anyone else on the medium tire late in the session. Is another repeat of his dominance over Spa underway?

“I mean, there are still a few things we can do better,” he said, “but of course Monza is not like Spa in terms of track layout.

“Of course there’s little downforce, but we didn’t expect it to be like Spa. But if we can find a way – even if it’s, say, halfway to Spa – then I think we have a good chance, if you look at the long runs I think we look pretty good and that’s of course the most important thing for the race.

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Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez is a Monza fan. He particularly likes to fight his way through the field on the high-speed Italian track, having won from 14th on the grid in two consecutive British F3 races here and taking a fine second place for Sauber in 2012, running a brilliant one-stop strategy. to get on the podium starting from 12th place. This weekend, the now Red Bull driver believes tire degradation will once again play an important role as he seeks to recover from a 10-place grid penalty.

Overtaking can be tricky at Monza, making qualifying crucial

“I think the main thing will be race pace, the degradation around this place will be key for Sunday’s race,” Perez said. “Overtaking will be difficult, obviously, but I think the downgrade looked promising.”

But after Mercedes were Verstappen’s closest rivals at the Dutch Grand Prix just a week ago, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell have again been scratching their heads as they try to figure out what’s going on. was responsible for their latest deficit against their rivals.

“To be honest, it was a bit of a strange day,” admitted Russell after finishing fifth on Friday, half a tenth behind Lando Norris’ McLaren.

“FP1 looked quite solid, but Ferrari and Red Bull seemed to take a step forward from us. So maybe we took a step back, because we were obviously behind at McLaren in FP2. So a little work to do tonight to figure that out.

With Hamilton starting from the back of the grid with his fourth power unit for the season, Russell is apparently the only driver with a legitimate chance of battling Leclerc for pole position. Hamilton has already accepted that, with Russell given the choice of running first or second in qualifying this weekend, he will tow his team-mate on Saturday. However, Russell says staying behind Hamilton for a wake won’t be the priority.

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“If you’re successful, it definitely works,” he said. “But there is high risk, high reward. So it’s not something we put a lot of emphasis on.

Gallery: The 2022 Italian Grand Prix tests in pictures

“The qualifying sessions are where we learn a lot about the car, the tires and that’s clearly where we’ve struggled this year. So for now I think we’ll both come in and do a regular session.

With no Red Bull starting from the top five on the grid no matter what on Saturday, the Tifosi will be waiting for nothing less than Leclerc securing pole position to give Ferrari the best possible chance of snapping Verstappen’s latest winning streak. .

“I don’t know how much sandbags Red Bull has put in, so let’s wait and see tomorrow when they put everything in place,” Leclerc said. “But today the feelings were really good. So hopefully we can keep that feeling.

Combined training times

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Ferrari boosted by Friday performance but Verstappen’s race pace will cause concern RaceFans

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