Carlos Sainz Jr, Ferrari, Monza, 2023

‘We’ll make their life complicated’: Sainz knows pole presents slim chance to win

2023 Italian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Given how utterly unstoppable Red Bull and Max Verstappen have been since 2022, how dominant Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton were before them and how routinely Ferrari have tripped over themselves, it’s remarkable that Monza has nonetheless remained a stronghold for the Scuderia in recent years.

Over the last five Italian Grand Prix weekends heading into 2023, Ferrari had given their fans plenty to cheer about on Saturdays – taking pole position in three of those five years for one of their best success rates of any venue over that same time span.

After showing encouraging pace in practice, setting the fastest time in both Friday’s second session and Saturday morning’s final hour, Carlos Sainz Jnr became the 14th Ferrari driver to secure pole position for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, joining the ranks of team mate Charles Leclerc, Kimi Raikkonen, Michael Schumacher, Niki Lauda, Juan Manuel Fangio and even Alberto Ascari – who Monza’s challenging third chicane is named for.

“Vamos! Vamos!,” Sainz exclaimed after learning he had taken pole position, holding his arm aloft in the cockpit, his finger to the sky, ensuring everyone around the Autodromo knew who was number one on this day.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Monza, 2023
Sainz’s victory hopes may rest on Leclerc passing Verstappen
“Honestly, this qualifying session, I enjoyed it a lot,” the pole winner said after the session. “I enjoyed the battle already from Q3 run one, where we did 1’20.5, all three of us. I knew it was going to be super, super tight and all about the details and risks going into the second run and it was really good fun.”

But Sainz had been oh-so-close to losing pole position to the man who had been quickest in seven of the last eight qualifying sessions. After pulling a tenth of a second on the Red Bull driver through the Della Roggia chicane until the last corner of Alboreto (formerly Parabolica), Verstappen got a better exit than the Ferrari driver and was gaining time on him all the way until he ran out of lap, just 0.013s behind Sainz.

The closeness between Sainz – the quicker of the two Ferrari drivers – and Verstappen – the much quicker of the Red Bulls – had been evident throughout the first two days of running. Ferrari had a slight but very valuable advantage in top speed on the fastest circuit on the calendar, with Sainz peaking at 350kph at the end of the pit straight at the start of his pole lap, four kilometres-per-hour faster than the Red Bull. He also had consistently higher speed than his team mate, Leclerc, suggesting that he may have been running slightly reduced wing levels compared to the sister Ferrari.

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Verstappen was content to be beaten in Q3 for only the fifth time in 2023. “I’m happy with second, to be honest,” he said. “Here in Monza it’s always very tight. Sometimes you might jump ahead, sometimes you’re just behind but I’m confident for tomorrow.”

(L to R): Carlos Sainz Jr, Ferrari, Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Monza, 2023
Verstappen is confident of taking his 10th win in a row
Naturally, Verstappen has every reason to be confident. Few will need reminding that Red Bull have a much stronger race can than a qualifying car and he did not feel the need to be humble when asked if he felt his car would be quicker than the Ferraris on Sunday.

“I mean, so far this year, yes,” Verstappen said. “So hopefully it will be the same tomorrow.”

Prior to the weekend, Pierre Gasly suggested that Monza may be “the trickiest race for Max to win” – that if anyone can stick within DRS range of the Red Bull, the effect is so powerful that it would prevent Verstappen from escaping half a minute up the road as he has so many times in 2023. But with Verstappen the one having to get around him at the start, Sainz wants to do better than just stay within a second of the Red Bull.

“If I get a good start, I’m going to do everything I can to stay ahead of Max,” Sainz said. “I think, looking back at this year, 100% of races, they’ve been quicker and they’ve been clearly quicker – so that makes me feel like it’s not going to be easy at all and they’re going to try a way past one way or another.”

Asides from general race pace, Sainz is well aware that Red Bull are more consistent with their tyres over a stint than them. With Pirelli bringing a step softer tyres for the three compounds available this weekend, that may end up working more in Red Bull’s favour on Sunday.

Behind the likely fight for the win, George Russell turned a difficult weekend for Mercedes into a second-row start in fourth, to the surprise of many. But that is not stopping Russell from looking ahead going into the race.

“I think it’s going to be challenging,” Russell said. “I think we’ll have good race pace, the tyre deg doesn’t look very high. We need to be fast around the pit stops, I expect to have better tyre deg than Ferrari, so our only chance is to be faster on the pit stops and do something slightly different to them.”

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Alexander Albon realised the potential that many suspected Williams would have around the fastest circuit on the calendar, putting his car sixth on the grid ahead of the two McLarens of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris, with Lewis Hamilton splitting the MCL60s. Unsurprisingly, Williams were near the top of the speed trap in qualifying, with Mercedes slowest of all in a straight line. No wonder, then, that Hamilton said Albon would be “almost impossible to overtake” for him and the McLarens.

George Russell, Mercedes, Monza, 2023
Russell expects Mercedes will be competitive in race trim
For the first time since the Miami Grand Prix back in early May, conditions have been dry throughout the grand prix weekend and will remain so on Sunday. As such, the Italian Grand Prix will be a straight shoot-out between Ferrari and Verstappen.

If Sainz retains the lead at the start that will strengthen his hand, but what Ferrari could really do with is some choreographed lap one teamwork to get both their cars ahead of Verstappen. That may represent their best chance to win, albeit still a slender one, as Verstappen will be strong as the tyres start to degrade.

Drivers may only get one opportunity to jump their rivals through the pits as Pirelli anticipate the usual Monza one-stop strategy will be the way to go, despite the selection of softer tyres for this year’s race. Signs point to the hard tyre being almost certainly the compound of choice for that single stop, with the question of whether to fit the softs or the mediums for the start will come down to how aggressive teams want to be for the mad scramble down to the Rettifilo chicane off the line.

But while Ferrari genuinely do have their best chance of the year to finally break Red Bull’s stranglehold on the 2023 season, Sainz is under no illusion of how much of a challenge it will be to become the 12th driver to take a home victory for Ferrari in Italy.

“I think we will need to work well as a team and give it our best shot,” said Sainz. “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.”

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Qualifying times in full

PositionNumberDriverTeamQ1 timeQ2 time (vs Q1)Q3 time (vs Q2)
155Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’21.9651’20.991 (-0.974s)1’20.294 (-0.697s)
21Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’21.5731’20.937 (-0.636s)1’20.307 (-0.630s)
316Charles LeclercFerrari1’21.7881’20.977 (-0.811s)1’20.361 (-0.616s)
463George RussellMercedes1’22.1481’21.382 (-0.766s)1’20.671 (-0.711s)
511Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’21.9111’21.240 (-0.671s)1’20.688 (-0.552s)
623Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’21.6611’21.272 (-0.389s)1’20.760 (-0.512s)
781Oscar PiastriMcLaren-Mercedes1’22.1061’21.527 (-0.579s)1’20.785 (-0.742s)
844Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’21.9771’21.369 (-0.608s)1’20.820 (-0.549s)
94Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’21.9951’21.581 (-0.414s)1’20.979 (-0.602s)
1014Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes1’22.0431’21.543 (-0.500s)1’21.417 (-0.126s)
1122Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’21.8521’21.594 (-0.258s)Missed by 0.013s
1240Liam LawsonAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’22.1121’21.758 (-0.354s)Missed by 0.177s
1327Nico HulkenbergHaas-Ferrari1’22.3431’21.776 (-0.567s)Missed by 0.195s
1477Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’22.2491’21.940 (-0.309s)Missed by 0.359s
152Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes1’21.9301’21.944 (+0.014s)Missed by 0.363s
1624Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’22.390Missed by 0.047s
1710Pierre GaslyAlpine-Renault1’22.545Missed by 0.202s
1831Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’22.548Missed by 0.205s
1920Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’22.592Missed by 0.249s
2018Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’22.860Missed by 0.517s

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Sector times

PositionNumberDriverSector oneSector twoSector threeUltimate lapDeficit to ultimate lap
155Carlos Sainz Jnr26.701 (3)26.988 (1)26.605 (5)1’20.294
21Max Verstappen26.758 (4)27.049 (2)26.5 (1)1’20.307
316Charles Leclerc26.667 (1)27.101 (3)26.593 (3)1’20.361
463George Russell26.889 (6)27.159 (4)26.594 (4)1’20.6420.029
511Sergio Perez26.904 (8)27.171 (5)26.574 (2)1’20.6490.039
623Alexander Albon26.672 (2)27.363 (9)26.724 (7)1’20.7590.001
781Oscar Piastri26.925 (10)27.179 (6)26.681 (6)1’20.785
844Lewis Hamilton26.807 (5)27.201 (7)26.812 (9)1’20.820
94Lando Norris26.9 (7)27.27 (8)26.749 (8)1’20.9190.060
1014Fernando Alonso26.91 (9)27.527 (11)26.9 (10)1’21.3370.080
1122Yuki Tsunoda27.032 (14)27.462 (10)27.078 (13)1’21.5720.022
1227Nico Hulkenberg27.154 (17)27.55 (12)26.955 (11)1’21.6590.117
1340Liam Lawson26.965 (12)27.657 (13)27.072 (12)1’21.6940.064
1477Valtteri Bottas26.968 (13)27.73 (14)27.147 (14)1’21.8450.095
152Logan Sargeant26.94 (11)27.771 (15)27.199 (15)1’21.9100.020
1624Zhou Guanyu27.051 (15)27.978 (18)27.309 (16)1’22.3380.052
1720Kevin Magnussen27.321 (20)27.829 (16)27.379 (18)1’22.5290.063
1810Pierre Gasly27.119 (16)28.047 (19)27.379 (18)1’22.545
1931Esteban Ocon27.296 (19)27.859 (17)27.393 (20)1’22.548
2018Lance Stroll27.267 (18)28.076 (20)27.363 (17)1’22.7060.154

Speed trap

PositionNumberDriverCarEngineModelMax kph (mph)
120Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrariVF-23351.9 (218.7)
255Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrariSF-23350.8 (218.0)
324Zhou GuanyuAlfa RomeoFerrariC43350.1 (217.5)
440Liam LawsonAlphaTauriHonda RBPTAT04350.1 (217.5)
577Valtteri BottasAlfa RomeoFerrariC43349.4 (217.1)
623Alexander AlbonWilliamsMercedesFW45349.1 (216.9)
716Charles LeclercFerrariFerrariSF-23348.9 (216.8)
82Logan SargeantWilliamsMercedesFW45347.6 (216.0)
931Esteban OconAlpineRenaultA523346.9 (215.6)
104Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedesMCL60346.8 (215.5)
1114Fernando AlonsoAston MartinMercedesAMR23346.5 (215.3)
1222Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriHonda RBPTAT04346.5 (215.3)
1310Pierre GaslyAlpineRenaultA523346.3 (215.2)
1411Sergio PerezRed BullHonda RBPTRB19345.9 (214.9)
151Max VerstappenRed BullHonda RBPTRB19344.0 (213.8)
1618Lance StrollAston MartinMercedesAMR23343.6 (213.5)
1781Oscar PiastriMcLarenMercedesMCL60343.5 (213.4)
1827Nico HulkenbergHaasFerrariVF-23341.3 (212.1)
1944Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedesW14340.6 (211.6)
2063George RussellMercedesMercedesW14338.6 (210.4)

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Over to you

How realistic are Ferrari’s chances of ending Red Bull’s winning run at home? Share your views on the Italian Grand Prix in the comments.

2023 Italian Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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13 comments on “‘We’ll make their life complicated’: Sainz knows pole presents slim chance to win”

  1. Monza suits Ferrari because, it is to other circuits as Ferrari is to other teams.

    Ferrari doesn’t do intricate, and neither does Monza.
    It’s very straightforward and direct. Ferrari can do that.
    It’s when things get complex that Ferrari fall apart.

    1. What? They’ve won 1 out of the last 10 Italian GPs.

      1. Good point, they’ve not really set the track alight in the last decade, they had a good car in 2018 but lost the race due to excessive tyre degradation; on the other hand it seemed like monza suited a struggling ricciardo, 2021 was a majestic performance and 2022 was definitely decent, even if norris was faster, and considering how bad ricciardo was in 2022 I think the track characteristics suited him.

      2. They’ve won 1 out of the last 10 Italian GPs.

        That’s indeed not a lot, or just 10%.
        Yet it is percentage-wise a lot more than they achieved lately at other circuits; I believe it’s only four wins in 100 non-Monza appeances (4%).

  2. I just don’t think Ferrari have the race pace or tyre wear advantage needed to keep Verstappen behind. He’ll either have a fairly easy DRS over take or RedBull will do the under cut to get track position. From there it’s another easy Sunday cruise for Max.

    1. I agree, this race is reliability and surviving the first lap for Max. I am not so sure he will survive the first lap.. just a feeling.

    2. Probably, a double podium seems the best case outcome for Ferrari.

      Unless they are willing to take a Senna-esque approach to defending the lead and Verstappen ends up with a DNF. But there’s no indication either wants to play it like that, which is actually for the best.

    3. Last year Monza race grid 1.Lec 2.Ver 3.Sai.
      But ver started from 7th but he still won.

  3. If speed trap reflects downforce and if that reflects tire wear Ferrari will be going straight backwards and Russell could be in for a podium.

  4. How realistic are Ferrari’s chances of ending Red Bull’s winning run at home?
    – Low unfortunately. I predict Max (assuming he gets a decent or perfect start) takes the lead already into Prima Variante or Variante Della Roggia.

  5. Ferrari are not fast enough on full, or even half tanks, Max will lead by lap 4 if not lap 1.

    Can Perez get into second, or can Russell do it?

    1. Can Perez get into second

      That question can both be used by a serious pundit as by a stand-up comedian ;)

  6. Well, best possible result in the end considering Checo did no major blunders

Comments are closed.