MONZA, Italy (AP)Valtteri Bottas continued a fantastic weekend as he won the sprint at the Italian Grand Prix on a miserable Saturday afternoon for Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton, who saw title rival Max Verstappen take pole position and extend his lead in the standings.
”It’s not the outcome we wanted for today and we can’t afford days like these, especially when it is this close in the championships,” Hamilton said.
Bottas finished the 18-lap dash 2.325 seconds ahead of Verstappen but will start at the back of the grid on Sunday as he is going to take a new power unit and will receive a penalty for doing so.
”It’s been the perfect weekend so far. But that happens,” Bottas said. ”We have a strong car here, good pace and I’ll be fighting tomorrow.
”Anything is possible … you never know, so I’ll keep pushing.”
Verstappen has pole position and Daniel Ricciardo will also start from the front row. The McLaren driver finished 14.534 behind Bottas, who is leaving Mercedes at the end of the season for Alfa Romeo.
Hamilton finished in fifth, more than 20 seconds behind his teammate following a woeful start.
”It’s highly unlikely but not impossible that we can get the win,” Hamilton said. ”It’s damage limitation at the moment. Should be a very easy race for Max unless I can get past the two McLarens early on and then challenge him.”
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff appeared to be more optimistic.
”First of all the starts can happen. Between hero and zero on a start there’s such a fine margin,” he said. ”Having too much wheelspin happens. That bit us hard today but there’s still everything to play for tomorrow.”
Verstappen extended his lead in the championship to five points after earning two points for finishing second. The Red Bull driver knows he is poised to end his run of poor results at Monza after claiming his first pole position at the famous track.
”If you have a good start it should be enough to defend,” Verstappen said. ”It was just sensible pushing (today), just see where the pace was at.
”I mean, Valtteri was already a bit up the road after one or two laps so just see where the car was at. I never really felt like an overtake was on … I also knew of course that even if I stayed in second I start first tomorrow.”
This was the second sprint qualifying after its debut at Silverstone.
Rather than the standard format of two practices on Friday and a third practice and qualifying on Saturday, there was one practice on Friday followed by a qualifying session that determined the grid for Saturday’s sprint.
The sprint qualifying has drawn mixed reviews with some labelling Saturday’s outing a procession.
”I mean there hasn’t been much overtaking if any in the two races that we’ve had. I still think it’s a good experiment,” Hamilton said. ”I’m still proud of F1 for trying something new. There’s definitely going to be learnings from these sprint races and I’m sure we can adapt it for next year.”
Bottas was quickest in Friday’s qualifying and so started just ahead of Hamilton. But the seven-time world champion had a nightmare start and swiftly dropped to sixth.
Hamilton moved up to fifth after Pierre Gasly – a surprise winner at Monza last year – clipped the back of another car and crashed into the barriers at turn one. He will start the race behind Lando Norris and just ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who won the Italian team’s home race in 2019.
Hamilton is a five-time winner at the Temple of Speed and has three additional podiums at the track.
In contrast, Verstappen has never set foot on the iconic Monza podium, with a best finish of fifth in 2018.
Having ended one hoodoo by taking pole, he will be hoping to end another.
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports