The final phase of qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix descended into farce as only one of the nine drivers on track managed to set a time. The rest held each other up so badly none of them managed to set a time.
The team radio messages from all nine cars reveals much about what happened.
The key to the situation was the slipstream. Each driver want to run behind another car to boost their top speed on the straight. That meant no one wanted to be the first driver running.
It seems Renault attempted something similar. As Nico Hulkenberg joined the track, he was told to “remember the plan”, then immediately drove through the first chicane, apparently hoping other cars would pass him.
But the next driver in the queue, Lance Stroll, noticed what Hulkenberg was up to, and backed off. That prompted other drivers to slow down, and soon all of them were at risk of failing to start a time at all.
Another important detail concerned the Ferraris. Charles Leclerc was supposed to run in front of Sebastian Vettel. However Vettel passed Leclerc shortly after they left the pits. After Vettel moved to the front of the queue he dawdled, waiting for Leclerc to pass him, and holding the queue up even more. Ahead of him was Carlos Sainz Jnr, who turned out to be the only driver to get a lap time done.
Meanwhile Lewis Hamilton eyes what the Ferrari drivers were doing and concluded their real motive was to hold up Mercedes and stop them beating Leclerc’s time.
Here’s how the farcical end to qualifying unfolded, as told by the drivers’ team radios, listed in the order of how they left the pits.
Nico Hulkenberg led the field out, then immediately drove across the first corner. His first message seems to indicate this was pre-planned. Despite being told he was at risk of not making it to the line he was passed by several other cars.
|To Hulkenberg||OK Nico remember the plan, please, remember the plan.|
|To Hulkenberg||You’ve got Stroll right behind you.|
|To Hulkenberg||He drives through the run-off at turn one|
Stroll three seconds behind.
|To Hulkenberg||Carlos right behind you.|
|To Hulkenberg||Nico there’s a good chance cars are not going to make the cut-off at the moment, there’s only one minute to go.|
|To Hulkenberg||Sainz passes him and he accelerates|
It’s time to go.
|To Hulkenberg||Vettel passes him|
It’s time to go mate, time to go.
|To Hulkenberg||Leclerc passes him|
Watch out for Hamilton, he’s going to be in a hurry to get past you.
|To Hulkenberg||OK Nico we’re right on the limit there is no time for slowing down at all. Recharge off.|
|To Hulkenberg||We did not make the flag, Nico, we did not make the flag. Recharge on.|
|Hulkenberg||That was crazy. Dangerous.|
|To Hulkenberg||Very. Very dangerous.|
|To Hulkenberg||OK so that means you are P6, Nico.|
|To Hulkenberg||Actually that’s not necessarily the case, Sainz is trying for a lap.|
|To Hulkenberg||He’s 0.25 down in sector one. And another tenth down in sector two.|
|To Hulkenberg||OK Carlos missed your time by four-tenths Nico. You are P6.|
|To Hulkenberg||Copy that, Nico.|
|To Hulkenberg||So come to a stop, normal story place. P2 to P1 and then five second hold, then P0.|
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Racing Point were well aware when Renault was up to. However they seemed to realise too late how much danger Stroll was in of not making it to the line. Unlike most of the other drivers, Stroll wasn’t getting a regular countdown.
|To Stroll:||So watch Hulkenberg he may play games. He won’t want to tow you.|
|To Stroll:||Hulkenberg goes off at turn one|
Don’t overtake Hulkenberg. Do not overtake Hulkenberg.
|To Stroll:||Sainz passes him|
Go behind Sainz if you can do.
|Stroll:||Vettel and Leclerc pass him|
We’re in the quicker cars now, they don’t care.
|To Stroll:||Ferrari are going by now, follow a Ferrari.|
|To Stroll:||Hamilton passes him|
Follow the Ferraris if you can.
|To Stroll:||Don’t drop any more, go now, keep up with that group.|
|To Stroll:||Tyres are good. make sure you keep up with that group. Do not drop any more places. You’ll want some braking.|
|To Stroll:||So push on you need to go faster now, push on. You don’t have enough margin, need to push on.|
|To Stroll:||You’re in a good position now. Brakes look good, tyres look good.|
|To Stroll:||Keep pushing, keep pushing now. You need to go, you need to go.|
|To Stroll:||You need to go.|
|Stroll:||No one made it.|
|To Stroll:||Go to ‘cool’.|
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The only driver who made it to the start/finish line in time to set a lap was Carlos Sainz Jnr. However like Hulkenberg and Stroll he was given a reprimand:
|Sainz:||Keep me updated.|
|To Sainz:||OK you’re the third car. Hulkenberg first, Stroll second, then yourself.|
|To Sainz:||Carlos there is not a lot of margin to the flag. At the moment the flag is 30 seconds behind.|
|To Sainz:||He passes Stroll, draws alongside Hulkenberg, and slows|
OK Carlos 10 seconds margin.
|To Sainz:||He passes Hulkenberg, the Ferraris pass him|
Not everyone will get laps.
|To Sainz:||He passes Leclerc|
Five seconds to the flag, you need good pace now.
|To Sainz:||You need to defend the position. Four or five seconds to the flag. Most cars will not get it.|
|Sainz:||He passes Vettel|
Am I going to get it.
|To Sainz:||Yeah, two seconds margin Carlos.|
|To Sainz:||Recharge off, let’s go, should be close.|
|To Sainz:||OK Carlos P7. Good job mate, we tried. Well done getting the flag. Recharge on. Box this lap.|
|To Sainz:||Delta negative. No one else got the flag, No one else got a lap.|
|Sainz:||I think it was a pretty good lap. You see the speed trace.|
|To Sainz:||OK Carlos so box now. When you get to the FIA remember we turn the car fully off. P1, wait five seconds, then P0. Good job today mate P7.|
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|To Bottas:||So Ferrari pushing the front.|
|To Bottas:||Be careful on the delta.|
|To Bottas:||Albon passes him|
You’ve got very little time in hand. Try to get forward.
|To Bottas:||Only five seconds safe.|
|To Bottas:||Five seconds behind schedule.|
|To Bottas:||So you’re not safe at the moment, try to get forward. Strat two.|
|To Bottas:||We are not safe.|
|To Bottas:||So Leclerc missed the flag, you missed the flag. We will be boxing.|
|To Bottas:||Watch your delta, keep delta negative.|
|To Bottas:||So Sainz the only one that made flag.|
|To Bottas:||You’re going to the grid in P3.|
|To Bottas:||So with that DRS and the yellow flag could’ve been pole. But good job. Going to the grid.|
Ferrari sent Charles Leclerc out in front of Sebastian Vettel and the pair were supposed to run in that order. However the situation became confused when Vettel passed his team mate at the exit of the Rettifilio.
|To Leclerc:||We go, we go.|
|To Leclerc:||He leaves the pits, then Vettel passes him|
We are tight with the gap. We have 10 second margin.
|To Leclerc:||We need to push, six seconds.|
|To Leclerc:||It’s tight, you need to go, push.|
|To Leclerc:||He passes Hulkenberg and Sainz, then slows behind Vettel and is re-passed by Sainz|
Three seconds margin, you need to push.
|To Leclerc:||You need to push. Zero margin. You need to push. With a normal out-lap.|
|To Leclerc:||Zero margin.|
|To Leclerc:||Zero margin. Zero margin.|
|To Leclerc:||And you can overtake Sebastian. Overtake Sebastian.|
|To Leclerc:||One second margin.|
|To Leclerc:||Mode push for last corner. Push, push, push.|
|Leclerc:||He crosses the line|
Let me do the lap.
|To Leclerc:||You cannot do the lap. Chequered flag. You are P1. Slow button on.|
|Leclerc:||What a mess. Pole position anyway guys. Thanks for everything. Sorry for the mess in the last lap but I believe there is not much more we could have done. Because the problem is that at the beginning of the lap the Renault and the McLaren just [went] in the middle of the track and went right and left and just stopped us completely from going quicker.|
|To Leclerc:||Understood. Go to the grid. Congratulations and go to the grid.|
|Leclerc:||What happened with Seb? Where is he?|
|To Leclerc:||He is P4. You are P1, Hamilton P2, Bottas P3, Sebastian P4.|
|Leclerc:||Fuck. Can I get out?|
|To Leclerc:||The only one doing the one lap at the end was Sainz, no one else.|
After passing Stroll and Hulkenberg, Vettel repeatedly asked why Leclerc hadn’t retaken his position in front of him. Leclerc eventually did so when he was advised, but only at the end of the lap. Ironically had Vettel pressed on in Sainz’s wake, he might have been able to set a time.
|To Vettel:||We are tight with timing.|
|Vettel:||Tell Charles to go.|
|To Vettel:||He passes Leclerc, then shakes his fist at Sainz and Hulkenberg ahead, then backs off|
Need to push now.
|Vettel:||Tell him to come in front, then.|
|Vettel:||How much margin we have?|
|To Vettel:||Zero margin at the moment. It’s a normal out so we say to Charles to come.|
|Vettel:||How much margin?|
|To Vettel:||Zero margin.|
|To Vettel:||Leclerc passes him|
Three seconds. Push, push.
|Vettel:||He crosses the line|
Thank you, thank you.
|Vettel:||Anyway the car was good. I think we were the fastest today but not on the scoreboard.|
|To Vettel:||OK good. You’re right. Go in the pit lane.|
|To Vettel:||P zero.|
|Vettel:||Copy, P zero.|
The remaining drivers left the pits near the end of the queue and lost so much time early on they were never likely to start their laps on time.
|Can I drop back?|
|You have eight seconds margin. Hold position if you can, stay in front of cars if you can. It will be very tight in the end.|
|You will be very tight on time. If you can gain a few places then do so.|
|Four seconds short, Alex, let’s go. You need to overtake cars. Four seconds short.|
|So overtake cars if you can. Overtake cars.|
|Five seconds short. You need to gain five seconds if you are to get a lap. You need to push on, Alex. B-bal 3. Push toggle.|
|You need to go. Recharge off.|
|So you’ve got the chequered flag. Recharge on and box Alex, box.|
|So Leclerc’s back out so it’s only Sainz doing a lap.|
|So follow instructions and you can leave the car in P1.|
Lewis Hamilton suspected the hold-up had been Ferrari’s game plan all along. He also had a near miss with Hulkenberg.
|Hamilton:||How pushed for time are we?|
|To Hamilton:||We are tight on time, We are tight.|
|To Hamilton:||Looks like Hulk’s backing everyone up. We are tight.|
|To Hamilton:||Cut-off’s on us.|
|To Hamilton:||Hamilton has to back off as Hulkenberg pulls out from behind Sainz to follow the Ferraris.|
If you can move up the field that’ll be good.
|To Hamilton:||So we are behind schedule.|
|To Hamilton:||He takes the chequered flag.|
OK Lewis so that is it. Leclerc, Vettel missed the flag. Only Sainz has got the run.
|Hamilton:||They kept us all behind so we couldn’t get a lap.|
|To Hamilton:||OK Lewis that still stands so P2. Valtteri P3.|
|To Hamilton:||And you’ll be going to the grid.|
|To Hamilton:||So to the grid.|
|Hamilton:||That’s an interesting tactic to keep pole position. You just don’t need to do the lap.|
|To Hamilton:||Yeah copy Lewis. Not the first time, mate.|
Renault sent one car out first and the other last. A mystified Daniel Ricciardo couldn’t understand why he’d been unable to set a time.
|To Ricciardo:||You’ve got Hamilton in front of you. Vettel in front of him two seconds. You’re on the margin.|
|To Ricciardo:||People bunching up there. Let’s not lose too much time Daniel, you’re at the back of the pack.|
|To Ricciardo:||Right on a normal out-lap, not much margin.|
|To Ricciardo:||Bottas in front of you. Bottas, Albon. You’re the last car so let’s make sure we don’t miss this one.|
|To Ricciardo:||Go a bit faster, we’re a bit behind on a normal out-lap.|
|To Ricciardo:||No time to slow down Daniel.|
|To Ricciardo:||Don’t forget recharge off.|
|To Ricciardo:||No spare time.|
|To Ricciardo:||Let’s go for it, let’s go.|
|To Ricciardo:||OK Daniel we missed the flag there, we missed the flag.|
|To Ricciardo:||Only two cars made the flag. Recharge on and normal in-lap please.|
|To Ricciardo:||Nobody in front of you made the cut-off. Only Sainz.|
|To Ricciardo:||So Leclerc has bailed out, just Sainz going for a lap.|
|To Ricciardo:||Sainz well down on you. That will be P5.|
|Ricciardo:||OK. Yep. Bit of an anti-climax.|
|To Ricciardo:||Boxing this lap.|
|Ricciardo:||OK. I’m still a bit confused but anyway obviously the position’s good so well done.|
|To Ricciardo:||Nice job, mate.|
|Ricciardo:||A good day.|
|To Ricciardo:||We’ll go over that, make sure that doesn’t happen again.|
|Ricciardo:||We’ll be happy with that thank you.|
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