After a thrilling 30 minutes of qualifying at Monza on Friday evening, it was Championship leader Oscar Piastri who grabbed four extra points and pole position with another strong performance following his pole at Silverstone in the previous round.
By Tyler Foster
“It was a solid lap. I wouldn’t say it was the best lap I’ve ever done. The Silverstone pole was a more deserving lap. I made one pretty big mistake in the second Lesmo today but beside that the rest of the lap was very good and I got a nice slipstream in sector three which helped. Clearly it was just good enough for pole.”
The session saw a number of changes in the final minutes, with Dan Ticktum, Ralph Boschung, Liam Lawson, Guanyu Zhou and Jehan Daruvala all putting in solid times before being usurped by Piastri. With the layout at Monza offering a lot of time for being in the slipstream, Piastri was asked what his strategy was going into qualifying.
“I think most of it is still about the car setup. Last year in F3, I think it would be much more about track position but in F2 you don’t need to be quite so close to the car behind to get the benefit of slipstreams. Car setup is still the number one factor as there are still quite a few corners at Monza that you need to get right as well. I think that it is more important than getting a slipstream but obviously there is a trade-off between having an easy life on the straights or having clean air for the corners.”
One of the main talking points regarding qualifying at Monza in the last few years is traffic. With everyone seemingly focused upon receiving a tow down the straights, the result is the entire field clumping together and blocking each other at the final turn to prepare for flying laps in what has become a rather unsightly yet common scene.
“I thought it was pretty quiet compared to F3 to be honest. Obviously, nobody wants to leave the train. Your position in the pit lane can dictate pretty heavily where you end up [on track] with your flying lap. All three of our teams [Prema, UNI-Virtuosi and Carlin] are towards the back of the pitlane so by default we are towards the back of the pack for our laps.”
While this solid performance by the Australian has increased his lead in the Championship fight to 9 points over fellow Alpine Academy Driver Guanyu Zhou, the attention remains on the final seat at Alfa Romeo in Formula 1 and to which driver will occupy it. Piastri has been thrown in along several other drivers for the contention of the position, however it seems that there is a chance no driver from the current Formula 2 grid will graduate to the top category for next year. He was asked about his position in the matter.
“I really don’t know, is the honest answer. There’s just one spot left and a hell of a lot of people trying to get it. I’m with Alpine and there is no engine link there [with Alfa Romeo] so it’s not the most conventional route of getting there [to F1]. I’ll be honest, the chances are very slim but for my own sake I don’t want to give up hope yet. I still want to make a statement on track. It’s been a tough few weeks watching all those seats fill up. Alfa have all the time in the world to decide who they put in so who knows.”
“It’s not an ideal situation, I think we can all agree on that. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. This is only round five [of eight]. We still have a long way to go and a lot of things can change. Motorsport is pretty brutal and you’ve got to roll with the punches. It might not be a year out, it might be something else. I still have to win the Championship to make those decisions.”
As to whether this possible disappointment might dampen his spirits in the fight for the Formula 2 title, he doesn’t seem to be too phased.
“From my point of view, I don’t really have anything to lose. To be honest, I have no idea what the situation on that seat is which probably indicates how likely that move would be. It doesn’t add any pressure, it just gives me more drive to want to perform in F2.”
This Formula 2 season has seen multiple calendar changes as a result of COVID and the subsequent financial problems the teams have faced. One result of this has been the longer breaks between races and therefore the season ending very late in the year. Piastri was asked what he thought about the longer season.
“Yes, I would prefer if it was [ended] earlier. The big breaks have been criticised by most people. It certainly didn’t have a positive impact on the F2 grid in terms of getting F1 seats. It’s not ideal but we all have to deal with the breaks. In an ideal world some smaller gaps between the races would have definitely helped.”
Going into Saturday and the first sprint race, it will be Campos’ new driver David Beckmann on reverse grid pole. With the battle for the Championship being very tight among several drivers at the halfway stage, there is a lot to play for this weekend.
For Piastri, the focus will be on performing on Sunday; however, with the Temple of Speed offering major overtaking opportunities, we may see the quickest drivers from qualifying make their way to the front during the two sprint races on Saturday.
“There is room for two cars [into turn one] but Race One tomorrow I think is going to be very interesting starting from 10th. We haven’t raced for a while so I’m hoping nobody misses their breaking points, myself included.”
“For the Feature Race, I hope to get a better start than at Silverstone and hold the lead in turn one.”
“I can definitely be confident that we have a package to win. Trying to escape the pack at Monza is not an easy task. We were very strong at Silverstone minus the Feature Race. In the two sprint races we were pretty speedy so hopefully we can continue that.”
The first sprint race starts at 08:50 CEST (07:50 BST) on Saturday morning.
The second sprint race starts at 14:45 CEST (13:45 BST) on Saturday afternoon.
The feature race starts at 10:25 CEST (09:25 BST) on Sunday morning.