How car numbers and pit boxes affected Monza qualifying strategy: ‘The situation was a bit easier’

Team strategies are crucial to succeeding at Monza, a circuit where drivers spend much of Qualifying vying for the best slipstream. The fastest three in the FIA F3 Championship Qualifying session at Monza – Alexander Smolyar, Zane Maloney and Roman Staněk – told F1 Feeder Series about how they worked with their teammates to get top results.

By Michael McClure

During the Qualifying session at Monza, most teams sent all three cars out of pit lane at the same time in order to use one another for slipstream. After the red flag period for Isack Hadjar’s accident, for example, MP Motorsport, ART Grand Prix, Prema Racing, and Trident all sent their cars out in groups of three, with the second car in the queue getting a slipstream off the first and the third getting it off of both.

That means, however, that the first driver in line has to find a car from another team for a slipstream. Otherwise, they sacrifice their own performance to help their teammates down the straights at Monza, especially the start-finish straight.

Car numbers make the difference

The driver within a team with the lowest car number might be considered the ‘lead’ driver in some series. There’s no such stipulation in Formula 3; in fact, in a Qualifying session like Monza’s, having a lower car number could actually be a disadvantage, as the top three told F1 Feeder Series.

At MP Motorsport, Caio Collet gave teammate Smolyar a tow. This system differed from that used by ART Grand Prix, with whom Smolyar had competed for the previous two years.

“We stand in the pit lane by car number, so 10, 11, 12 [Kush Maini], and we basically leave in the same order. I know in other teams, for example in ART last year, we kind of mixed it each weekend. Here we don’t do that, so basically, Caio was leaving first [and] I was leaving behind him.

“For him, the task is a bit different. He needs to find the slipstream himself. For me, the situation was a bit easier: I just had to stay within one second or two behind him.”

Smolyar and MP also had an advantage in their placement at the end of pit lane. This meant they were the first cars out in the queue, avoiding the traffic that plagued those whose pit boxes were further back and giving them more flexibility in their run plans.

“We had to figure something out to make a new strategy, and basically, as everyone was just starting to go out behind us, we decided to box, to go on the pit lane and then box. As we are the first in the pit lane, when we box, for many people it’s already too late. They’re already too late for their pit box, so the tactic was good for this quali, and I’m very thankful for the team.”

Difficulties at Trident

Trident had tried a similar strategy, with Jonny Edgar, who carries the number 1, leading away Staněk in car 2 and Maloney in car 3. This also indirectly aided Maloney’s and Staněk’s chances at the drivers’ championship, for which Edgar is not in mathematical contention.

“We have the car numbers and we go by that each weekend. Of course, let’s say on the first push, one of us makes a mistake. Then maybe it changes, but other than that, we stick to the car numbers. And so far, it’s worked very well this season, especially when we’re fourth in the pit lane. All of us have a car to follow.”

While that strategy works ordinarily, Staněk said it didn’t quite come off for him on Friday.

“I’m behind Jonny, so for me, it’s quite easy to follow him. My rule is just to stay behind him and try to take the slipstream, but it was a bit tricky this quali because we are all mixed up somehow,” he explained. “I didn’t have the tow from Jonny, so I had to find another tow, so this compromised my fight for the pole position. But we learn from it.”

Header photo credit: Formula Motorsport Ltd

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