It was no party (mode), no problem for Mercedes as the reigning world champions obliterated its rivals in Italian Grand Prix qualifying despite a ban on Formula 1 engine ‘party modes’.

Lewis Hamilton beat teammate Valtteri Bottas by just 0.069s to top qualifying for the 94th time in his career and put himself in pole position to score his 90th grand prix victory on Sunday as Mercedes swept to a dominant front-row lockout at Monza.

All the talk heading into the weekend was whether the FIA’s ban on changing engine modes through qualifying and the race would have any bearing on the competitive order.

Rivals hoped that the technical directive issued for this weekend would rein in some of Mercedes’ one-lap pace advantage which it has boasted thanks to the use of their high-power settings, but it made no apparent difference on Saturday.

Carlos Sainz claimed a brilliant third on the grid for McLaren, although the Spaniard finished a distant eight-tenths down on Hamilton’s pole time.

Interestingly, Mercedes’ main challenger in qualifying so far this year, Red Bull, was off the pace as Max Verstappen could only qualify fifth. Red Bull had been one of the teams lobbying to push the engine restrictions through, something which Hamilton said he found “amusing” prior to the weekend.

It prompted a cheeky swipe from Bottas, who said after qualifying that he was not sure how happy Red Bull would now be with the outcome of the ban on the use of ‘quali modes’.

"With the engine regulation change for the modes, it's going to be even better for us in the race than before,” Bottas said. “Hopefully it will be good.

"I'm not sure how happy Red Bull is now with this engine change.”

Hamilton, who coined the term ‘party mode’ at the 2018 Australian Grand Prix, jokingly added: "I don’t even think we had a party mode. That’s something someone else made up. Who knows if we even used that mode in Spa?”

Mercedes did use the qualifying mode in Belgium, team boss Toto Wolff confirmed, though it has not done so at all of the six races that came before Spa.

Wolff believes having a “darwinistic principle to confront every possible situation that comes up” has ultimately served Mercedes well.

The German manufacturer had been preparing for the regulation change ever since it was first tabled in mid-August by shifting its development towards finding a solution to the FIA’s clampdown before it was even issued.

It is that level of work ethic and foresight which underlines why Mercedes remains at the top of its game.

“Once we knew that this was coming we said: ‘OK let’s use this as an opportunity’” Wolff explained.

“I think we have a great organisation and the mentality in Brixworth was great and they said: ‘Let’s bring it on, let’s come up with a strong mode for qualifying that we can run all race’.

“Overall we have lost very little qualifying performance but have gained a lot of performance for the race.

“We can run the engine much harder in the race, and we were only able to achieve that with a lot of research and a lot of bench running.

“Today we’ve seen for the first time how the level of performance has changed between the teams and there are some interesting outcomes,” he added.

“I think maybe the ones that pushed the hardest didn’t show great performance today, but the biggest advantage we have focused on is to gain race time and that happens tomorrow. But you don’t want to praise the day before the evening.

“We are pushing the boundaries and therefore we’ve had a really good Saturday and I’m very pleased for the team. Now we need to do well on Sunday.”

After its ominous showing on Saturday, Mercedes may well be in an even stronger position come Sunday’s race…

Disaster for Ferrari

Ferrari had expected to endure another bad weekend after failing to score points at the Belgian Grand Prix last time out, and for the second race in a row its drivers failed to reach Q3.

Sebastian Vettel was the headline driver to be eliminated in the first segment of qualifying after seeing his final flying lap compromised when he got caught up in traffic late on and could not improve – leaving him a lowly 17th.

Things were little better in the other scarlet red car driven by Charles Leclerc, who admitted his lap for 13th was the “best I could do” with a performance that was a stark contrast from Ferrari’s crushing display on home soil at last year’s race.

It marks the first time since 1984 that there are no Ferraris in the top 10 on the grid of the Italian Grand Prix.

Leclerc said his team’s struggles “hurt even more” at Monza.

"At the end we expected it a little bit coming into this weekend," Leclerc told Sky Sports F1.

"We know that Spa and here are probably the two worst tracks for us, with another one probably a bit later in the year. It's like this, it's tough, because once you do a good lap and you do P13, it doesn't feel good.

"For now it's like this, and I need to extract the maximum out of the car in the situation we are in, and that's what I try to do.

"Surely, it hurts even more once it's at home. It's a reality at the moment for us unfortunately.

"We need to work, and hopefully for Mugello, which is still home for Ferrari, we'll be a bit better."

 

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