The provisional starting grid for the Italian Grand Prix has been made a little clearer after a full stewards investigation of an extraordinary Qualifying 3 session
The nine drivers involved in the final…crawl to the line in Q3 were summoned to the stewards, with Nico Hulkenberg, Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll all handed reprimands for their respective part in the farce. Hulkenberg was the first man out of the garage, prompting the rest to follow suit, but deliberately left the track at the first chicane having been told “remember the plan” by his race engineer seconds beforehand. Wise to Renault’s tactic, Stroll slowed to allow Hulkenberg to rejoin the track at the head of the queue - creating a surely icon-worthy picture coming into the Curva Grande. Sainz looked to have seized the initiative by moving to the front, but he too slowed to stay within the gaggle. The Spaniard ended up as the only driver to set a fast time after the outlap. The stewards said that trio each “played a significant role in the banking up of cars at a critical stage of the final out lap for Q3” by driving “unnecessarily slowly”.
With the rest of them off the hook too, it means the only driver in the top 10 to recieve a penalty is Kimi Raikkonen - who played no role in the debacle! The Finn lost his Alfa Romeo at Parabolica and needs a new gearbox after the rear of his car sustained a hefty whack with the wall. A drop of five places means 2018’s Italian GP polesitter will start from 15th place. At least he preserved his status as the owner of Formula 1’s fastest-ever lap.
Sebastian Vettel also escaped punishment for transgressing track limits at Parabolica on his sole lap in Q3. Live TV pictures proved to be inconclusive and the stewards could not come to a definite conclusion despite access to multiple angles in the post-session investigation. Therefore, Vettel keeps his lap time and fourth place on the grid. The report read as follows:
“The Stewards reviewed multiple camera angles, some of which appeared to show that the tyres were not in contact with the white line of the track edge, however other angles appeared to show that part of the front “wheel” (when viewed from above) may have been within the bounds of the white line.
“This cast an element of doubt which is considered significant enough to give the ‘benefit of doubt’ to the driver in question.”
The verdict may come as a slight surprise given the consequences it had. The drivers in the spotlight may say that they stuck to the enforced maximum 1:40.000 delta, but when cars are losing 10-15 seconds on the outlap through an extreme staring contest - penalties would be a justified and understandable outcome.