Whether that means Max Verstappen can’t take pole is another matter. At Silverstone, the Dutchman couldn’t match Mercedes around a Mercedes-favoured circuit over a single flying lap but by Turn One, that issue was moot as he’d secured the lead and followed it up with a canter to pole position and maiden Speed King award, keeping Lewis Hamilton at arm’s length throughout.
This weekend, the run into Turn One and the lack of space at either of the chicanes that open the lap means that contact is not out of the realms of possibility, and it’s the Red Bull driver with the most to lose in this situation.
Hamilton showed at Copse he won’t back out of these wheel-to-wheel situations any longer in the title fight against Verstappen. The latter has the faster car, the points advantage and the momentum in the title battle. A non-points finish here would be a major blow after rebounding from his Silverstone DNF and Hungarian nightmare prior to the summer break.
There has been no word on whether or not Red Bull intend to take a grid penalty for this weekend. The team is expected to introduce fresh components on Verstappen’s car before the end of the season, but any penalty taken this weekend would be served in the main Sunday race rather than the Sprint Qualifying event on Saturday.
It’ll be close but Mercedes has to win this weekend for Hamilton to maintain his chance of an eighth world championship.
2021 Italian Grand Prix session times
Free Practice 1: 13:30 – 14:30
Qualifying: 17:00 – 18:00
Free Practice 2: 11:00 – 12:00
Sprint Qualifying: 15:30 – 16:00
Race: 14:00 – 16:00