Lewis Hamilton fears it will take an accident for Formula One to change the qualifying format which brought a farcical and “dangerous” conclusion to Saturday’s battle for pole position.
The sport’s safety record is in the spotlight here at Monza following the death of young Formula Two driver Anthoine Hubert at the Belgian Grand Prix last weekend.
It emerged on Saturday that Juan Manuel Correa, the American who broke both his legs and suffered spinal cord damage in the 160mph tragedy, has been placed in an induced coma at a London hospital.
A terrifying crash then overshadowed Saturday’s Formula Three race when Alex Peroni, a 19-year-old Australian, somersaulted through the air three times before landing upside down on the catch fencing.
Incredibly, the teenager walked away unaided from the spectacular accident, but after displaying signs of concussion, tests later revealed he had fractured his vertebra and will remain in a Monza hospital for observation. He has also been ruled out of Sunday’s F3 race.
Charles Leclerc might have delighted the scores of Ferrari fans by securing his second pole in as many weeks, edging out Hamilton by just 0.039 seconds, with Valtteri Bottas third and Sebastian Vettel fourth.
But the final moments of qualifying verged on the preposterous as the 10 drivers jostled for position and failed to complete a lap. As they left the pits, the field bunched up, first going too slowly and then speeding up, darting from one side of the circuit to the other in an attempt to gain a slipstream at the fastest track in Formula One.
The farcical few miles were investigated by the FIA. The drivers had been warned about their conduct in Friday night’s briefing with race director Michael Masi.
“It doesn’t look good for Formula One,” said Hamilton. “I am sure it is going to continue to be an issue, particularly where you need a tow and positioning is key. But it will be until someone crashes that they will change it.
“Everyone was slowing right down, and blocking so you couldn’t get through. It was a dangerous and risky business. I nearly crashed a couple of times just staying out of the way of the guys ahead and the people trying to get past me.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes boss, Toto Wolff added: “That was not even worthy of a junior formula. Everybody looks like idiots.”
The chaos ensured Leclerc’s opening lap went unchallenged as the sport’s rising star secured his fourth career pole six days after registering his maiden win.
Leclerc, 22 next month, left Vettel in his shadow at Spa-Francorchamps last weekend and here, he finished 0.150 sec clear of the German.
Vettel is in danger of becoming yesterday’s man. The German may have been hired as the man to end Ferrari’s 12-year championship drought, but Leclerc has emerged as the man carrying the hopes of a nation.
Tellingly, it is his face and not that of the four-time world champion’s, which looks out from a huge Ferrari fan club flag opposite the team’s garage.
“It feels amazing,” said Leclerc. “I am happy with the pole but it is a shame there was a big mess at the end.”
Hamilton will go in search of a record-breaking sixth win at the Cathedral of Speed, and the Mercedes star, 65 points clear in the championship, is well placed to take the fight to his young rival.
“I have to be grateful that I am on the front row,” added Hamilton. “We will get to have a fight with the Ferraris.”