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Charles Leclerc on pole for Italian GP as stewards investigate ending

Charles Leclerc on pole for Italian GP as stewards investigate ending
By Reuters

07/09/2019 at 15:15Updated 07/09/2019 at 15:57

Charles Leclerc qualified in pole for Ferrari at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza.

Five times world champion Lewis Hamilton will join the 21-year-old Monegasque on the front row for Mercedes, with team mate Valtteri Bottas third and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel fourth.

The last lap saw the 10 drivers in the final shootout cruising around, jostling for an aerodynamic tow but with nobody willing to break away -- meaning that only McLaren's Carlos Sainz made it to the line in time for a final fast lap.

"That was worse than a junior formula," a fuming Toto Wolff, team principal of world champions Mercedes, told Sky Sports television.

"The problem was everyone wants a slipstream and nobody wants to go first.... and then everyone looks like idiots."

"It's interesting. Get pole position on the first run and then just time everyone out," said Hamilton, seemingly pointing the finger of blame at Ferrari, whose army of fans were celebrating anyway.

The pursuit of the perfect tow meant that there was all sorts of fun and games as the remaining ten cars headed out for the start of the final round. Mercedes appeared to be at the front only to pull off their 'let's do a practice start' feint at the exit of pit lane which spat the two Ferraris out on track instead. That left Vettel out on his own, with Leclerc apparently losing touch with his team mate and dropping behind the two Renaults.

The result was clear in the timings, Leclerc going top with 1:19.307 which was just four hundredths quicker than Hamilton who'd been working in tandem with Bottas who was just eight thousandths behind. Vettel slotted into fourth ahead of the Renaults of Ricciardo and Hulkenberg while Sainz opened his Q3 account in seventh.

However there was no time recorded for Albon, as the second red flag of the afternoon had been issued before he made it to the finish line after Kimi Raikkonen lost the back end of the Alfa Romeo at the Parabolica and ran off backwards into the tyre wall to trigger the latest stoppage.

Six and a half minutes were left on the clock when the session resumed once Raikkonen's C38 was removed, gravel swept from the track and the dishevelled barrier pulled back into shape by the track workers. However, two of those minutes saw the cars remain static on pit lane as nervous teams dared their rivals to make the first move.

When everyone finally jumped into action, it was Hulkenberg who blinked first and headed out at the front. He then tried a craft trick by taking to the run-off at the first chicane but Stroll refused to take the bait, backing up the rest of the field and making it touch-and-go as to whether they would even get to start their final flying lap before the chequered flag.

The cat and mouse games took their toll: eight of the cars did indeed fail to cross the line in time, leaving only Sainz speeding away at the front. However with no one to slipstream, there was no chance of him taking pole from Leclerc with Hamilton and Bottas remaining ahead of Vettel.

Renault locked out the third row, with Sainz holding on to seventh and Albon unable to set a time meaning he would start in seventh ahead of the similarly timeless Lance Stroll, with Raikkonen set to start tenth unless his gearbox needs an ivernight change following his accident.

However the race stewards were less than pleased with "the big mess" as Leclerc accurately described it, and announced there would be a review before the grid was finalised for tomorrow's race.

"I'm happy with pole but it's a shame at the end it was a big mess and I hoped our last lap was enough," said Leclerc.

Additional reporting from F1i