The Italian GP was the stage set for the first qualifying session of the 2020 F1 cars, with their engine mapping frozen from qualifying to the race. The FIA had put in force those engine bans through the technical directive #37, with the aim to get a better comprehension of engine systems that have become more and more complex to police. The directive has been notified to the F1 teams ahead of the Spanish GP, and they got the Belgian GP in between to make the necessary adjustments.
However, the suddenness of that directive, which intervenes in the middle of the ongoing season, raised a lot of questions amongst the paddock. For both the Mercedes’ drivers Hamilton and Bottas, that initiative essentially aimed to slow down the Brackley-based team, which is currently leading the championship by over 100 points with only seven rounds down. Hamilton said in that regard: "I find it kind of amusing because the FIA said that it was so they could manage everyone's usage of the engine or something like that". "And then Red Bull came and said: we were the ones just pushing for it. So it's just completely different reasons why they did it". Dr. Helmut Marko, the Red Bull Racing’s sporting director, expressed his satisfaction at the enforcement of that directive that he expected, will put an end to what he considered as “distorting the competition" with extreme modes by Mercedes.
Understandably, the qualifying session of the Italian GP was then, one of the most awaited. Everyone was impatient to see how each engine supplier would be affected by the modes ban. Well, it’s fair to say it was business as usual. At least, for Mercedes. They kept their clean sweep in qualifying this season, with a front row lockout, Hamilton ahead of Bottas for 0.069 seconds, with the closest non-Mercedes 0.8 seconds behind.
A collected pole-sitter said, when coming out of his car: “It was not too bad”. He then praised his team, for a “fantastic performance today, just in terms of timing, when they put us out on track”. “It was not the easiest – you saw how close it was between us all, so it really demanded a clean lap and I think I got that on both, so I’m generally really happy with the actual laps I did”. He added: "Valtteri was very, very close – pushing me. I made some big changes going into qualifying, so I was a little bit nervous going in that it was the right thing to do but it worked just fine”.
During the press conference, when asked if Mercedes had changed its approach as a result of what happened a year ago Hamilton said: "Not really. I think we learned from last year in terms of going out at the end wasn't the best for us. The strategy team did a really great job in terms of the timing”. "It's something we discussed yesterday and again today. Ultimately I think it was bang on".
Regarding their choice not to go for the tow, he explained "There's a very, very close gap between having clear air and being in the tow. Can't really tell you which one is best. I think some people would tell you being in a tow is best, but you lose out in the middle and the last sector. Ultimately I'm really, really grateful and happy with today". Hamilton added he "didn't expect" the gap to Sainz, but said he does not "come into weekends with an expectation of how much of a gap we're going to have. But of course I don't really understand it”.
The Briton did not miss his chance to tackle the engine modes ban directive: "We did say last week when they brought in this rule to slow us down that it wasn't really going to make a difference, because we've got a great, great car, and we'll be better in other areas. Just an incredible performance this weekend. I think this is definitely the best we've ever been here. Just really got the car in a sweet spot for this weekend".
He ended referring to his team's hard work once again: “Just a huge thank you to all of the guys back at the factory for the simulations, for working on getting parts to these races, and continuously stepping forwards. It's such a hard thing to do, and I think people take for granted because we do it weekend in, weekend out. But I certainly don't. It was very, very close. Valtteri was very, very quick so far this weekend. I'm really happy with the laps. They're not really anything on the last one that I did, but nonetheless".