As the Scuderia Ferrari celebrated their 1000th entry in a F1 race, the party was clearly on Mercedes' side, whose drivers clinched the front row, with Hamilton ahead of Bottas in close second. Max Verstappen reclaimed his customary 3rd place, which he had abandoned at the first leg of the two italian races in Monza, trailing the fastest Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton by 0.365 seconds.
A confident Verstappen said after the Friday practice sessions : “we can be pretty pleased with how the car is behaving and I think it was a good first day at Mugello. We are not too far off Mercedes which is a good thing […] there are always things that can be improved, but overall I was pretty pleased”. Yet, contrary to the young Dutchman’s expectations, Mercedes prevailed again in an exercise they have dominated since the beginning of the season. He conceded at the end of the qualifying session: “I personally never really expected to fight [Mercedes] in qualifying but I think overall so far this weekend it has been really promising.”
Reflecting on his difficult Monza weekend, he said: “From my side, I always expected to be third. Of course, coming from Monza, this was a lot better. I always expected it to be better than Monza of course – I think Monza was just the worst track for us. Everything [at Monza] is just not good: low downforce, long straights, it’s not what we like. But I’m pleased to be third.”
Asked how the strong winds around Mugello affected qualifying, Verstappen said: “To be honest I think it picked up a little bit in Q3. My first lap was not amazing and then I think the second run lap time-wise was a little better, but I think the track was not the same, and we went backwards because of the wind.”
“Overall it is what it is. These cars are really tricky anyway with the wind. But the track is amazing to drive, in qualifying it was really something special.”
Verstappen’s teammate Alex Albon has secured his equal-best qualifying of the year, and will start alongside him on the second row of the grid. Having his teammate this high next to him raised the question of a possible strategic battle to the Mercedes in front of them, to which he replied: “I would hope so, but first of course, we have to be able to follow. We don’t know how quick they’re going to be in the race, so first let’s see if we’re able to, and then of course if we are, we’re going to put the pressure on.”