The intricacies of Saturday’s FP3 sessions were further heightened by the alternative tyre allocation (ATA) in place for the weekend, adding a unique layer of strategy to the day’s proceedings. Teams grappled not only with having two fewer sets of tyres provided by Pirelli but also with the requirement to utilize all three compounds – soft, medium, and hard – throughout the three qualifying stages.
The impact of this curveball varied amongst the teams. Top-tier teams whose confidence in handling Q1 allowed them to focus primarily on soft-tyre pace for Q3 found themselves diverging from mid-tier teams. Leveraging harder tyres, these middle-tier teams chose a more cautious battle strategy, hedging their bets on the assumption that they may not survive Q1.
Lando Norris from McLaren took an early lead during the soft tyre running session. Close behind him were Sergio Perez of Red Bull and Ferrari‘s Carlos Sainz. Max Verstappen, the current championship leader, soon left his competitors in the dust, breaking the 1m22 barrier with a time of 1m21.838s. Perez and Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes trailed behind him. Verstappen then set a new standard with a time of 1m21.687s within 15 minutes.
The leader-board remained static until just before halfway, when Kevin Magnussen of Haas clinched third place with medium tyres, wedging himself between Perez and Hamilton. This signaled the Monza track’s increasing speed. In light of the teams starting with harder compounds, Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin stood out, his time of 1m22.690s on hard tyres only a second slower than Verstappen.
“Williams‘ low drag prowess” was confirmed by Alex Albon after the halfway point. His 1m22.114s lap on medium tyres was just four-tenths off Verstappen’s time, and he then slightly surpassed it with hard tyres. A sudden drop in lap times happened at the 15-minute mark, thanks to Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton‘s time of 1m21.453s briefly outpaced his teammate George Russell.
However, Verstappen quickly retaliated with a time of 1m20.998s on soft tyres, reestablishing a solid four-tenths gap. This drew a response from Hamilton: “I don’t know how to find that half a second.” With an oil leak on his RB19, Perez had to miss out on replying.
There was a late upswing for Sainz who improved his time at the last moment. He clocked 1m20.912s with seven minutes left, earning him the top spot and resulting in a veritable celebration amongst Ferrari fans. Despite a last-ditch attempt, Verstappen’s time did not improve and he ended up second, 0.086s behind Sainz, while Hamilton completed the top three.
Ferrari‘s Charles Leclerc landed fourth place, stating he was feeling better after struggling with low fuel in the FP2. Alonso and Russell bagged the fifth and sixth spots, respectively. Making it to the seventh and eighth positions were the Haas pair of Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg, with Alonso and Perez completing the top ten.
Surprisingly, Lance Stroll of Aston Martin could only manage 11th place after his first rounds of the weekend. On Friday, he yielded his AMR23 to another driver – Felipe Drugovich – for the latter’s FP1 rookie run, while a fuel system issue sabotaged his race after half a lap in FP2. As a result, Stroll’s team decided to change his power unit, causing a curfew breach.
AlphaTauri‘s stand-in driver Liam Lawson secured the 12th position, rising to become the fastest medium-tyre runner. He was followed by his teammate Yuki Tsunoda. Oscar Piastri from McLaren was 14th, trailed by Logan Sargeant from Williams, Valtteri Bottas from Alfa Romeo, and his teammate Norris. Alpine‘s Esteban Ocon finished 18th on the hards, followed by Zhou Guanyu and Pierre Gasly in a somewhat unspectacular session.
Traffic disorders forecasted further complications during qualifications. An irate Alonso, referring to the stricter use of minimum times on out-laps, was heard on the team radio warning those drivers who had obstructed his hot lap of approaching difficulties during qualifications. Norris was also visibly frustrated, barely avoiding a collision with slower vehicles coming out of the Lesmos. However, the session concluded without significant incidents, barring a few skirmishes off the track, with Piastri notably running off through the gravel at the second chicane.
The final results of the F1 Italian GP – FP3 were eagerly awaited following these intense proceedings.