That McLaren locked out the front row of the grid for the Italian Grand Prix may not seem so surprising given their form earlier this week, but the reality is they were pushed very hard by Ferrari. The red team stood an excellent chance of wresting pole position from them.
Fernando Alonso headed the first two parts of qualifying partly thanks to some co-operation between him and team mate Felipe Massa. Top speed is crucial on Monza’s long straights, so the Ferrari drivers arranged to run closely behind each other, the trailing car gaining extra speed in the slipstream of the other.
But it all went wrong for Alonso when it mattered most. As the top ten shoot-out began, a failure on his car, believed to be broken rear anti-roll bar, kept him from competing for the best time. As Ferrari’s chances faded at their home race, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button annexed the front row for the silver cars.
Monza has long straights and several long braking zones. So it should be a great place for overtaking, right? Wrong. Getting past another car can be surprisingly tricky here. There are several reasons why this may be the case: the narrow width of the track, rev limiters which can leave drivers short on top-end acceleration, and lower levels of tyre wear.
As a result, the proportion of drivers who convert pole position into victory at Monza is surprisingly high. Seven of the last ten Italian Grands Prix have been won from pole position. This is good news for McLaren – especially pole sitter Hamilton.
McLaren’s hand is strengthened by their impressive straight-line speeds. Through the maximum speed trap in qualifying both their drivers clocked in excess of 341kph (211.8mph). Only the two Lotus drivers were faster.
What’s more, the two McLarens were among the three fastest cars at both intermediate time-measuring points and across the start/finish line. If they can get away cleanly at the start, the McLarens should be hard to overtake. This is reflected in the odds: Hamilton at 1.75, Button at 3.00 - and everyone else 18.00 or higher.
As noted here earlier, the time to back the McLarens was two days ago.
Fastest lap tips
With race victory not offering great odds, take a look at the betting being offered on fastest lap. Plenty of elements play a role in determining who sets fastest lap. It’s not simply a question of who has the best car: it can also come down to who has the quickest car late in the race, and who might be on fresher tyres.
For a bit of perspective, nine different drivers have set fastest lap so far this year. Sebastian Vettel has three and Kimi Raikkonen two - you can see the full list here.
Vettel looks a promising bet for fastest lap, and not just on his past form. The Red Bull’s excellent race pace was much in evidence in practice. With the second-slowest top speed in the field, Red Bull will surely have to use strategy to make progress in the race. In 2010 Vettel ran an incredibly long first stint, pitting very late for fresh tyres. A similar approach on Sunday would create ideal conditions for him to set fastest lap. With odds of 10.00, he looks a good pick.
The odds on the two Mercedes drivers are also attractive, with both Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg on 15.00. They’ve looked much more competitive at Monza than at Spa, although they’ve had a series of niggling technical problems.
Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic.