Has F1's engine 'party mode' ban actually helped Mercedes?

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The front of the grid at the Italian Grand Prix looks like business as usual, with two Mercedes locking out the front row.

There was speculation this weekend a new FIA initiative would peg the world champions back -- so what happened?

Report: Hamilton takes Italian GP pole with fastest F1 lap ever

The Mercedes party continues

The long-awaited ban on qualifying engine modes -- often referred to as party modes -- came into force this weekend, but rather than hold Mercedes back as many had predicted, it seemed to extend their advantage. Technical Directive 38-20 issued ahead of the Monza weekend forces teams to run the same engine mode in both qualifying and the race so that it is easier for the FIA to spot any breaches of the regulations.

Red Bull and Ferrari were among the teams lobbying for the rule clarification, and there was a feeling that it might help curb Mercedes' significant qualifying advantage this year. It's no secret that Mercedes (like other teams) has access to a more potent engine mode, known as Strat 2 within the team, but it wasn't clear how much of its single-lap advantage was linked to it.

Yet at Monza, the most power-sensitive circuit on the calendar, Mercedes retained a 0.8s advantage over its rivals and it was Red Bull and Ferrari that appeared to struggle. Of course, it's a sample of just one session from a very unusual circuit -- which requires a unique low-drag setup -- but the early signs are that Mercedes has adapted to the new rules better than anyone else.

"I think it was important to face this new situation in the most professional way and we knew that this was coming," Wolff said of the qualifying mode ban. "Once we knew that this was coming we said: 'OK let's use this as an opportunity'.

"I think we have a great organisation and the mentality in Brixworth was great and they said: 'Let's bring it on, let's come up with a strong mode for qualifying that we can run all race'. Overall we have lost very little qualifying performance but have gained a lot of performance for the race.

"We can run the engine much harder in the race, and we were only able to achieve that with a lot of research and a lot of bench running. So far so good. Let's see how it pans out over the next sessions."

The fastest lap in F1 history

The records just keep on falling for Lewis Hamilton this year. It's well known that he is on target to match Michael Schumacher's record of seven world titles and surpass his 91 career victories, but on Saturday Hamilton added another one to his list.

With an average speed of 264.362km/h (164.267mph), his pole position effort was officially the fastest lap in Formula One of all time.

The record had been held by Kimi Raikkonen since 2018 (263.587 km/h) and by Juan Pablo Montoya since 2004 (262.242 km/h) before him. But the latest generation of F1 cars are not only fast on the straights but also devastatingly quick in the corners. What's more, Hamilton did not have a slipstream to aid him on the straights nor access to Mercedes' most potent engine mode, following the aforementioned ban this weekend.

F1 cars are going to be stripped of some downforce next year, but are still likely to carry similar levels of drag on the straights, meaning Hamilton's Monza record could stand for years to come as the 2022 regulations will see lap times increase by multiple seconds.

There were some suggestions after qualifying that the record might not even see out the year as Bahrain's new outer track layout looks equally quick, but simulations suggest the average speed there will only be around 236km/h.

An unhappy homecoming

Ferrari's 2020 has been fairly dismal bar a couple of unexpected Charles Leclerc podium finishes. That theme has continued this weekend and a cynic might suggest Ferrari won't be all that disappointed that there isn't a packed house of tifosi at Monza this weekend to witness it first hand.

The team will line up outside the top ten for the first time at Monza since 1984, with Charles Leclerc in 13th and Sebastian Vettel 17th. Despite being ready for a bad weekend, Leclerc said the location made it more difficult to stomach.

"Well at the end we expected it a little bit coming into the weekend," Leclerc said. "We know that Spa and here are probably the two worst tracks for us, another one a little bit later in the year.

"It's like this, once you do a good lap and you do P13 it doesn't feel good. For now, it's like this and I need to extract the maximum out of the car in the situation that we are in and that's what I try to do.

"It hurts even more once it's at home. It's the reality at the moment unfortunately and it's like this. We need to work and hopefully from Mugello, which is still home for Ferrari, hopefully will be a bit better."

A Schumacher on the podium

An empty Monza just doesn't look right, but it felt especially upsetting there was no-one in the stands on Saturday when Mick Schumacher claimed a victory in the F2 feature race. Schumacher's father, Michael, won five times at the Italian Grand Prix for Ferrari.

Some clever work from the TV director ensured the camera panned from a picture of Michael to Mick as the younger Schumacher walked across the famous ramp to the Monza podium. It's easy to imagine the sort of reception Schumacher would have received from the tifosi had they been allowed in for the event.

Monza traffic

As with last year, slow-moving traffic was a talking point in qualifying.

It didn't get quite as farcical as 12 months ago, where the majority of Q3 drivers didn't make it across the line to start their final attempt in time after all trying to avoid being the first car over the line, but there were some pretty hair-raising moments. In FP3 Hamilton had to take evasive action to avoid a slow-moving Romain Grosjean.

The run to Parabolica was also busy in Q1 and Q2, with drivers looking to gain a 'tow' down Monza's long straights -- a balancing act involving the perfect pocket of air behind a car a few seconds further up the road. Teams think it accounts for upwards of 0.4s over a single lap, a huge margin in qualifying terms.

Max Verstappen said it is a by-product of the modern generation of F1 race car.

"It's just how it goes when you have cars like this," he said. "I don't think you can blame anyone."It's so powerful, the tow with these cars, that everyone wants one. You just get these scenarios. I didn't really have any issues, it was pretty OK."

The most notable incident occurred when Renault's Esteban Ocon and Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen started qualifying laps in quick succession, prompting a tussle for track position more akin to something you would expect on Sunday.

Ocon had to go and see the stewards after the session but was cleared of any wrongdoing. The Frenchman said rules implemented ahead of the qualifying to avoid drivers bunching up, with a minimum lap time for out-laps put in place, backfired

."Very much racing for position," Ocon said when asked about the incident. "That is exactly the word.

"The new rule on the delta that we have to follow for not going to slow made things worse than how it was before. We need to review next drivers meeting what we can do better. Obviously it was to intend of not having those issues, people slowing down for no reason.

"But we have to make a gap at some point to make the lap. And we did not have the chance to do that because we cannot slow down. So it made it a bit tricky for everyone. That is why I a lot of cars were racing.

"In the end nothing really happened, but Kimi started his lap to close to me so he was trying to pass me, but if that was the case both of our laps would have been ruined. Obviously his was, but I still managed to complete my even if it was not an improvement."

When Verstappen was asked if tweaking the qualifying format at certain events was a solution, he simply said: "We should sort out the cars. We shouldn't rely on stuff like this."