The Friday in F1 Italian GP saw the return of Sprint Qualifying, with Friday hosting the usual qualifying where it was a super close fight behind the Top 2.

The Friday in F1 Italian GP sprung a bit of a surprise after Valtteri Bottas leapt into top position in qualifying to start the Sprint Qualifying from first ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton and second row starters Max Verstappen and Lando Norris.

Even though Bottas was giving tow to Hamilton, the Finn improved nicely on his final attempt to go quickest by 0.096s from his Mercedes F1 teammate. The biggest relief was that he managed to topple Verstappen, who got ahead in their first run.

The Finn was naturally chuffed but for him, there is a penalty incoming on Sunday, when he has to start from the back of the grid due to engine change. During the session it also came to light that Bottas hit a squirrel at Lesmo One, as he said on his radio.

The moment wasn’t caught on camera unlike the moment with Nicholas Latifi, where he missed a rabbit by an inch at Lesmo Two. Going back to the fight at the front, Hamilton did feel the pinch and noted about lack of pace on his side and not getting a good lap.

His F1 title rival, Verstappen, though managed to salvage a good result, even though he never felt aligned with the car in qualifying. Despite getting the tow from Sergio Perez, who ended up ninth, it wasn’t straightforward, but he managed to eke out one good lap.

Bottas: “It was beautiful lap, which I managed to save for the end. I felt relaxed in the car and I am happy with our work as a team. The car has felt good all day, with our performance little stronger than we perhaps expected, especially when you look at the gap to Red Bull. Hopefully it will be similar on the race pace for us.

“I know I’ll be starting from the back on Sunday with the PU change but the focus is on Sprint Qualifying and trying to extract as many points as possible. We know Sunday will be a fight, but our pace is good and I’m sure we can finish strong then too. And yeah, during Q2, I told on the radio that, ‘I ran over a squirrel, unfortunately. When I come in, I hit the squirrel with the front-right tyre so the right-hand-side of the car, have a look’.”

Hamilton: “I struggled a bit in that last session for whatever reason, so not the best Qualifying for me. But in general, it was close between us all out there and I’m happy to have a front row lockout for the team. I don’t know where Red Bull pulled out their pace, but it’s going to be close. They were miles off in Q1 and 2, but all of a sudden they were up there with us, so it just shows it’s still super close.”

Verstappen: “Obviously it wasn’t the best, but we also know that this track isn’t our best track, just because of the long straights. Of course you try to trim it with the downforce and… third is good. I was actually quite happy when I heard that I was in third because in FP1 we were struggling a bit with balance but I think we recovered quite well and, I mean, it would have been unrealistic to hope for more, so I think third was good. Maybe we could be a bit closer, but I don’t think we can challenge them, but you never know what happens in a race – so we will try to keep the pressure on.”