It was a victory for the Mercedes F1 team as Valtteri Bottas took the top spot in Saturday's sprint qualifying session at the Italian Grand Prix in the historic Monza circuit. However, his teammate Lewis Hamilton had a session to forget as he finished in fifth place after starting at the front of the grid.

The Mercedes cars had a clear advantage going into the weekend, and this became more evident when they locked out the front row of the grid after the Friday qualifying session. Bottas snatched pole off his teammate, but with the Finn taking a grid penalty on Sunday for a power unit change, many were expecting Hamilton to start from pole position on the main race.

However, Mercedes handed Red Bull's Max Verstappen the advantage after Hamilton botched his start at the sprint. Bottas got off the line cleanly followed by the Dutchman, who started directly behind Bottas from third on the grid. Hamilton, who was in second, was not only passed by Verstappen, he was also eaten up by both the McLarens of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris. He would have been further back if not for a wing damage on Pierre Gasly's Alpha Tauri, which was sent careening off the track from in front of Hamilton.

Despite appearing to have great pace early in the weekend, Hamilton was not able to catch the McLarens. Finishing fifth also means Hamilton failed to secure additional points which may come in handy at the end of the season. Meanwhile, Verstappen extended his championship lead to five points after scoring two from the sprint. Bottas maintained a comfortable lead ahead of Verstappen, but his penalty means that the Dutch driver will start from pole on Sunday.

If the McLarens maintain their race pace, Hamilton will have a hard time catching his championship rival.

Elsewhere, the Ferrari drivers had a decent showing in front of the home crowd, with Charles Leclerc leading Carlos Sainz in 6th and 7th place, respectively. Right behind them is Italian driver Antonio Giovinazzi, who managed to squeeze an 8th place out of his Alfa Romeo.

Giovinazzi is one of the few drivers who are not confirmed for next season, and he has really been fighting for his spot in the last two races. The tifosi are ecstatic to see their compatriot being competitive this weekend, despite the disappointment of not having Kimi Raikkonen around. The Finn, who is well-loved in Italy after winning the championship with Ferrari, is skipping the race after a positive Covid-19 test last week.

Valtteri Bottas
Valtteri Bottas celebrates AFP / PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA