Marta García and Abbi Pulling share pole positions in Monza
Two tightly-contested qualifying sessions at Monza will likely see many protagonists battling for the wins at the Temple of Speed: Marta García and Abbi Pulling shared the pole positions on Saturday morning – with Hamda al Qubaisi and Bianca Bustamante not far away.
F1 Academy opened its second day at Autodromo Nazionale di Monza with highly spectacular qualifying sessions, where several drivers battled for pole position and for the top five, often separated by less than a tenth.
At the end of the two 15-minute sessions, championship leader Marta García and Abbi Pulling secured two points each by claiming pole positions in race 1 and 3 – while Amna Al Qubaisi took pole in the reverse grid race.
García and Pulling had battled throughout Friday practice, having continuously traded places on top of the timings in both FP1 and FP2 and finishing thousands of a second away. The Prema Racing and Rodin Carlin drivers confirmed among the fastest in qualifying – with the addition of Hamda Al Qubaisi and Bianca Bustamante, who were able to challenge García and Pulling with equally strong performances.
Abbi Pulling set the early pace in Q1, with García soon improving to take the top spot. In a damp track due to overnight rain, drivers worked to build up tyre temperature in the first half of the session, then times started to drop. In the final 5 minutes, Pulling and García improved each other’s times five times – but it would be the Valencian racer to end Q1 on top, despite Pulling setting the fastest sector 1 and 3 overall; traffic into Lesmo 1 meant that the Alpine Academy driver missed out on pole position by three tenths.
Hamda Al Qubaisi – the absolute protagonist of the Zandvoort weekend and now with serious championship ambitions – was also expected to be among the front runners. Hamda was struggled a bit in the damp conditions at the beginning of the session, but as soon as the track dried up she was back at the front: the Emirati set a 1:54.515 that put her on the front row of the grid, alongside her main title rival García.
Abbi Pulling will share the second row with Léna Bühler – who had set the pace in FP1 on Friday and was again fast throughout Q1, just not quite enough to challenge for pole position. Carrie Schreiner continues to impress and, having run in third place in the closing stages, she eventually finished fifth. While Mercantile Campos Racing had been slightly lagging behind due to the Spanish team’s lack of experience at the Monza circuit compared to other teams, Nerea Martí was soon up to speed, ending Q1 in seventh place.
With a sterling final lap, Megan Gilkes was in fact up to sixth, which demoted Bianca Bustamante outside the top eight on the very last seconds and handed reverse grid pole position to Amna Al Qubaisi.
Amna has already won two reverse-grid races so far – at Red Bull Ring and Barcelona – and will be looking to bounce back after a DNF from pole in Zandvoort.
Bustamante had plenty of speed – as proved by Q2 – but an early lock up at turn 1 in damp conditions hampered her first qualifying.
Chloe Grant rounded out the top 10, ahead of compatriot Jessica Edgar, Emely de Heus and Chloe Chong. Campos Racing’s Lovinfosse and Ceceres will share the final row of the grid in race 1 and 3.
A few minutes later, driver hit the track for Q2: the second session was even more tightly contested, with Nerea Martí, Hamda Al Qubaisi, Léna Bühler all joining the fight for pole.
Edgar and Martí were the first to set fast times, before Al Qubaisi improved with a 1:54.500 midway through the session. Bühler was fastest a few seconds later – before Abbi Pulling again snatched first place.
After the traffic incident in Q1, Pulling was confident of her speed and improved her benchmark lap three more times – even though she had to beat the competition of a really fast Bianca Bustamante, ultimately second by a tenth.
Hamda Al Qubaisi moved from sixth to third on her final attempt, demoting Marta García to fourth. With another really strong session, Megan Gilkes will start race 3 from the top five, as the Canadian once again marginally edged Amna Al Qubaisi. Nerea Martí could not improve on her final lap and will line up in seventh place, sharing the fourth row with Léna Bühler.
Jessica Edgar and Carrie Schreiner were ninth and tenth fastest, ahead of Emely de Heus and a more convincing Chloe Chong, who has shown good pace in practice and might be in the fight for points.
Lola Lovinfosse, Chloe Grant and Maite Caceres complete the grid.
The first race of the weekend will go green at 12:55 local time.