Near perfect lap nets Bottas, Williams, fifth on grid at Monza

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Valtteri Bottas has delivered a pivotal fifth place on the grid for Williams Martini Racing at the 2016 Italian Grand Prix, following a near-perfect qualifying lap at the 3.6-mile Monza circuit.

The Finn and Williams have had a rough go of it in recent weeks, as the team has not scored a top-five finish since Bottas came third at the Canadian Grand Prix in mid-June.

But at the lower-downforce circuit and with the Mercedes power unit in the back of the FW38 chassis, there was a good shot for Williams to move up the grid at Monza and potentially into a podium position on Sunday.

The two Mercedes at the front of the field seemed in a league of their own, but the battle for third was intense. The pair of Ferraris locked out Row 2 but Bottas put his Williams in fifth, ahead of both Red Bulls driven by Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.

As Bottas described in the post-qualifying bullpen to NBCSN’s Will Buxton, nearly all the stars needed to align for such a qualifying result to happen – and they did.

“I think we knew we had a chance (to beat Red Bull),” Bottas told Buxton. “Our pace was good all weekend. We normally improve for qualifying, and we saw the possibility to be top five. That’s what we achieved today.

“Obviously Felipe (Massa) is out of the top 10, but he has free tire choice. He has a good opportunity to come back tomorrow.”

Bottas noted that Massa missed out on Q3, and the Brazilian will start 11th for what will be his final Italian Grand Prix. Massa was third in this race last year, and this weekend marks the one-year anniversary of his most recent podium result.

For tomorrow, barring any Mercedes issues, it appears there’s only one podium position to fight for. And the final podium position will set up as a strategic chess match between Ferrari, Williams and Red Bull. Ferrari is undoubtedly the home favorite, but Bottas would like to usurp them tomorrow.

“I think we could (get to Ferrari),” he said. “From what we’ve seen in practice in high fuel runs, we’re a lot better here than in Spa. The tire life seems OK and pace has been good. We’ll try for it.”