Lewis Hamilton had a blistering qualifying session to take pole for the Italian Grand Prix.
In a rain-disrupted qualifying, Hamilton showed remarkable concentration and skill to finish 1.148 seconds in front of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and break Michael Schumacher’s all-time pole record.
It was a stop-start qualifying with a huge downpour initially delaying the start. When the session did get underway the drivers struggled in torrential conditions and it was red-flagged only moments before Romain Grosjean aquaplaned into the barriers. The unrelenting rain forced a further delay of over two hours before qualifying-proper re-started at 4:40pm local time.
The wet conditions made the cars especially difficult to handle on the low downforce Monza circuit and set the scene for an uncertain ending to Q3.
Verstappen and Ricciardo finished second and third but both Red Bull drivers will start from the back of the grid due to a raft of grid penalties for engine changes. Elevated in their place are Lance Stroll from Williams and Esteban Ocon from Force India who start ahead of Valterri Bottas for Mercedes, Kimi Raikkonen for Ferrari and his team-mate Sebastian Vettel.
Hamilton Smashes Pole Record
Hamilton’s assured qualifying session at Monza was a performance worthy of breaking Michael Schumacher’s long-standing pole record.
Hamilton was second in Q1 to team-mate Bottas but then dominated to lead the Finn by 0.736 seconds in Q2 and then easily claim pole in Q3 by finishing over a second ahead of Verstappen.
“The Red Bulls really made me work hard for the pole today, which I’m grateful for. The weather has obviously been incredibly tricky for us all,” said Hamilton.
“It was very difficult to see out there, and very easy to make mistakes – as always in the rain.”
“There was a lot of pressure for that last lap – there could have been a red flag, there could have been a yellow flag. There was a lot of risk, but I gave it everything.”
Vettel Off The Pace
The fast and free-flowing Monza circuit was always tipped to favor the Mercedes setup over Ferrari but the outcome of this qualifying could be a turning point in the championship.
Vettel’s poor qualifying session hands Hamilton the real chance to take the lead in the driver’s championship for the first time this season.
It would be a crushing blow to Vettel who had expected to start closer to the front of the grid.
“Unfortunately, it was not quick enough – as simple as that,” explained Vettel.
“I was surprised by how quick the others went. Clearly we couldn’t go the same pace. At this stage we do know why for sure.”
Despite starting from sixth on the grid, Vettel is confident of making up places and challenging Hamilton.
“It should be more fun starting a bit further back.”
“We can make up a lot of ground, the car is quick and you can overtake here, so we should be OK. It should be a fun race.”
Great Day For Young Guns
Two young drivers – Lance Stroll and Esteban Ocon – offered a shining light on an otherwise dour Italian afternoon.
Both have shown glimpses of their potential at various times this season, with Ocon tagged as a future top-team driver. The strong qualifying result certainly marks their arrival as serious drivers and provides Stroll the unique experience of starting on the front row.
“I just had fun – I felt free,” said Stroll afterwards. “We definitely seem to have a much more competitive car in the rain than in the dry.”