Lewis Hamilton became Formula One’s new all-time pole position record holder and claimed the record for most Italian Grand Prix poles after he took top spot in a marathon qualifying session at Monza that was interrupted for more than two and half hours by heavy rain.
Max Verstappen had claimed provisional pole ahead with am impressive lap of 1:36.702 as the conditions once again worsened at the Italian circuit. The Red Bull driver’s team-mate Daniel Ricciardo slotted into P2, just over a tenth of a second behind the Dutchman.
Hamilton, though, was still on track and improving. The Briton eventually crossed the line in a blistering time of 1:35.554,. 1.148s ahead of Verstappen, to claim his 69th career pole position.
After final practice was disrupted by the weather, Qualifying got underway in improved though still wet conditions. And with the rain intensifying as the pit exit opened, a queue of cars formed up, the intention being to put in a ‘banker’ lap before track conditions worsened.
Hamilton quickly rose to the top of the order with a time of 1:40.128, followed by Vettel, more than two seconds behind. Romain Grosjean was third of the seven cars to have posted a time when five minutes into Q1 the Frenchman hit trouble. Grosjean’s Haas aquaplaned on the start/finish straight and slide into the barrier at Turn 1. The incident, along with the worsening conditions, immediately brought out the red flags.
As the rain continued to fall heavily, Race Control was forced into a long series of 15-minute delays, but eventually, almost two hours and a half hours after the scheduled start of Q1, conditions improved and at 1640 local time the session got underway again.
As the drivers stayed on track on full wets, Hamilton made a series of improvements in lap time to cement himself into P1, eventually sitting ayt the top of the order on a time of 1:36.009.
A number of drivers gambled on intermediate tyres, including Vettel, who jumped from fifth to third with a 1m37.198s as the rest of the field began to make the switch in the hope of improvement.
It was the right move for Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz who managed to escape the drop zone by setting a time of 1:39.788 – good enough for P15 – but it failed to help Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, who was in eliminated in P16 ahead of Renault’s Jolyon Palmer, the Saubers of Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein and Grosjean, who did not take part in the re-started session following his crash.
Q2 began with Max Verstappen first on track, the Dutchman reverting to full wet Pirelli tyres. That appeared to be the right choice early on as Hamilton, on inters, slotted into second, four tenths back.
The advantage of the blue-banded tyre didn’t last long however, and drivers quickly began to find a sweet sport with the green Pirelli. Hamilton took top spot but was soon usurped by Vettel who lapped in 1m36.223s. Hamilton then took top spot again with a time of 1:38.344.
In the drop zone with two minutes left on the clock were Esteban Ocon, Daniil Kvyat, Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez and Fernando Alonso. Of that quintet only Ocon escaped, the Frenchman jumping to P10 with his final lap. Behind him team-mate Perez was eliminated in P11 ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, Alonso. Kvyat and Sainz.
Q3 saw steady improvements across the board, despite the rain arriving again. It was the Red Bulls who made the biggest initial impression with Verstappen and Ricciardo trading P1 times as Ferrari, in particular, seemed to struggle in the conditions. Force India’s Esteban Ocon too was putting in an impressive performance and as the final moments arrived the Frenchman set the quickest first sector to threaten an upset. His bid fizzled in the final two sectors, however, while Verstappen’s chances improved.
The Ductman set an impressive time of 1:36.702 to claim provisional pole and Red Bull looked to be in with a chance of a front-row lockout when Daniel slotted into P2 a tenth behind.
Hamilton had a record in his sights though and his pace was phenomenal. The Briton blasted to his 69th pole in a time of 1:35.554 to finish 1.1s ahead of Verstappen and to moved him ahead of Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of 68. The lap also means that Hamilton now has six Italian GP poles, moving him one clear of Juan Manuel Fangio and Jim Clark.
Red Bull’s performance was bitter sweet, however. Both its drivers are set to take grid penalties for tomorrow’s race and thus it will be Williams’ teenage driver Lance Stroll who lines up on the front row beside Hamiton after the Canadian rookie put in an exceptional performance to claim P4 in qualifying with a time of 1:37.032, almost seven tenths clear of Ocon who will start at the front of row two alongside Bottas.