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 by heavy rain for more than two and half hours.
In Q3 Max Verstappen had claimed provisional pole with an 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 and eclipse Michael Schumacher’s previous benchmark.
Verstappen held second place ahead of Ricciardo, while Williams’ Lance Stroll and Force India’s Esteban Ocon impressed with fourth and fifth places respectively. Stroll is set to start from the front row tomorrow, as both Red Bull drivers will take engine-related grid penalties ahead of the start.
Ferrari, meanwhile, endured a difficult qualifying, with Kimi Räikkönen finishing seventh and Sebastian Vettel in eighth.
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 the weather 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.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton set the pace for much of Q1, with a time of 1:36.009 set on full wets. However, as the session unfolded most drivers moved to intermediates and in the last moments Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes stole top spot with a lap of 1:35.716.
At the bottom of the order Haas’ Kevin Magnussen 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.
Verstappen was first on track in Q2, the Dutchman reverting to full wet Pirelli tyres. That appeared to be the right choice early on as Hamilton, on inters, slotted into second place, four tenths of a second adrift. The advantage of the extreme wets didn’t last long however, and drivers quickly began to find a sweet sport with the green Pirelli and after a brief spell in which Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel held sway, Hamilton took top spot. The Briton then made steady improvements to eventually led the segment with a time of 1:34.660.
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.
eom/FIA press release