Lewis Hamilton is officially Formula 1’s all-time greatest one-lap specialist after breaking Michael Schumacher’s record of pole positions in an extraordinary rain-affected qualifying session at the Italian Grand Prix.
That the Briton achieved the feat under such incredible circumstances made the milestone perhaps all the more significant.
Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session lasted almost four hours thanks to heavy rain over the circuit that made track conditions treacherous. The opening stanza of qualifying was suspended after just a few minutes when Romain Grosjean aquaplaned his Haas Ferrari into the barriers on the approach to the Variante della Roggia chicane, fortunately without major damage to the Frenchman’s car or injury to the frustrated driver.
The red flags were thrown to allow for the recovery of his car and all track action was suspended for over two-and-a-half hours until the FIA Race Director team was satisfied that conditions had improved sufficiently.
As frustrating as the delays were for teams, drivers and fans alike, when the action eventually resumed everyone was served up an extraordinary battle for qualifying honours. In the end Hamilton triumphed, beating off a stunning attack from the Red Bull Racing duo of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.
Hamilton’s final lap to pole rivaled his faultless lap a week before at Spa-Francorchamps that drew him level with Schumacher’s tally of 68 poles. Proving his mastery of the wet, the Mercedes driver delivered a masterclass in being able to pick the ideal line through the spray.
Behind him, the next generation of potential World Champions strutted their stuff and battled to be his heir apparent.
With their well-documented horsepower deficit nullified by the wet conditions, the Red Bull Racing pair exploited the damp track to the fullest and looked set to claim a stunning 1-2 in Q3 before Hamilton pulled out all stops on his last-gasp lap. They finished second- and third-fastest to mark the team’s best qualifying performance of the season, however both drivers’ celebrations were muted given they will take major grid penalties thanks to a tactical decision to run new power unit elements during the weekend that could see them as genuine race-winning challengers in Singapore in a fortnight’s time.
They weren’t the only youngsters to brave it out in the damp. The occasionally maligned Lance Stroll surprised in his first proper wet-weather outing and qualified a superb fourth-fastest in his Williams – which translates to a front-row start once the Red Bulls are demoted – while Esteban Ocon put his Force India in to a similarly career-high fifth-quickest.
The young Frenchman will start ahead of Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas – left to rue an error on his final flying lap – and the two Ferraris of Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel, who couldn’t extract enough tyre temperature at the team’s home race.
Vettel, who leads Hamilton by seven points in the Drivers’ Championship, has been unable to run at his rival’s pace all weekend and will struggle to emerge from the European leg of the season still in the lead of the standings. Should he finish second on Sunday the pair will be tied on points, and with dry weather forecast for the 53-lap race he has every possibility of making up lost ground when the true prizes are handed out.
Sunday’s 53-lap Italian Grand Prix will start at 14:00 local time (GMT +2).
|Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap||Tyre|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08||1:35.554|
|2.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13||1:36.702||+ 0.827|
|3.||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13||1:36.841||+ 1.310|
|4.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40||1:37.032||+ 2.731|
|5.||Esteban Ocon||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||1:37.719||+ 2.816|
|6.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08||1:37.833||+ 0.541|
|7.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF70H||1:37.987||+ 0.717|
|8.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF70H||1:38.064||+ 0.242|
|9.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40||1:38.251||+ 1.639|
|10.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren-Honda MCL32||1:39.157||+ 1.639|
|Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**||Tyre|
|11.||Sergio Pérez||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||1:37.582||+ 2.922|
|12.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS17||1:38.059||+ 3.399|
|13.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren-Honda MCL32||1:38.202||+ 3.542|
|14.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12||1:38.245||+ 3.585|
|15.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12||1:38.526||+ 3.866|
|Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*||Tyre|
|16.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17||1:40.489||+ 4.773|
|17.||Jolyon Palmer||Renault Sport F1 Team RS17||1:40.646||+ 4.930|
|18.||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||1:41.732||+ 6.016|
|19.||Pascal Wehrlein||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||1:41.875||+ 6.159|
|Outside 107%||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*||Tyre|
|DNQ.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17||1:43.355||+ 7.639|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q1 time of 1:35.716 posted by Valtteri Bottas
** Denotes gap to fastest Q2 time of 1:34.660 posted by Lewis Hamilton
Max Verstappen (2nd) will serve a 20-place grid penalty for the use of new power unit components above his allocated limit
Daniel Ricciardo (3rd) will serve a 20-place grid penalty for the use of new power unit components above his allocated limit and a further 5-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change
Nico Hülkenberg (12th) will serve a 10-place grid penalty for the use of new power unit components above his allocated limit
Fernando Alonso (13th) will serve a 35-place grid penalty for the use of new power unit components above his allocated limit
Carlos Sainz Jr (15th) will serve a 10-place grid penalty for the use of new power unit components above his allocated limit
Jolyon Palmer (17th) will serve a 15-place grid penalty for the use of new power unit components above his allocated limit
Image via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team