Formula One: Hamilton takes record 69th pole

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton celebrates pole position after qualifying.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton celebrates pole position after qualifying.PHOTO: REUTERS

MONZA, Italy (AFP) – Lewis Hamilton broke Michael Schumacher’s record of all-time pole positions by securing his 69th with a devastating lap in the final seconds of Saturday’s (Sept 2)  rain-hit qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix.

The 32-year-old Briton steered his Mercedes through treacherous conditions with patience, precision and courage to deliver a best lap in one minute and 34.660 seconds.

In a dramatic final Q3 session, he outpaced nearest rival Max Verstappen of Red Bull in teeming rain to claim his sixth pole at Monza and his fourth in succession.

His lap in 1:35.554 on full wet tyres was the quickest in Q3.

He had shared Schumacher’s record of 68 after taking pole in last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix to set up victory and the record.

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“To do this here at such an historic circuit – I am going to have some pasta tonight to celebrate,” said Hamilton.

“Sixty-nine poles – I just can’t believe it.” He added: “Firstly, Italy, I love you – even though we are in Ferrari’s homeland I appreciate all the support.”

Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was third ahead of Canadian rookie Lance Stroll of Williams, French rookie Esteban Ocon of Force India and Finn Valtteri Bottas, who was sixth in the second Mercedes.

With the two Red Bulls hit by major grid penalties for taking new engine components, Stroll will start Sunday’s race, forecast to take place in dry conditions, from second on the grid alongside Hamilton.

In a dramatic finale to a session that ended nearly three hours later than expected after a long delay due to heavy rain, the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and championship leader Sebastian Vettel ended up in disappointing seventh and eight positions on their team’s 70th anniversary.

“I have no idea what the problem was,” said Vettel, who will start from sixth.

“I was surprised by how quick the others went. At this stage we don’t know why. It was an important day, but it is what it is and we will see how it goes tomorrow.

“We have a good car so we don’t need to be afraid. The car is quick – we know that and you can overtake here – it should be a fun race.”

Brazilian Felipe Massa was ninth in the second Williams and Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne 10th for McLaren.

'DOUBLE STANDARDS'

The session ended nearly four hours after it had begun with a curtailed Q1 brought to an early red-flagged halt when Frenchman Romain Grosjean aquaplaned and crashed in his Haas.

He was unhurt but accused F1 race organisers of double standards for starting the session in dangerous conditions.

After a delay of more than two and a half hours, qualifying resumed with the cars queuing in the pit lane and aware of forecasts that the gloomy weather was expected to deteriorate.

Verstappen, Vettel, Bottas and then Hamilton took top spot as the times tumbled.

Raikkonen was almost involved in a pit-lane collision when he was released into the path of a Force India, but braked immediately and Ferrari apologised.

The session concluded with Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer joining both Saubers in being eliminated, along with the luckless Grosjean.

Bottas, in 1:35.716, topped Q1 ahead of Hamilton and Vettel and was soon back out for Q2.

Vettel and Hamilton swapped fastest laps, with Bottas in close pursuit, the title contenders creating their own duel in the rain.

Hamilton ended up quickest to head Bottas by seven-tenths with Vettel third.

Mexican Sergio Perez, German Nico Hulkenberg, McLaren’s Alonso and the Toro Rosso pairing of Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz failed to make the cut.

The rain intensified for the top-ten shootout and after one lap the leaders were in to switch from intermediates to wets, a decision that favoured the men, like Verstappen, who had started with them.

After settling in, Hamilton went fastest again before being called to pit with three minutes remaining for another set of wets, on which he made history.