Lewis Hamilton blew away the field with an incredible last ditch effort to take a record 69th Formula 1 pole in a marathon qualifying session for the Italian Grand Prix.
Having equaled Michael Schumacher’s record in last weekend during the Belgium Grand Prix, Hamilton took the record outright with his final effort of the rain affected session -- hammering the field by over a second.
"To do this here at such a historic circuit, a beautiful country, I’m going to enjoy some pasta tonight to celebrate," Hamilton said. "Tomorrow obviously depends on the weather. I’ve heard that it’s going to be dry tomorrow so hopefully it’s a normal beautiful Italian day.
"It’s going to be tough, especially with the temperatures. Even though we’re in Ferrari’s homeland, we’ve got such good support here. Honestly, I came across the line and didn’t know if I had it but it felt like a good lap but I can’t believe it. Sixty-nine. I just can’t believe it. I’m so grateful."
An early crash from Romain Grosjean brought out the red flag and with the rain intensifying, fans were made to wait for two hours and 35 minutes for the rain to stop and the track to once again become drivable.
With Hamilton at the front, championship leader Sebastian Vettel was left frustrated that he could only manage to qualify in eighth place -- sixth once engine penalties are applied to Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.
"I don’t know what the problem was today," Vettel said. "I was more surprised with how the others went so clearly we couldn’t go at the same pace. At this stage we don’t know why. There are a couple of things that we’re looking into and trying to understand. Nevertheless, I think it was an important day.
"Obviously something didn’t work but now it is one race and we’ll see what we can do tomorrow."
Hamilton was not the only record breaker on the grid in qualifying as the Mercedes driver was joined by Williams’ Lance Stroll who became the youngest ever driver to qualify on the front row of a Formula 1 grid.
Making it more incredible is that the Canadian managed it while driving the car in wet conditions for the first time.
"It was a lot of fun," Stroll said. "The car felt good and I just had fun really. I’ve never driven a Formula One car in the wet before so I just tossed it around and it worked out today. The race is tomorrow so I’ve just got to stay focused.
"I really had a good time. I know we’ve been struggling a lot over recent weekends with the car in the dry and not being able to get out of Q1."
Putting a smile back onto the face of Force India, Esteban Ocon made the most of the Red Bull penalties to qualify third – team-mate Sergio Perez failing to make it past Q2.
"We knew that there was an opportunity today in this qualifying session," Ocon said. "I’ve been growing up with the rain and it’s fantastic to see that, in a Formula One car, I can still manage to do good stuff because the team deserve it after all of their hard work."
Hamilton is just seven points behind Vettel in the championship standings so, with Vettel starting down the order and team-mate Valtteri Bottas lining up in fourth, Sunday presents an opportunity for Hamilton to climb to the top of the pile in Europe’s final Grand Prix of the season.
By Sam Hall
Formula 1, Racing
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