Hamilton takes pole as Ferrari threatens in Italy
Lewis Hamilton has dominated qualifying at the Italian Grand Prix, but teammate Nico Rosberg failed to lock out the front row.
Hamilton put his Mercedes, complete with a new specification engine, on pole by 0.23 seconds, but it was Kimi Räikkönen who put in the second fastest time to start alongside the championship leader on Sunday.
“Big thanks to the guys back at the factory who made improvement to the reliability of the engine,” said Hamilton. “To bring that here is a big step for us.”
Räikkönen, so typically unanimated, allowed himself to express some surprise at qualifying so high up at Ferrari’s home race.
“If we look now, we’ve probably surprised ourselves a little bit,” admitted the Finn. “In the end the car turned out to be pretty good.
“It’s nice at a home race for us to have our best qualifying this year as a team. We’ll try to give it another good go tomorrow — not just for ourselves but for our fans.”
Sebastian Vettel slotted into third for his first Italian Grand Prix as a Ferrari driver, and heralded the opportunity to produce what could be a miraculous result on Sunday.
“It’s our home race, so it’s really something special every time you drive past. It feels different to other races I’ve done before. I’m trying to take it all in.
“Dreaming is allowed, but you have to be realistic — [Mercedes] has some serious pace in the race, but we’ll try to fight and do everything we can.”
Nico Rosberg’s time was only good enough for fourth; his 0.3-second deficit to Hamilton is partially explained by his car being equipped with an old engine after his new-spec engine developed a problems during practice and necessitated a change.
The closeness of the class-leading Mercedes car and engine combination and the Ferrari cars at a circuit that should have led to a Silver Arrows whitewash can be partly put down to Mercedes detuning its new engines with reliability fears.
Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas qualified in fifth and sixth in familiar territory as being clear third — Felipe Massa in P5 was 0.2 seconds off Nico Rosberg’s best time while Valtteri Bottas in P6 was 0.5 second faster than the next closest car.
Williams could have found itself in a closer fight with the cars behind it had it not been able to successfully execute a slipstreaming strategy down Monza’s long straight, employing Bottas to aid Massa during the first Q3 runs before switching its drivers’ roles for the second runs.
Sergio Perez was next best, his Mercedes-powered Force India 0.4 seconds quicker than the Mercedes-powered Lotus piloted by Romain Grosjean in P8.
Perez’s teammate Nico Hülkenberg suffered a power unit problem that prevented him from setting a second lap, locking him into P9 and ahead of Marcus Ericsson in tenth, his Sauber being the only non-Mercedes customer car in the top 10.
The second qualifying session proved a tight affair, with the knock-out threshold being fought between Sauber, Force India and Lotus, with Nico Hülkenberg defeating Pastor Maldonado to P10, consigning the Venezuelan to eleventh.
Marcus Ericsson finished ahead of Hülkenberg, but his Sauber teammate, Felipe Nasr, was sandwiched between Maldonado and Carlos Sainz.
With penalties to be meted out to Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso, it was unsurprising to see those teams’ remaining cars slowest of the session, with Ricciardo opting not to turn a lap at all to save engine mileage.
Ricciardo was classified as fifteenth fastest, behind Kvyat in P14.
The first qualifying session was merely a formality, with both drivers from each of Red Bull Racing, Toro Rosso and McLaren taking a myriad of grid penalties for engine changes, meaning the back of the grid would be sorted out after qualifying finished.
However, both McLaren cars, despite the team’s underpowered Honda power units being totally uncompetitive around Monza, went immediately out on a set of soft tyres in response to both Manor cars being soft-shod, reflecting a genuine concern that McLaren could have been outqualified by Formula One’s minnow.
Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo had his weekend compromised by an engine failure in free practice three earlier in the day, and was able to set just one lap in qualifying to get through to Q2 — which he succeeded in doing — but Max Verstappen, who was also held in his garage with car troubles, ran out of time to set a flying lap.
Worse for the Dutchman was that, apparently in Toro Rosso’s haste to beat the clock, the bodywork on Verstappen’s car was not properly attached to the chasses and dangerously flew off the car at high speed.
Verstappen, penalty pending, qualified last, behind Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi in P18 and P19.
Jenson Button outqualified teammate Fernando Alonso in sixteenth and seventeenth.