There aren’t many places on the F1 calendar that can test the balance and nerve of a driver quite like the famous Italian Circuit and Lewis Hamilton has shown the rest of the field just how much he has dialled into the challenges of this legendary circuit with a magical display in Qualifying.
Although it was clear from Free Practice that this would be a 2 horse race, Hamilton was in a class of one and ended the day nearly half a second clear of his team mate and Championship rival Nico Rosberg.
Qualifying one saw Magnusson out first straight onto the Supersoft but after a lock up into the first corner he could only manage a 1:25.0 with his team mate going immediately 3 tenths quicker, swiftly followed by the under pressure Kvyatt who was a further 4 tenths up the road. With 12 minutes of the session remaining things started to pick up and the first of the front runners in the shape of Vettel and Rosberg appeared for their first runs of the afternoon. Rosberg quickly set a time to beat with a mid 1:22, very shortly after this was eclipsed by Hamilton who was 6.5 tenths quicker, the Champion starting to flex his muscles in the sister Mercedes.
Manor Mercedes had a mixed Q1 as Ocon’s car ground to a halt at the end of the pit straight bringing out a brief yellow flag, his team mate Wehrlein popped up 3rd on the timing screens for a brief period finally finishing the session in the mix for Q2 and ahead of the McLaren of Fernando Alonso.
With 2 minutes to go everyone from 12th down felt like they had improvements to make and needed to run again to avoid going out in the first part of qualifying. Whilst most cars improved the order didn’t really shuffle too much and it was the 2 Renault’s, the 2 Sauber’s, the Torro Rosso of Kvyatt and the stricken Manor of Ocon that ended up in the drop zone.
Qualifying 2 started with Mercedes first out of the blocks on the soft option which signalled their intent to dominate qualifying with the slower tire which would also give them the strategic advantage for tomorrows race. The Mercedes pair had the track to themselves with Rosberg first to blink, Lewis coming through moments later 3 tenths quicker on a 1:21.498
Alonso was next through on the super softs and was immediately beaten by the manor of Wehrlein who continued his good form, also beating Button in the early stages. The William’s Pairing of Bottas and Massa and the Ferrari’s of Vettell and Raikonnen came through on the super softs all over a second behind the Mercedes underlining the Silver Arrows significant pace advantage.
The Red Bulls took a different approach and both Drivers took a gamble on the softs and just squeezed into the top ten on the first runs and with just 5 minutes left of the session left the pit wall with an interesting decision to make. As the clock ticked down to just under 3 minutes everyone apart from Vettell and Bottas left the pitlane for a second run with all but the Mercedes on the super soft rubber. Hamilton trying to improve his time as he had flat spotted his current race tire into the first chichane on the previous run.
With everyone improving apart from Hamilton, who still remained at the top of the pile, the order moved around slightly but the next 6 to be eliminated Drivers ended up being Massa, Grosjean, Alonso, Wehrlein, Button and Sainz. And it looks like the McLarens will be in for a race long battle with the Manor and Grosjean will have to battle through them all due to his 5 place grid penalty. Lewis however now faces starting tomorrow on a set of tires that have a flat spot on the front right corner.
The third and final session was a slow starter but with just over 10 minutes left cars started filtering out onto the track for their first runs. Rosberg again coming out first to lay a benchmark down for the rest to chase of 1:21.6, Hamilton accepted the challenge coming through 3 tenths quicker on a 1:21.3. The best of the rest in the early exchanges being Raikonnen but over 7 tenths behind.
The only driver not to set a time in the first runs was Gutierrez due to an off in the lesmo corners and ending up going through the gravel at over 100mph with an oversteer moment. He gathered it up and pulled back to the pits but he has certainly found the limit of his car.
The second runs saw Rosberg again out first and although he went quicker he couldn’t beat Hamilton as he was over 2 tenths behind Hamilton’s first effort but he finally ended up a massive half a second behind the Championship leader, Vettell rounded out the top 3 even after having a massive moment through the parabolica. With Bottas quietly going about his business infront of the Red Bulls the grid was no big supriseto those who had seen the practice sessions.
The full top ten was as follows