Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position today in Monza to head an all McLaren front row ahead of Jenson Button with Felipe Massa taking third. The Brazilian and his Ferrari team mate were working together as a team throughout practice and qualifying to give each other a slipstream worth around 3/10ths of a second. It worked for Massa, giving him his best qualifying position of the season. Unfortunately for Alonso his rear anti-roll bar broke and he could only manage only tenth.
Nevertheless this is the most competitive Ferrari has been this season and Alonso’s progress through the field will be interesting to watch.
The Ferrari’s potency here can be shown by its performance in Q1, where Alonso set a time on the 4th lap of a set of hard tyres which would have been good enough for 3rd place on the grid.
On this power circuit, it was interesting to note five Mercedes powered cars in the top seven positions.
Hamilton has been in the spotlight over his suggested move to Mercedes but showed no signs of it distracting him from his objectives on track; he edged out Button for a McLaren front-row lock out, securing his 23rd career pole, the fourth of 2012, and putting himself in the optimum position to gain ground on his championship rivals. It was McLaren’s third front row lock out of the season, showing that they are back to the form with which they started the season, before they lost their way on development trying to solve tyre temperature imbalances.
After dominating Free Practice the McLaren pairing seemed to be chasing the tail of Alonso as the Championship leader headed both Q1 and Q2, for the first time this season.
But it was Hamilton who let his driving do the talking as he needed just one lap to take pole position by 1/10th of a second in a very tight session. His benchmark could not be matched by those behind and with his Championship rivals all much further down the grid tomorrow could be his chance to make up for last weekend’s no score.
McLaren has had the car to beat in the last three Grands Prix, their work on exhaust blowing into the diffuser and other detailed aerodynamic work has certainly helped their competitiveness, while Red Bull has slipped back, as has Lotus, in qualifying pace.
Alonso had a golden opportunity to put some cars between himself and his nearest title challengers, the Red Bulls. Once again the Red Bulls lacked qualifying pace.
Part of this is the Renault engine, Vettel is the best placed Renault in 6th, Raikkonen behind him. They have struggled to match the straight line speed of the Ferrari and Mercedes’ engines and they both looked set to exit qualifying in Q2. This was the case for Webber, who could only manage 11th, but Vettel was able to push the car to its limits and will start the race from 5th place.
Monza is the third consecutive race in which Red Bull have failed to get more than one car in to the pole position shoot out. It has been no secret in recent years that the Renault Sport F1 engine is not as quick through the speed traps relative to the Ferrari, and in particular, Mercedes engines. And with the characteristics of Monza demanding a lot of top end speed the team will once again be looking at a savvy strategy on Sunday to grab as many points as possible.
Paul Di Resta had the most competitive Formula One qualifying session of his career as he claimed 4th position. Although a five-place gearbox penalty will push him down to 9th. But the Force India squad will have mixed emotions over what could have been as Nico Hulkenberg did not complete a lap in qualifying due to a mechanical issue and will begin the race in 24th position. The Silverstone based team have had a car particularly suited to low downforce circuits in recent years with strong showings in both Spa and Monza in 2009 and a strong fourth place finish in Spa last weekend.
Mercedes could not put their “double-DRS” to use to threaten for pole position but a 4th and 6th place start for Schumacher and Rosberg respectively is much better than recent races. And with a relatively low tyre wear factor at Monza they will need to maximise their points tomorrow.
The Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen and the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi fill the space between Alonso and Rosberg as they both got the better of their team mates. Jerome D’Ambrosio, replacing Romain Grosjean in the sister Lotus could only take 16th on the grid after surviving a scare in Q1, which saw him sneak through at the expense of Heikki Kovalainen.
[Additional reporting: Matt Meadows]
ITALIAN GRAND PRIX, MONZA, Qualifying
1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m24.010s
2. Jenson Button McLaren 1m24.133s + 0.123s
3. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m24.247s + 0.237s
4. Paul di Resta Force India 1m24.304s + 0.294s*
5. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m24.540s + 0.530s
6. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m24.802s + 0.792s
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m24.833s + 0.823s
8. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m24.855s + 0.845s
9. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m25.109s + 1.099s
10. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m25.678s + 1.668s
11. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m24.809s + 0.567s
12. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m24.820s + 0.578s**
13. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m24.901s + 0.659s
14. Bruno Senna Williams 1m25.042s + 0.800s
15. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m25.312s + 1.070s
16. Jerome d’Ambrosio Lotus 1m25.408s + 1.166s
17. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m25.441s + 1.199s
18. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m26.382s + 2.207s
19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m26.887s + 2.712s
20. Timo Glock Marussia 1m27.039s + 2.864s
21. Charles Pic Marussia 1m27.073s + 2.898s
22. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m27.441s + 3.266s
23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1m27.629s + 3.454s
24. Nico Hulkenberg Force India STOPPED
* 5 place gearbox penalty to be applied
** 10 place grid penalty to be applied