Italian GP: Hamilton dominates qualifying to take his seventh pole in a row

Pole position for the 2015 Italian Grand Prix secured by Lewis Hamilton.

The temple of speed was picture perfect for qualifying after the dampness of FP3 dried away, leaving Monza beautifully crisp for qualifying as Lewis Hamilton took pole position. Hamilton’s dominance in Italy this year has seen him top each individual practice and qualifying session, but Ferrari were hot on his heels in front of their devoted Tifosi.

Going into qualifying Lewis Hamilton had the best of his competitors by topping free practice one, two and three. But while Ferrari closed the gap to Hamilton in FP3 for the Italian Grand Prix with Vettel finishing second, Rosberg’s day took a downhill turn. An un-diagnosed engine problem caused Mercedes to re-introduce the Spa race power unit in place of Nico’s new, upgraded W06 Hybrid, leaving Rosberg at a disadvantage to his title-rival and team-mate at a track where pole has won eight of the last ten races.

At least for Nico, the engine was already race-used meaning he would not take a grid penalty unlike both Toro Rosso drivers, both Red Bull drivers and both McLaren drivers after a horde of new power units were introduced among the three teams. All three teams also have power units that provide them with less power than their rivals, which makes their weekend at the temple of speed that little bit worse while giving them a new engine in the pool for a race they may be competitive at.

For the first runs in Q1, the track was almost full with Formula One cars but Verstappen and Ricciardo were sitting out of the action while their respective teams worked hard on the cars. But while they watched on, Hamilton was claiming P1 from the off by seven tenths to the nearest constructor and match his best medium tyre time from Friday.

For the other drivers, Rosberg was clawing his way towards Hamilton’s time with his old-spec engine but was able to do more than enough to sit in P2 before returning to the pits. Bottas, Vettel and Massa all sat within a second of Hamilton’s time on the medium tyres but as others improved on the softs and pushed them down the order, Williams’ drivers hit the pits for a change to the options.

As the drivers attacked the line and the flag, Sainz moved himself up the board and away from the drop and into 12th place and Ricciardo claimed 14th with his only lap of the session. But for Verstappen, who only left the pits for some sector times at the death, his side pod blew off his car as he made his way around the Curva Grande.

Force India once again proved their car is quick in a straight line as they claimed fourth and fifth with Bottas joining them ahead of Vettel. McLaren on the other hand were forced to join Verstappen and the Manor’s out of qualifying when their two drivers failed to get within three tenths of the time set by Kvyat. While at the other end, Mercedes and Ferrari made their way into Q2 without running the option tyres and lock-out the top three, while Vettel settled for seventh.

Once again in Q2 Hamilton took P1 comfortably with his opening lap while now on the option tyres. Rosberg also was running a new set of the softs, but when Hamilton set his time with purples across the board, Nico sat seven tenths off his team-mate.

But while Hamilton set the fastest sector times, it was Force India and even Ericsson’s Sauber that had posted the top times in the speed traps. However Marcus’ opening Q2 time was only good enough for eighth while Hulkenberg sat in fifth.

As the middle of Q2 came around and most of the drivers returned to their garages, the two Ferrari’s remained on track as they set about their first flying laps. For Vettel, his lap saw him gain two hundredths of a second on Hamilton in sector 2 for a purple time, but he had already lost three tenths in the first and lost two more tenths of a second in sector 3 for a time that was good enough for second. Kimi however demoted his team-mate into third despite setting no purple sectors, but was able to go two tenths up on Seb and three tenths down on Hamilton for second, leaving Rosberg in fourth.

Come the second stints, Mercedes deemed they had already done enough for Q2 with Hamilton in P1, like Ferrari with Raikkonen in P2. But they sent their other drivers back out onto the circuit for one last run to secure their place.

Williams were also back out on track and were rehearsing a slipstream that has been seen with Ferrari at Monza over recent years, with Massa leading Alonso. But today it was Massa gaining the slipstream from his team-mate and it clearly helped the Brazilian, as Massa set a purple sector one before Bottas moved to P5 and Massa took P4, pushing Bottas back down to sixth.

For the drivers unable to beat the Q2 drop, Nasr couldn’t improve on his benchmark time while his team-mate, Ericsson, rocketed up the board by 5 tenths on Nasr for a top 10 slot. Maldonado also missed out on a Q3 appearance but he missed out by just 15 thousandths of a second while Kvyat and Sainz were nowhere to be seen, with over a second gap between them and the drop.

But out of the 10 men who beat the drop and made it into Q3, seven hit the track early on to set their provisional times. Fastest in this stage was Lewis Hamilton once again after going purple in sectors two and three but Massa stole the full sweep with the fastest time in sector one.

First across the line in Q3 was actually Hulkenberg, but his time tumbled down the order faster than he could return to his garage after pulling up short upon his return to the pit lane. Luckily he crossed the white line at the start of the pit lane, meaning the team could push him back to his garage but without enough time to repair any faults.

As for Ferrari, the Tifosi were cheering loudly as their men nudged Rosberg and Massa down the order for second and third, with Kimi out-doing the job done by Vettel in their provisional laps. At the other end of the top 10, Ericsson opted not to set a time and remained in his garage, while Perez set two sector times without completing a full lap.

But both Perez and Ericsson took to the track for the final run, unlike Hulkenberg as the team removed the tyres from his car. For Vettel, his lap got off to a poor start with a worse sector one than Hamilton in his provisional pole push and failed to gain time to Lewis in any other sector.

Despite not gaining on Hamilton though, Vettel did improve on his previous best but was unable to do enough to prevent Raikkonen from out-qualifying the German for second place. The German in the Mercedes meanwhile was forced to watch on as the two Ferrari’s battled for second as Rosberg could only claim fourth.

But out in front, pole was only going to one man as Lewis Hamilton took pole position and his seventh pole in a row to place him in a great position to win yet again in 2015.

Behind the Mercedes’ and Ferrari’s came Williams who saw no challenge posed by Force India, Lotus or Sauber with neither teams’ drivers able to get within one second of Hamilton’s pole time.

Position Driver Best lap
1 Hamilton Q3: 1:23.397
2 Raikkonen 1:23.631
3 Vettel 1:23.685
4 Rosberg 1:23.703
5 Massa 1:23.940
6 Bottas 1:24.127
7 Perez 1:24.626
8 Grosjean 1:25.054
9 Hulkenberg 1:25.317
10 Ericsson 1:26.214
11 Maldonado Q2: 1:24.525
12 Nasr 1:24.898
13 Sainz 1:25.618
14 Kvyat 1:25.796
15 Ricciardo No time set
16 Button Q1: 1:26.058
17 Alonso 1:26.154
18 Stevens 1:27.731
19 Merhi 1:27.912
20 Verstappen No time set