Lewis Hamilton will start the Italian Grand Prix from pole position following his wet-weather masterclass in one of the longest qualifying sessions in Formula One history.
Hamilton’s excellence at a rain-hit Monza, following a delay which lasted two hours and 36 minutes, sees him stand alone as the sport’s all-time one-lap specialist with his 69th career pole.
The Englishman, 32, held his nerve in the shootout for pole as the rain, which wreaked havoc with Saturday’s schedule, returned with vengeance in the closing moments.
Hamilton was the last to cross the line, and his lap was an incredible 1.1 seconds faster than Red Bull’s Max Verstappen with his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo third.
It marks Hamilton’s fourth consecutive pole at Monza and moves him above Michael Schumacher’s tally which he matched in Belgium last weekend
Hamilton however, will be joined on the front row by the Canadian teenager Lance Stroll with both Verstappen and Ricciardo to serve grid drops following engine penalties. And to cap a remarkable day for Hamilton his title rival Sebastian Vettel will start only sixth.
The British driver is unlikely to forget his record pole in a hurry following a frenetic qualifying session which lasted more than three-and-a-half hours.
The delay was caused by Romain Grosjean after he crashed in the wet and criticised the conditions as ”dangerous”.
Despite persistent rain, the one-hour session had started on schedule, but it was suspended after only five minutes when Grosjean lost control of his car at speeds approaching 190mph.
The Frenchman narrowly avoided contact with the barriers on both sides of the main straight, but with his Haas car in a precarious position qualifying was immediately suspended.
”I told you it was f****** dangerous,” an exasperated Grosjean yelled over the radio. Veteran English race director Charlie Whiting called for the session to be red-flagged at 14:05 local time.
A number of track inspections were subsequently carried out, but with standing water still on the main straight, qualifying was no closer to getting under way as the clock hit 16:00.
Fans, who sought cover from the inclement conditions by wearing ponchos and huddling under umbrellas, jeered the on-going delays, and the lack of action – indeed only seven drivers posted a competitive lap in practice earlier on Saturday – will have left the sport’s new American owners Liberty Media red-faced.
It was down to Ricciardo to provide the entertainment as he took control of a television camera and headed straight for the Mercedes garage. His shoddy camera work was beamed around the world.
Meanwhile, Hamilton spent the delay engaging with his supporters on social media before sitting down with Valtteri Bottas and playing computer games from the comfort of the Mercedes team’s hospitality suite.
When the session eventually got under way at 16:40, Hamilton, who so often revels in the wet, looked on course to get the job done. But his record pole came under threat in the closing moments as he sat in third place behind both Red Bulls.
Hamilton however, delivered a quite brilliant lap of one minute and 35.554 seconds to roar to pole. Stroll, 18, will line up in second for Williams and Frenchman Esteban Ocon is bumped up to third with Verstappen and Ricciardo to serve grid drops.
Vettel, whom Hamilton trails by seven points in the title race, was nowhere to be seen on Ferrari’s home turf. He qualified only eighth, but will move up two spots following the Red Bull penalties.