Lewis Hamilton took pole position at Monza as his chief weekend rival Fernando Alonso slumped to tenth on the grid after a technical problem wrecked his Q3 chances.
After Michael Schumacher posted the fastest time in the weekend’s opening practice session, Alonso and Hamilton had duelled for supremacy in each of the following session, with Hamilton winning out from third-placed Alonso in FP2 and again in FP3 – though in the final practice hour he eclipsed the Spaniard by just 1000th of a second.
The expectation then was for more of the same in qualifying. And initially it was Alonso who dominated. The title race leader took the top slot in both Q1 and Q2, with Hamilton second and fourth respectively.
But in the final ten minutes the wheels came off the Ferrari challenge. Felipe Massa quickly hit the front with his first run, thanks to a tow from Alonso, but Alonso couldn’t profit on his first run, ending up in fifth. And while Hamilton stayed in front again on his final run, Alonso struggled, the Spaniard trawling around in tenth, far off the times of the front runners.
“Something was broken on the car in Q3,” said Alonso, for whom tenth is his worst start since the European GP. “I think we lost the easiest pole position of the year because we did 1m24.1s with an easy lap, and Lewis did 24.0s. We were expecting 23.5s or something like that. So we lost the best opportunity for pole, but that’s the way it is.
“For tomorrow the car will be OK, but for sure starting 10th will be more difficult,” he added. “We know the problem, and we went out just to check if we could overtake one or two positions, maybe P8 or P9 or something like that, but it was not enough, and we lost too much performance.”
Hamilton, meanwhile, was pleased he had found a “half-decent” lap to take his second pole position at Monza, the last coming in 2009.
“It’s been a tough weekend but we’ve managed to work on the set-up and the package the guys bought from the factory – and they’ve done a fantastic job,” he said. “So, congratulations to the team and great for the lads. Yeah, managed to get a half-decent lap at the end of Q3, or at the beginning of Q3, and it’s great obviously for the team to have me and Jenson at the front.”
Indeed, Alonso’s problems were a boon for Jenson Button. The McLaren driver was second in FP2 and fifth on Saturday morning. Alonso’s pace, however, suggested that the best Button might hope for was row two but in the end Button snuck past Massa to join Hamilton on the front row, the team’s third grid 1-2 of the season.
“For us both to be on the front row, it’s fantastic for the team,” said Button. “I think the last few races have really shown our strength and qualifying both of us on the front row is great – I don’t know if any other team has been able to do that this year. Tomorrow we’ll start thinking about in a little while but – I don’t know, even being on the front row is not going to be an easy race here but it’s the best place to be.”
Paul Di Resta finished fourth but will take a five-place grid penalty due to a gearbox change this morning. That means that Michael Schumacher will start fourth, with Sebastian Vettel, who qualified sixth, climbing to a useful fifth on the grid, despite the champion finding the going difficult.
Nico Rosberg finished seventh but will start sixth and Kimi Raikkonen will also move up a spot from eighth place in the session. Kamui Kobayashi will start eighth, Di Resta ninth just ahead of Alonso.