Lewis Hamilton broke Michael Schumacher’s record of all-time pole positions by securing his 69th with a devastating lap in the final seconds of Saturday’s rain-hit qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix.
The 32-year-old Briton steered his Mercedes through treacherous conditions with patience, precision and courage to deliver a best lap in one minute and 34.660 seconds.
In a dramatic final Q3 session, he outpaced nearest rival Max Verstappen of Red Bull in teeming rain to claim his sixth pole at Monza and his fourth in succession.
He had shared Schumacher’s record of 68 after taking pole in last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix to set up victory and the record.
“To do this here at such an historic circuit – I am going to have some pasta tonight to celebrate,” said Hamilton.
“Sixty-nine poles – I just can’t believe it.”
Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was third ahead of Canadian rookie Lance Stroll of Williams, French rookie Esteban Ocon of Force India and Finn Valtteri Bottas, who was sixth in the second Mercedes.
With the two Red Bulls hit by major grid penalties for taking new engine components, Stroll will start Sunday’s race, forecast to take place in dry conditions, from second on the grid alongside Hamilton.
In a dramatic finale to a session that ended nearly three hours later than expected after a long delay due to heavy rain, the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and championship leader Sebastian Vettel ended up in a disappointing seventh and eight positions.
Brazilian Felipe Massa was ninth in the second Williams and Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne 10th for McLaren.
Grosjean crashes, qualification is red-flagged
The session ended nearly four hours after it had begun with a curtailed Q1 brought to an early red-flagged halt when Frenchman Romain Grosjean aquaplaned and crashed in his Haas car.
Grosjean accused F1’s race controllers of “double standards” for ignoring drivers’ warnings of the dangers after he crashed in Saturday’s rain-hit qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix.
The Frenchman said the circuit was too dangerous for qualifying to have started, adding that it was obvious that there was too much water standing on the Autodromo Nazionale circuit.
“They absolutely don’t listen to us,” said the Haas driver. “I just think it’s not normal. It’s double standards. They should listen to us in these conditions – it really sucks.”
Grosjean lost control of his car when it aquaplaned on the start-finish straight at high speed only four minutes into the session. He was unhurt and the session was red-flagged to a halt.
Onboard film of his accident showed that his car appeared to aquaplane twice before it speared left into the barriers before bouncing back across the track.
“I’m going to try to be calm and not say anything I may regret, but I think we shouldn’t have launched ‘quali’,” he told reporters.
“From the out-lap onwards, I complained a lot saying that it was too dangerous. We couldn’t see where we were.
“I don’t think I was the only one. Clearly, crashing in a straight line shows that the car cannot take it. There was too much water.
“I’m disappointed that we started in those conditions, but what can you do? You cannot back off. If there’s someone behind you, he’s straight in the back of you because he can’t see.
“You don’t know what’s in front. We should have waited.”
The FIA’s official Race Director Charlie Whiting said it was difficult to judge track conditions because the weather was so unpredictable.
“The weather seems to be swirling around a lot and we can’t get a clear picture,” he said. “When we decided to go – after that, the conditions got a little bit worse.
“We can look into the reasons for Grosjean crashing, but these things happen from time to time, unfortunately, when drivers are pushing hard.”
Grosjean added that a new asphalt surface on the straight had reduced its drainage capacity and explained why he accused the organisers of double standards.
“When the FIA brings the safety – to slow down a lot under double waved flags, the ‘halo’ coming in – but launches a ‘quali’ which shouldn’t have taken place or, at least, after the out-lap when it didn’t seem that it was possible to run.
“I believe that decision should’ve been made a bit more differently.”
He added that he was lucky to survive the accident unhurt.
“The impact wasn’t strong, I was lucky,” he said. “I hit the barriers and the move was still going towards the track so I was happy with that – and lucky with that, but spinning on a straight is not what you should see in F1.
“We shouldn’t have gone out at all, I’m pretty straightforward on that.”
Briton Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes was fastest ahead of championship leader German Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari when the session was stopped.
Qualifying was then suspended indefinitely with track inspections taking place every 15 minutes, but nearly two hours later there was no sign of the ‘red flag conditions’ ending.
Torrential rain had earlier reduced final free practice to a near-farcical washout, Felipe Massa topping the times for Williams in the 16 minutes of running permitted at the end of the session.
The Brazilian was one of only seven drivers to venture out and clock a lap time.