Lewis Hamilton claimed his 69th career pole position yesterday to break the Formula One record previously held by his childhood idol, Michael Schumacher.
Maintaining his focus after a two-and-a-half-hour rain delay at the Italian Grand Prix, Hamilton finished more than a second ahead of Max Verstappen of Red Bull in difficult, wet conditions.
Daniel Ricciardo in the other Red Bull qualified third, although both Red Bulls are taking grid penalties for engine changes.
Verstappen had taken the top spot just before Hamilton’s final lap, so when the Mercedes driver reclaimed the leading position he rapidly pumped his fist multiple times before slowing down and waving to the crowd.
“These guys definitely made me work for it,” Hamilton said. “The weather was obviously incredibly tricky for us all. There was a lot of pressure for that last lap so there was a lot to risk but I gave it everything.”
Lance Stroll steered his Williams to fourth, Esteban Ocon of Force India was fifth and Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas came sixth.
With the Red Bull penalties, Canadian rookie Stroll is due to start second this afternoon alongside Hamilton, while Ocon will be third on the grid and Bottas fourth.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel qualified seventh and eighth, respectively, meaning they will start fifth and sixth.
Hamilton set the record in Monza of all circuits, where Schumacher remains beloved by the legions of Ferrari fans who attend this race each year. Schumacher won five of his record seven world championships with Ferrari from 2000-2004 and the car manufacturer is celebrating its 70th anniversary this weekend.
“Growing up watching the sport and witnessing greatness in other individuals like Michael ... to actually be there proves dreams are something that can come true,” Hamilton said.
Fresh off his win in Belgium last weekend, Hamilton is looking to erase his seven-point deficit behind championship leader Vettel.
Hamilton established the record in just 201 races, far fewer than Schumacher’s 308. Still, the Briton has a long way to go to match Schumacher’s record of 91 race wins, although he stands second with 58.
The late Ayrton Senna is third on the all-time poles list with 65.
It’s also the fourth straight year that Hamilton will start first in Monza and it was his sixth pole overall on the track, breaking another record held by Senna and Juan Manuel Fangio.
“Today was a real challenge with the break,” Hamilton said. “It was a real challenge not to get your mind drained with energy. And racing in the rain is a real challenge.”
Qualifying started on time but then was suspended after Romain Grosjean aquaplaned early on. Kevin Magnussen, meanwhile, complained that water was leaking through his helmet.