Qualy: Hamilton tops McLaren one-two
Lewis Hamilton is still the centre of F1's attention after topping Jenson Button in a McLaren 1-2 in qualifying for the Italian GP.
Last Updated: 09/09/12 8:25am
Was there ever a time when Lewis Hamilton wasn't the centre of attention?
The McLaren driver continued to hog the headlines at Monza on Saturday as he bested team-mate Jenson Button to claim a deserved pole position at the culmination of an utterly absorbing qualifying hour - and on a day of misery for his World Championship rivals.
F1 has been in danger of turning into the 'Lewis Hamilton Show' for the last week and there was no sign during Saturday's proceedings that the Englishman is ready to shy away from the limelight. Hamilton's union McLaren might have proved an uneasy marriage in recent times but on this evidence a divorce would suit neither party.
Days like this are bound to accelerate the process of reconciliation, though the revitalised Button was just a mere tenth of a second away from delivering a convincing argument that Hamilton needs McLaren more than they need him. The team's one-two was the 62nd of their history - a record-breaking feat which might alsp prompt one or two second thoughts in the Hamilton camp as to the wisdom of considering a transfer to Mercedes.
Hamilton has been closely associated with the Brackley outfit ever since arriving at Monza to a wave of speculation that a move is 'imminent', but the gap between his McLaren and the the nearest Silver Arrows - the fifth-placed Michael Schumacher - was in excess of half a second at qualifying's conclusion. That in itself spoke volumes, particularly given the expectation that Monza would suit Mercedes, but it was the ten-position distance between Hamilton and Alonso which ultimately silenced the Tifosi and resonated loudest for the World Championship battle.
Ferrari have been unexpectedly fast all weekend and having recorded a lap of 1:24.1 during Q2, Fernando Alonso had seemed well set to present Hamilton and McLaren with a formidable challenge - the Spaniard himself thought he could have claimed pole with relative ease. Yet the mechanical issues that have befallen Ferrari since the start of the weekend returned with a vengeance at the start of Q3 in the form of a broken rear anti-rollbar, leaving Alonso stranded in the pits while team-mate Felipe Massa enjoyed a rare reprieve as he took third on the grid.
But having topped both the first two knockout segments, Alonso was left to rue what might have been. "It's a shame because it was the easiest pole position for us," he suggested.
"We did a [one minute] 24.1 in Q2 with an easy lap and looking at it they [McLaren] did 24.0 in Q3. "It was easy for us to do that and we lost one big opportunity, but nothing we can do now. We try to be strong tomorrow, the car will be fixed, so we will see what we can do from 10th."
With Alonso thus starting in the 'danger zone' of the midfield at a circuit notorious for first-corner bother and Red Bull on the backfoot, Hamilton has a prime opportunity to make significant World Championship inroads in Sunday's race.
"It's been a tough weekend but we've managed to work on the set-up and the package the guys brought from the factory and have done a fantastic job. So congratulations to the team and a great effort from the lads," a pleased-but-composed Hamilton said in the post-qualifying press conference.
"I managed to get a half-decent lap at the beginning of Q3 so pretty happy and it's great to have me and Jenson at the front."
At each of the last three events, a Red Bull car has failed to reach the top-ten shoot-out and on this occasion it was Mark Webber who was made to pay for their lack of straight-line speed. The Australian has endured something of a slump since winning at Silverstone in the middle of July and he will start this Sunday's race with limited ambitions from eleventh on the grid.
The Red Bull is singularly ill-suited to the powerful power-led demands of the Monza and though the team expect to be stronger in race trim it is difficult to envisage the World Champions enjoying a profitable Sunday afternoon given they are losing 10mph along the straights compared to their rivals. Vettel only reached the top-ten shoot-out as the ninth-fastest driver and would surely have suffered his second Q2 elimination in a week but for a mistake by Pastor Maldonado in the Williams - an all-too familiar phrase - out of Ascari and a broken gearbox for Nico Hulkenberg.
For Force India, this was a bittersweet afternoon. Though they clearly had the pace - largely on account of their Mercedes engine - to trouble the frontrunners, their competitiveness was masked by gearbox failures on both cars. Hulkenberg will start the race from the back of the grid after his unit failed at the start of the qualifying hour while Di Resta will begin on account of a gearbox change in Practice Three triggering a five-place demotion from what would otherwise have been a career-high fourth.