Hamilton takes 7th straight pole but Ferrari is close behind

MONZA, Italy: Lewis Hamilton extended his recent stranglehold on pole position in Formula One, while Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel gave Ferrari fans something to cheer about at their home Italian Grand Prix by qualifying second and third Saturday.


Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg qualified only fourth after reverting to an old engine.

It was Hamilton’s seventh straight pole and 11th in 12 races this season, with Rosberg beating him only in Spain.

Ayrton Senna set the record of eight consecutive poles in 1988-89.

“It’s nice to see that we have a good fight,” said Hamilton, the championship leader. “It’s a long run down to turn one and these guys have pace.”

It’s Raikkonen’s first front-row start since China in 2013.

“We surprised ourselves a little bit,” Raikkonen said. “It’s been a while so it’s nice to be here, especially at the home race for us.”

In perfect conditions following a morning thunderstorm, throngs of red-clad Ferrari blew air horns and waved flags featuring the team’s prancing horse logo.

“Usually we’re more confident for the race than qualifying, so hopefully it’s the same thing tomorrow,” Raikkonen said.

Sergio Marchionne, the chief executive of Ferrari’s parent company Fiat Chrysler, and Ferrari Vice Chairman Piero Ferrari met with Vettel and Raikkonen before qualifying. It was exactly a year ago that Marchionne ordered a complete overhaul of Ferrari, which led to the departure of the automaker’s president of 23 years, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo.

The last time a Ferrari driver won the drivers’ championship was Raikkonen in 2007 during the Finn’s first stint with the team. The squad’s last constructors’ trophy came in 2008.

“It’s not a secret we’re not where we want to be yet but I think today we’re a step closer,” Vettel said. “And that’s important not only for the people in the grandstand but also the people in the garage.”

Star Wars creator George Lucas was also among the celebrities in the paddock.

Hamilton clocked 1 minute, 23.397 seconds around the Monza circuit. Raikkonen was 0.234 behind and Vettel was 0.288 back.

Rosberg, who was a further 18 hundredths behind, went back to the motor he used in Spa two weeks ago following an unspecified problem on his new power unit.

Hamilton holds a 28-point lead over Rosberg, with Vettel 67 points back in third.

View galleryMercedes's driver Lewis Hamilton steers his car …
Mercedes’s driver Lewis Hamilton steers his car on his way to set the fastest time during the qu …
Vettel’s wins in Malaysia and Hungary were the only non-Mercedes victories this season.

“It’s a fantastic result, second and third, and very close to Lewis which is the most important thing,” Vettel said. “That makes us very confident for tomorrow.”

The result moved Mercedes within one of Williams’ record of 24 straight poles, set in 1992 and 1993 with Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost and Damon Hill.

“I’m hoping that Nico pulls through and we both can do a good job,” Hamilton said. “It’s always good to do it on (Ferrari’s) home turf if possible.”

Hamilton has two wins at Monza, including last year, plus three podiums.

The last time Mercedes didn’t take pole came at last year’s Austrian GP, when Felipe Massa of Williams took the first spot on the grid.

Massa and Williams teammate Valtteri Bottas qualified fifth and sixth, respectively, followed by Sergio Perez of Force India in seventh and Romain Grosjean of cash-strapped Lotus in eighth.

Known as the “temple of speed” with its long straightaways, Monza is the fastest circuit in F1.

Perez recorded the highest speed of 355 kph (220 mph).

Nico Hulkenberg in the other Force India was ninth and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson rounded out the top 10, although the Swede was under investigation for an impeding incident with Hulkenberg.

Pastor Maldonado of Lotus and Felipe Nasr of Sauber were eliminated in Q2, along with three drivers facing grid penalties for engine changes: Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso, and Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull.

Ricciardo didn’t even enter the track in Q2.

McLaren’s problems continued as Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso were eliminated in Q1, while Max Verstappen failed to record a time after the engine cover of his Toro Rosso flew off.

Plagued by mechanical problems all weekend, Toro Rosso only got Verstappen onto the track in the final seconds of the 18-minute session.