Hamilton on Tuscan Grand Prix pole, Mercedes lock out front row


Mugello (Italy) (AFP)

Lewis Hamilton claimed a record-increasing 95th pole position on Saturday when he outpaced Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas to seize the prime grid position in qualifying for Sunday's inaugural Tuscan Grand Prix.

It was the series leader and six-time champion's seventh pole in eight races this year as Mercedes continued their dominant run to nine poles out of nine this season with an eighth consecutive front row lockout.

"It's been a really tough weekend, if I'm honest," said Hamilton. "Firstly, this track is phenomenal -- it's a really challenging circuit and you saw Valtteri was quicker than me all day yesterday and even this morning.

"But I've been working hard in the background to improve on my lines and set up and the engineers and mechanics did a great job, so finally I got the lap that I needed."

Bottas had been fastest in all three practice sessions, but he was unable to maintain his superiority over Hamilton in the decisive hour albeit that his second run was affected by yellow flags after Esteban Ocon spun in his Renault.

"The yellow flag definitely hampered me – I had more time to come, but didn't get the opportunity to do it," said Bottas. "It's disappointing as I've been quick all weekend. It's a long run to Turn One tomorrow and the headwind could help me there."

- Ferrari escape embarrassment -

Red Bull's Max Verstappen was third ahead of his team-mate Alex Albon with Charles Leclerc claiming fifth for Ferrari, as they celebrate their 1000th Grand Prix at their own circuit.

"I didn't expect to fight for pole, but overall this has been a promising weekend," said the Dutchman. "We have bounced back well from Monza where it was tricky so, at the end, to be third here...We can be happy with that.

"This track is amazing to drive and qualifying was really something special."

Hamilton agreed.

"The track is crazy," he said. "You go through Turns Six, Seven, Eight and Nine at 170-180 mph and the G-force we're pulling is insane -- it gets more and more as you go through.

"Valtteri did a great job pushing me, so I'm really, really happy to be on pole."

Leclerc said he was surprised and delighted.

"I'm very happy with the lap overall," he said. "P5 is higher than our expectations, so we're very happy. Monza and Spa were very disappointing.

"The balance was good today and gave me confidence and in the end we made it happen.

"I think it helps that we had experience of the track in FP1, but onwards, all the guys are F1 drivers and can get up to speed quickly. There's a good opportunity tomorrow, but there was quite a lot of cars that had better race pace on Friday."

Sergio Perez, who faces a one-place grid penalty for his brush with Kimi Raikkonen on Friday, qualified sixth ahead of his Racing Point team-mate Lance Stroll, Daniel Ricciardo of Renault, Carlos Sainz of McLaren and Ocon.

On a glorious day in the Tuscan hills, the air temperature was 29 degrees Celsius and the track 46 as Q1 began with Bottas topping Hamilton by almost three-tenths, leaving Verstappen adrift by half a second in third.

Perez was fifth behind Albon with Leclerc in sixth while, in the drop zone, Vettel scrambled through to Q2 in his Ferrari to dump last Sunday's Monza winner Pierre Gasly into 16th.

That meant the Frenchman was eliminated along with Antonio Giovinazzi of Alfa Romeo, the two Williams of George Russell and Nicholas Latifi and Haas's Kevin Magnussen.

Lando Norris then missed out on the top 10 shootout along with Daniil Kvyat of Alpha Tauri, Kimi Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo, Vettel and Romain Grosjean of Haas.