Lewis Hamilton takes title lead with easy Monza win

Valtteri Bottas

Formula One is revving up for the next installment of an absorbing world championship battle as Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton lock horns once again at the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday.

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. The gap between Force India and Red Bull has widened, however.

"You would fancy Mercedes over Ferrari at Monza, but then they go to Singapore which is tight and twisty and that's Ferrari territory from what we've seen so far", Hamilton said. "Sixty-nine poles - I just can't believe it". He added: "Firstly, Italy, I love you - even though we are in Ferrari's homeland I appreciate all the support". 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.

Red Bull was the third fastest team in the afternoon practice.

On Sunday, he became the first driver to win two races in a row this year, a day after he broke Michael Schumacher's all-time pole position record with his 69th. "I have no idea what the problem was", said Vettel, who will start from sixth.

Given the seesaw nature of the Vettel/Hamilton rivalry this year, it's anyone's guess how the drama will unfold in the coming weeks as the season shifts from Europe to Asia then onto North America. At this stage we don't know why. "We have a good car so we don't need to be afraid".

McLaren-Honda duo Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso punched above their weight with P7 and P8, although like in Belgium, the team engaged in a bit of slipstreaming to try and negate some of the power deficit.

Ericsson trailed Sauber team-mate Wehrlein by almost a second after the wet-tyre running, but beat him to the 18th quickest time by 0.143s with a late improvement on intermediates.

Verstappen, Vettel, Bottas and then Hamilton took top spot as the times tumbled. Perez had a gearbox penalty but fought back into the points.

"All things being equal he should win it. But last weekend was so close - so there's nothing in it". Max Verstappen finished tenth behind Sergio Perez after early contact with Massa on lap three resulted in return to the pits to deal with a puncture and front wing damage.

Back in 2004, Juan-Pablo Montoya recorded the fastest lap in F1 history at the track - clocking an average speed of 162.95 mph (262.24 kph) in a Williams car.

Qualifying was delayed for more than two and a half hours, after a heavy crash for Romain Grosjean's Haas on the pit straight caused the session to be halted and then suspended as heavy rain deluged the Monza F1 circuit.

"Initially in FP1 we went slightly in the wrong direction with the setup, but we managed to change it around for FP2 and the car felt a lot better".

Related News: