Lewis Hamilton was forced to play second fiddle to out-going team mate Valtteri Bottas in qualifying at the Italian Grand Prix, with the seven-time champion praising the efforts of the Finn, who’ll be replaced by George Russell at Mercedes for 2022, as Bottas heads to Alfa Romeo.
Hamilton had looked in fine form from the get-go in Monza, going fastest in Friday’s sole practice session before heading both Q1 and Q2. He was heading Q3 early on too – but as the Mercedes drivers completed their final laps, a searing effort from Bottas gave him P1 by just 0.096s from Hamilton with a 1m 19.555s.
READ MORE: Bottas beats Hamilton in Monza qualifying to claim top grid slot for F1 Sprint
“Valtteri did a great job right at the end,” said a gracious Hamilton after the session. “Not the best of qualifyings for me. [FP1] was really good, but for whatever reason, I just struggled in this session.
“But anyways, still on the front row,” he added. “It’s great to have a front row lockout for the team, particularly with the news [of Bottas’ departure] last week, and it’s great to see Valtteri driving so well.”
Hamilton’s title rival Max Verstappen wound up claiming P3 on the grid, but was nonetheless a full 0.411s adrift of Bottas’ time – as his team mate Sergio Perez claimed P9. But Hamilton had nonetheless been impressed by the Red Bulls’ turn of speed at a track that has traditionally played to Mercedes’ strengths in the turbo hybrid era.
READ MORE: Bottas takes P1 in qualifying, but is set to start Sunday’s Italian GP from last after changing power unit
“I don’t know where they pulled out their pace, but it’s going to be close,” said Hamilton of Red Bull. “They were miles off in [Q]1 and 2, but all of a sudden they were up there with us, so it just shows it’s still super close.
Asked, meanwhile, if he was optimistic for Saturday’s F1 Sprint and Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix – in which Bottas will start from the back of the grid after a change of power unit elements – Hamilton replied: “We’ve got to get off to a good start tomorrow, and try to maximise both days.”
Lewis Hamilton: Great to have Mercedes ‘front row lockout’ in F1 Sprint