Schoolchildren might well be aghast but it transpires Lewis Hamilton ascribed his pole position for the Tuscan Grand Prix down to – whisper it – a hard night of homework. F1 has never raced here before and Hamilton wrote his name into the history books with an imperious lap in the hills of Scarperia. But while the world champion displayed his usual finesse, he had been behind the curve all weekend until he proved again that he brings more than just racing instinct to the track.
His Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was second, having led every session up to and including Q1, with Max Verstappen in third for Red Bull. The meeting has been a learning process for all and Hamilton said he had improved his time by studying after Friday’s session.
“I was doing laps and struggling to find the limit in certain sectors and Valtteri was miles ahead, so the pressure was higher than ever,” he said. “If I had not done the work, I would not have got the result.
“There is an incredible amount of detail you have to go into. Last night we were dissecting every single corner and sector, trying to fine-tune that setup. You have to be an engineer at the end of the day to work with these geniuses who can balance numbers like nobody else.”
It paid off and he was able to push to the limits of this supremely challenging circuit. He went quickest on the first hot laps in Q3 with a time of 1min 15.144sec, which was five-hundredths up on Bottas and made the difference.
When they went out again Hamilton pushed but did not improve his time, while yellow flags in the first sector where Esteban Ocon had gone off meant Bottas had to back off his final quick lap.
Alex Albon was fourth for Red Bull with one of his best performances. Ferrari, celebrating their 1,000th F1 race, had a mixed afternoon with Charles Leclerc in fifth but Sebastian Vettel in 14th.
The lap here is technical but fast: drivers do not go below third or fourth gear through the predominance of medium and fast corners and there are only six braking sections. The sequence through turns six to nine, Casanova – Savelli – Arrabbiata 1 and 2, is fearsomely intense. The latter are taken flat-out with drivers pulling in excess of 5G, while old-school gravel traps wait to punish any who push to too hard.
It is physically demanding and Hamilton, who took his 95th pole, acknowledged the challenge. “This track is incredibly physical given that it is medium and high speed,” he said. “You are definitely not ending the lap with a low heart rate. I felt I was breathing heavier at the end of the lap.
“There is so much focus, no room for error, your body is completely tensed, you are fully engaged with every muscle throughout the lap.”
The drivers were all gushing in their praise but the race may be a different affair. The circuit is narrow and overtaking will be extremely difficult. There is one heavy braking zone, at the end of the start-finish straight, and the top teams will likely try and make a one-stop strategy work.
All of which suggests Hamilton’s pole will be vital for him to take the 90th win of his career, one short of Michael Schumacher’s record. The Briton
already enjoys a commanding lead in the championship, 47 points clear of Bottas and 54 from Verstappen, despite last Sunday’s hiccough at Monza .
For Ferrari, completing the race with a creditable performance will be paramount at the team’s celebration of their remarkable history in F1, especially after both cars failed to finish at Monza. The only team to have competed in the world championship since the inaugural season in 1950, they have won 16 constructors’ titles and 15 drivers’ championships.
Their records are rightly celebrated but this year does not look like adding anything significant to their honour roll. They are running their car in a deep burgundy this weekend to mark the livery used by the first Ferrari, the 125S, while on Sunday Schumacher’s son, Mick, will do a demonstration lap in the F2004, the car in which his father won his seventh title.
Sergio Pérez finished in sixth place for Racing Point but will take a one-place grid penalty for colliding with Kimi Räikkönen during practice. His teammate, Lance Stroll, was in seventh. McLaren’s Carlos Sainz was in ninth while Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and Ocon were in eighth and 10th.
Lando Norris was in 11th for McLaren and Daniil Kvyat in 12th for AlphaTauri. Alfa Romeo’s Räikkönen followed in 13th, with Haas’s Romain Grosjean in 15th.
The winner of last week’s Italian GP, Pierre Gasly, did not have the follow-up he wanted, finishing in 16th for AlphaTauri. Antonio Giovinazzi was in 17thfor Alfa Romeo. George Russell and Nicholas Latifi were in 18th and 19th for Williams, with Kevin Magnussen in 20th for Haas.