Hamilton breaks F1 pole record after crazy three-hour Monza qualifying

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Lewis Hamilton has become the all-time record holder for Formula 1 pole positions after topping qualifying for the 69th time in his career in a crazy, three-hour long session ahead of the Italian Grand Prix on Saturday afternoon.

After tying with Michael Schumacher’s record for 68 poles last weekend at Spa, Hamilton moved clear in style by finishing 1.1 seconds ahead of the field at the end of a bizarre session at Monza.

Despite final practice being shortened to just 16 minutes due to heavy overnight rain and throughout the morning, qualifying began as planned at 2pm local time (8am ET).

All drivers took to the track on full wet tires, but they were not enough to keep Romain Grosjean pointing in the right direction as he aquaplaned while applying the throttle on the main straight and spun into the wall.

The session was red flagged immediately and put on hold, with regular updates arriving at 15-minute intervals.

A break in the weather eventually came over two-and-a-half hours after Grosjean’s crash, with the session going green again at 16:40 local time.

Q1 resumed with drivers running on the full wet tire, but a drying line soon appeared to allow them to switch to intermediates for the final five minutes of the session.

Valtteri Bottas was able to end Q1 fastest, but uncertainty about the advantage offered by the inters led to a mix of tire picks at the beginning of Q2, only for Mercedes to once again press its authority with Hamilton leading the session on intermediates.

More rain ahead of Q3 threw another spanner in the works, though, with the likes of Hamilton and Bottas forced to come in and switch back to full wets early in the final stage of qualifying, handing those already on wets an advantage.

Hamilton soon began to find his feet, timing his final run perfectly to be one of the last drivers to cross the line, turning in a best lap of 1:34.660.

Hamilton had been run close by Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo throughout the session, but they could only take P2 and P3 respectively.

However, with both dropping back due to grid penalties, 18-year-old Lance Stroll will start from the front row on Sunday after qualifying an incredible fourth for Williams.

Force India’s Esteban Ocon was another young star on display in qualifying, taking P5 for Force India, but will also gain two places to line up third on the grid ahead of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas.

Ferrari had a session to forget as Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel struggled in the dying moments of Q3, finishing seventh and eighth overall.

Felipe Massa was ninth for Williams, while Stoffel Vandoorne led McLaren’s charge in P10 with an excellent display in the wet.

Sergio Perez was knocked out in Q2 by just two-thousandths of a second, losing out to teammate Ocon of all people, leaving the Mexican racer 11th overall ahead of Nico Hulkenberg.

Despite carrying a 35-place grid penalty, Alonso opted to complete some running in Q2, finishing 13th overall ahead of Toro Rosso teammates Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr.

Kevin Magnussen was unable to find enough time on the intermediate tires at the end of Q1, leaving him 16th ahead of Renault’s Jolyon Palmer and the Sauber pair of Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein. Romain Grosjean propped up the timesheets for Haas following his crash earlier in the day.

The Italian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

Spencer Pigot ready for full-season IndyCar effort with ECR

Photo: IndyCar
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After spending the last two years in a part-time role with Ed Carpenter Racing, contesting the road and street course races in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, Spencer Pigot now gets a long-awaited chance at a full-season effort in 2018.

Moving over to the No. 21 entry, which has featured ECR’s full-season driver since 2016, Pigot has seen slight differences in his off-season prep ahead of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“We were one of the teams that got to a handful of days testing the aero kit, so I obviously did all the running on the road courses, but I was able to do a few laps on the ovals when Ed was testing. So, that wouldn’t have happened (if I was part-time still),” he told NBC Sports.

However, outside of that increase in testing and a little learning some new tracks – he has not raced at ISM Raceway, Gateway Motorsports Park, Pocono Raceway, or Iowa Speedway in an IndyCar – the changes to Pigot’s off-season program have not been dramatic.

“There’s definitely some things I’ll need to learn, but as far as off-season prep: nothing too dramatic, nothing too different.”

Pigot’s first full-season campaign saw its first official outing of the 2018 season last weekend during the open test at ISM Raceway. While he and the ECR team struggled to find speed much of the weekend – they languished outside of the top ten in the results of the first three sessions – things took a turn for the better during the final session of the weekend on Saturday night, when Pigot ended up ninth on the speed charts.

He ended up 14th in the combined results for the weekend, noting that he and the team still want to find more outright speed.

“I thought throughout the test that our average long run pace was okay, but we were still missing the outright pace to be where we need to be come qualifying time,” he revealed. “I think that we definitely made a step forward Saturday night and definitely have a much better idea of a direction we can head and go with when we go back.”

In terms of long-run practice, Pigot noted that tire degradation became much more prevalent, which made running with others cars around you somewhat of a challenge. Though, he emphasized that tire degradation could be beneficial for racing.

“Talking to some of the other guys, it seems a little bit harder to run behind people as the tires go off because the tires are degrading pretty quick with the lack of downforce as well,” he explained. “So, it’s going to be tricky, it’s going to be sliding around a little bit more than what guys have experienced in the past. But, I think everyone’s under the same kind of idea that it’s going to be better racing, and especially at (ISM Raceway) it should be exciting.”

Pigot did get some practice at overtaking at ISM and got a feel for what he may be able to expect when IndyCar returns in April for the Phoenix Grand Prix, and while he acknowledged it was difficult to judge during testing, he did feel like he could run around other cars without much of an issue.

“It’s not like a race when everyone comes in the pits at the same time and you’re all on similar tires, so it’s kind of hard to know exactly. But, I thought we were pretty good,” he detailed. “I thought I was able to run pretty close to guys in front of me and was able to make a few passes when other guys made mistakes or might have gone a little high.”

The test also served as Pigot’s first IndyCar venture on a short oval – he last ran on a short oval in 2015 during his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship season.

“The corners definitely come up quick. There’s not much time to really relax or think about too much,” Pigot quipped when describing his first time on a short oval.

He continued, “You’ve got to concentrate pretty hard on being precise because the line there is very narrow so you have to make sure that you’re where the grip is at all points throughout the corner. And then, when everyone’s out there and you run in traffic, it’s just like you’re constantly in a corner, so it’s a little more difficult to get big runs and drafts off people. But I think it’ll definitely play into the hands of guys that have their cars set up well and can be easier on the tires.”

And in becoming the team’s full-time driver, Pigot is seeing a slight increase in his leadership role within the team, especially as it relates to testing and development, with Pigot doing the lion’s share of testing during the winter on road courses.

But, he also emphasized the oval prowess of teammate, and team owner, Ed Carpenter as something he will lean on when he ventures out on other ovals for the first time this year.

“Especially as we’re trying to learn this new aero kit, I was the one that pretty much did all the testing on the road and street courses. It was kind of me and the engineers trying to develop the car and work towards the setup that’s going to work for us. So, there’s definitely a little more responsibility in that. But, then on the ovals, obviously Ed’s there and he’s a great teammate to have and to learn from and bounce ideas off of. But, yeah, it’s definitely a more involved role within the team,” Pigot explained.

Pigot and ECR will test two more times, at Barber Motorsports Park and Sebring International Raceway, in the month of February prior to the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11.

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