The Italian Grand Prix may be the home race for Formula 1’s most iconic brand, Ferrari, yet on Saturday at Monza, it was Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes who stole the show.
In a crazy, three-hour long qualifying featuring numerous rain delays and a surprising result for a mixed-up grid, Hamilton swept to the 69th pole position of his F1 career, becoming the outright record holder in the process.
Chief title rival Sebastian Vettel struggled on a rough day for Ferrari, qualifying eighth, although that becomes P6 thanks to penalties for both Red Bull drivers.
With just seven points separating Vettel and Hamilton at the top of the drivers’ championship, today could prove to be an important one in the title race.
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Here’s what to watch for in today’s race.
2017 Italian Grand Prix – What to watch for
Hamilton handed golden chance to take points lead
After a strong showing from Ferrari in Friday’s practice sessions at Monza, Lewis Hamilton was braced for a tight fight similar to the one at Spa one week ago, being hounded by Sebastian Vettel to the checkered flag.
Alas, a wet qualifying shook things up. Ferrari struggled to get to grips with its wet tires in Q3, while Hamilton was at his imperious best. He needn’t have been the fastest man given the penalties for Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, but inheriting the record-breaking pole isn’t his style: he gambled on one late lap, and finished almost a second clear.
With Vettel starting sixth, Hamilton has a huge opportunity to put the title race in his hands today. The Briton has not led the championship at any point this year, but a good start to forge a lead while Vettel tries to pick his way up the order may decide this race early.
How will Ferrari’s 70th anniversary celebrations end?
The Italian Grand Prix is the most important race on Ferrari’s calendar not matter what season we are in, but this year’s running at Monza has been particularly poignant as the manufacturer celebrates its 70th birthday.
Ferrari entered the weekend with its best chance of winning its home race for a number of years, the SF70H car having been the class of the field in the early part of the year and remaining very strong.
But with Kimi Raikkonen and Vettel starting P5 and P6, hopes of a famous home victory and ending a Monza drought dating back to 2010 look to have faded.
In reality, a podium looks to be the best Ferrari can hope for today. If Vettel can somehow leave Monza with his points lead intact, then that would surely be something worth celebrating.
Stroll, Ocon prepare for life at the front
Hamilton’s record-breaking pole may have stolen the headlines in qualifying, yet it was the displays from full-season rookies Lance Stroll and Esteban Ocon that had the paddock talking on Saturday evening at Monza.
Stroll, 18, has faced a great deal of criticism through his brief F1 career so far, having arrived thanks to significant financial backing from his billionaire father, Lawrence (oh, and dominating Formula 3 last year, but why would that matter..?)
After a stunning wet lap in the dying moments of Q3, the Canadian made a point by becoming F1’s youngest podium finisher in Baku earlier this year, and will today be the youngest driver to start from the front row of the grid, beating Max Verstappen’s record by three weeks.
Just behind Stroll in P3, Force India’s Ocon is also raring to go and fight for his maiden F1 podium, having been one of the stand-out stars of the 2017 season so far.
Points in all but one race and a fierce rivarly with teammate Sergio Perez have made Ocon one to watch – keep an eye on how he fares from third on the grid today.
Grid penalties, grid penalties everywhere
The penalties applied for changing power units have been silly for well over two years now, but this weekend has seen things get really silly.
With McLaren taking new elements for Stoffel Vandoorne’s Honda power unit on Sunday morning, more than one-third of the grid has taken a penalty for today’s race.
The shake-up has allowed the likes of Stroll and Ocon to rise up the order, and has created a strange grid with a few big names sitting outside of the top 10.
The ones to watch on the charge will be Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, who despite expecting to start at the very back given their penalties will in fact line up 14th and 16th respectively.
Only four drivers will start the race in the position they qualified: Hamilton (P1), Carlos Sainz Jr. (P15), Jolyon Palmer (P17) and Romain Grosjean (P20).
2017 Italian Grand Prix – Starting Grid
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Lance Stroll Williams
3. Esteban Ocon Force India
4. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
5. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
6. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
7. Felipe Massa Williams
8. Sergio Perez Force India
9. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
10. Kevin Magnussen Haas
11. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
12. Pascal Wehrlein Sauber
13. Max Verstappen Red Bull*
14. Nico Hulkenberg Renault*
15. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso*
16. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull*
17. Jolyon Palmer Renault*
18. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren*
19. Fernando Alonso McLaren*
20. Romain Grosjean Haas**
* After grid penalties applied
** Permitted to start by the stewards after failing to qualify