F1 Monza qualifying
JENNIFER LORENZINI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton takes Monza pole as Ferrari’s struggles continue

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MONZA, Italy — Six-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton set a Monza track qualifying record at the Italian Grand Prix as he clinched a record-extending 94th pole position, nudging Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas into second place by just 0.069 seconds on Saturday.

But Ferrari’s troubles went from bad to worse as both cars failed to qualify inside the top 10 at the team’s home circuit for the first time since 1984, with Sebastian Vettel not even making it out of Q1.

Hamilton flew around Monza’s 3.54 miles of asphalt in 164.267mph (2643.362 kph) at the so-called Temple of Speed. It was the fastest lap ever recorded in Formula One, eclipsing Kimi Raikkonen’s one-lap record of 163.785 mph, set by the former world champion on his way to pole at Monza two years ago.

“Fantastic from the team today in terms of timing, when they put us out on the track,” Hamilton said after clocking a best lap of 1 minute 18.887 seconds. “It really demanded a clean lap so I am really happy.

“Valtteri was very, very close, pushing. I made some changes going into qualifying so I was a little bit nervous about whether that was the right thing to do but it worked just fine.”

Bottas and Hamilton exchanged track records in qualifying on their way to securing yet another Mercedes front-row lockout. McLaren driver Carlos Sainz, who will move to Ferrari next year, was third, 0.808 behind the British driver and just ahead of Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen.

It was a record-extending 94th pole for Hamilton and he will start as favorite to win for a 90th time on Sunday, which would move him within one victory of Michael Schumacher’s record.

Hamilton looks on course to extend his championship lead, which stands at 47 points from Red Bull rival Max Verstappen and 50 from Bottas.

Things went from terrible to abysmal for Ferrari. Charles Leclerc qualified 13th and has little chance of repeating last year when he won from pole position to end the team’s nine-year wait for victory at Monza.

Vettel finished 17th after being hampered by traffic on his final lap.

“What a mess,” Vettel said on the team radio before letting out an expletive.

Earlier, Bottas led third and final practice.

Bottas was 0.229 faster than Sainz and 0.323 quicker than Lando Norris after an impressive showing from the McLaren pair.

The session was interrupted about 10 minutes from the end after a mechanical problem with Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault, with the cars managing to come out for a final flying lap.

Hamilton was fifth fastest but survived a fright at the end, with the Mercedes driver swerving at speed on the approach to the Parabolica corner to avoid two cars going slowly side by side.

No action was taken by the stewards.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.