McLaren front row as Alonso suffers car failure
8 September 2012 – Lewis Hamilton has clinched his second pole position for the Italian Grand Prix, leading Jenson Button to the third McLaren front row lock-out of 2012. Felipe Massa will start third for Ferrari but team-mate Fernando Alonso suffered an anti-roll bar problem and was left tenth. Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber will start fifth and eleventh.
Heading into a dry qualifying session under blue skies, thousands of Tifosi flocked to historic Monza hoping for an Alonso pole. After the Spaniard missed out on the top spot in final practice by just one thousandth of a second, levels of optimism rose. At Lotus, Jérôme d’Ambrosio returned to racing as a substitute for the banned Romain Grosjean.
There were no major surprises in Q1, but Nico Hülkenberg was extremely disappointed to miss out on what he believed could have been his best grid slot of the season. The Force India suffered a fuel line problem and was forced to pull over; he starts 24th and last on Sunday. This aided d’Ambrosio, who scraped through to Q2 after a close battle with Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham. Behind, Narain Karthikeyan out-qualified Pedro de la Rosa at HRT, helping to confirm that all drivers have now beaten their team-mate at some point in 2012.
D’Ambrosio fell by the wayside in the second phase, but managed to stay ahead of Jean-Éric Vergne’s Toro Rosso. With Red Bull continuing to lack top speed, Mark Webber could not avoid an early bath and missed the top ten shootout for the fourth time this year, also hindered by a KERS issue. Pastor Maldonado qualified 12th, which becomes 22nd place when his ten-place penalty is applied; this was perhaps the lesser of two evils, as the Williams driver narrowly escaped a large accident after running onto the grass on the exit of Ascari.
Knowing Mercedes engines hold the upper hand, Ferrari attempted the clever tactic of instructing their drivers to slipstream each other. This worked out for Massa, but the Brazilian was unable to repay the favour as Alonso already had a problem; a broken anti-roll bar is the latest in a string of issues with Alonso’s new chassis, which was introduced after his previous car was written off in the heavy accident at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix. Massa went on to qualify third, thus getting the better of Alonso on a Saturday for the first time in 2012.
Hamilton’s fastest lap was 1:24.010, comfortably the quickest of the weekend as the Englishman stressed that he has not been distracted by talk of moving to Mercedes. Button missed pole by one tenth of a second but it was still a hat-trick for the Woking team. Paul di Resta was on a provisional front row slot before falling to a still impressive fourth; this becomes ninth on Sunday because of a five-place drop for a gearbox change.
Once di Resta is demoted, Vettel will start inside the top five and sandwiched by the Mercedes factory cars of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg. Kimi Räikkönen will be seventh on a grid on what is becoming a damage limitation weekend for Lotus. From eighth, Kamui Kobayashi and Sauber will be attempting to avoid any first-corner bedlam, not least as Sergio Pérez was held up by Bruno Senna and failed to make it out of Q2.
The result marks the fifth McLaren pole position of 2012, Lewis Hamilton’s fourth and the 23rd of his career. By locking out the front row, to the dismay of Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo, McLaren have repeated a feat last achieved five years ago. They also equal Williams for 61 Formula 1 front row lock-outs.
Sunday’s Grand Prix, the final race in Europe this year, starts at 2pm local time (BST +1) and can be followed through the interactive GPUpdate.net Live Report