British driver Lewis Hamilton (centre) of Mercedes AMG GP with Red Bull Racing drivers Daniel Ricciardo (left) of Australia and Max Verstappen of the Netherlands react after the qualifying session at the Formula One circuit in Monza, Italy. EPA

MONZA: Lewis Hamilton broke Michael Schumacher’s record of all-time pole positions by securing his 69th with a devastating lap in the final seconds of Saturday’s rain-hit qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix.

The 32-year-old Briton steered his Mercedes through treacherous conditions with patience, precision and courage to deliver a best lap in one minute and 35.554 seconds on full wet tyres.

In a dramatic final session, he outpaced nearest rival Max Verstappen of Red Bull in teeming rain to claim his sixth pole at Monza and his fourth in succession.

He had shared Schumacher’s record of 68 after taking pole in last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix to set up victory and the record.

“To do this here at such an historic circuit - I am going to have some pasta tonight to celebrate,” said Hamilton, who achieved the mark in his 201st Grand Prix. Schumacher’s 68 poles came from 308 races.

“It’s very hard to find the words to explain how I feel. I can’t believe that so much time has passed. There’ve been great experiences.

“Sixty-nine poles - I just can’t believe it.”

Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was third ahead of Canadian rookie Lance Stroll of Williams, French rookie Esteban Ocon of Force India and Valtteri Bottas, who was sixth in the second Mercedes.

With the two Red Bulls hit by major grid penalties for taking new engine components, Stroll will start Sunday’s race, forecast to take place in dry conditions, from second on the grid alongside Hamilton.

“It was a great qualifying session,” said Stroll. “I just tossed the car around - I had great fun. I felt the car was performing well under me.”

In a dramatic finale to a session that ended nearly three hours later than expected after a long delay due to heavy rain, the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and championship leader Sebastian Vettel ended up in disappointing seventh and eight positions on their team’s 70th anniversary.

“I have no idea what the problem was,” said Vettel, who will start from sixth.

“I was surprised by how quick the others went. At this stage we don’t know why. It was an important day, but it is what it is and we will see how it goes tomorrow.

“We have a good car so we don’t need to be afraid. The car is quick - we know that and you can overtake here - it should be a fun race.”

Felipe Massa was ninth in the second Williams and Stoffel Vandoorne 10th for McLaren.

The session ended nearly four hours after it had begun with a curtailed Q1 brought to an early red-flagged halt when Frenchman Romain Grosjean aquaplaned and crashed in his Haas.

He was unhurt but accused F1 race organisers of double standards for starting the session in dangerous conditions.

After a delay of more than two and a half hours, qualifying resumed with the cars queuing in the pit lane and aware of forecasts that the gloomy weather was expected to deteriorate.

Verstappen, Vettel, Bottas and then Hamilton took top spot as the times tumbled.

Raikkonen was almost involved in a pit-lane collision when he was released into the path of a Force India, but braked immediately and Ferrari apologised.

Bottas, in 1:35.716, topped Q1 ahead of Hamilton and Vettel and was soon back out for Q2.

Vettel and Hamilton swapped fastest laps, with Bottas in close pursuit, the title contenders creating their own duel in the rain.

Hamilton ended up quickest to head Bottas by seven-tenths with Vettel third.

The rain intensified for the top-ten shootout and after one lap the leaders were in to switch from intermediates to wets, a decision that favoured the men, like Verstappen, who had started with them.

After settling in, Hamilton went fastest again before being called to pit with three minutes remaining for another set of wets, on which he made history.

“Lewis has been breaking a lot of records this year,” said Bottas. “So it is no surprise. He is really a great driver.”--AFP

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