Lewis Hamilton says he doesn’t know where Red Bull’s pace came from to allow Max Verstappen to challenge Mercedes in Friday’s qualifying session at the Italian Grand Prix.
Qualifying on Friday sets the starting order for Saturday’s Sprint — an 18-lap race that will then deliver the grid for the grand prix — and Mercedes looked the class of the field throughout. However, on the first runs in Q3 Hamilton was on provisional pole by just 0.017s over Verstappen, and although he extended that advantage to 0.3s on the final lap, with Valtteri Bottas even quicker, Hamilton was surprised by Red Bull’s performance.
“Firstly, congratulations to Valtteri, he did a mega lap,” Hamilton said. “It was looking pretty good for us — well, from my side up until then. He just went quicker, I couldn’t match it. Well deserved. We’ve lost a championship by point … There has been a lot of points lost this year on both sides so every point really counts. These sprint races can definitely add and help so we have to try and capitalize on that.
“There was plenty in it. I mean, it’s close between us all. Valtteri did a great job right at the end. Not the best of qualifyings for me. P1 was really (there). For whatever reason, I just struggled in the session but anyways, still on the front row. It’s great to have a front-row lock-out for the team. It’s great as I said, particularly with the news last week (of Russell taking Bottas’ place for next year), to see Valtteri driving so well.
“I don’t know where they pulled out their pace but it’s going to be close … They were miles off in Q1 and Q2 but suddenly they were right up there with us. That shows it’s super close.”
Verstappen admitted Red Bull was on the back foot slightly heading into qualifying and so was pleased with third on the grid after he just edged out the two McLarens.
“I think for us around this track, it’s always going to be difficult,” Verstappen said. “We struggled a little bit more than we wanted in free practice but we recovered quite well in this qualifying. I am still happy to be third here and I think for the race, hopefully, we can be a bit closer. You never know around here.
“Tomorrow, we first have FP2 so we can see what we can do to help the long-run pace a bit more; of course, naturally, first (place) will be a bit more difficult but nevertheless, we can score a good amount of points.”