Lewis Hamilton hailed a truly “epic day” on Saturday after writing his name above Michael Schumacher’s as the all-time pole position king in the Formula One record books.
On an afternoon of suitably English weather at the historic Italian “Temple of Speed”, the “Pista Magica”, the Mercedes driver conjured up a lap worthy of the great German rainmaster himself.
After hours of waiting, with the rain still falling and the final seconds of the session ticking away, the triple world champion was rewarded with a time that drew gasps of appreciation.
His lap of one minute 35.554 seconds was more than 1.1 seconds quicker than anybody else at the fastest track on the calendar.
By comparison, there was less than a second separating the top five in Belgium – the longest circuit of all – in qualifying.
“It is very hard to find the words to explain how I feel,” said the Briton, who had penned a poem in honour of Britain’s late Princess Diana on Friday, as his 69th pole position from 201 starts sank in.
Schumacher, the seven-times world champion and former Ferrari great whose tally Hamilton had equalled in Belgium last weekend, ended his career with 68 from 307 races.
“I am trying to figure it all out. These guys definitely made me work for it today, which I am grateful for,” added Hamilton, referring to the Red Bull pairing of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo who were second and third fastest.
With Verstappen taking a 20-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race, and Ricciardo dropping 25 after power unit and gearbox changes, Hamilton might have taken pole anyway but instead he did it his way.
“The second to last lap was OK at the beginning, but then I backed out of it, hoping that I’d get one more lap,” said the 32-year-old.
“There was a lot of pressure for that last lap – there could have been a red flag (halting the session), there could have been a yellow flag. “There was a lot of risk, but I gave it everything. And it probably won’t sink in for a long time.”
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff felt the fans, soaked and frustrated at the long delays, had got their money’s worth in the end even if most were hoping to see a red Ferrari on the front of the grid.
“It was a brilliant lap, after a session where he was the quickest man throughout, and it was undoubtedly a performance worthy of claiming the all-time pole position record,” said the Austrian.