Lewis Hamilton predicted an “easy win” for Max Verstappen in the Italian Grand Prix and said his own race will be about damage limitation.
The seven-time World Champion’s victory hopes at Monza were severely dented by a poor launch in sprint qualifying which left him starting fourth in Sunday’s main event.
Verstappen will be on pole position after finishing the 18-lap sprint second to Valtteri Bottas, who starts right at the back as a penalty for taking new Mercedes engine parts.
The scenario Mercedes had been hoping for in sprint qualifying was to have Hamilton cross the line first ahead of Bottas, the reverse order from their front-row grid positions.
But that went out of the window when the Briton got bogged down at the start and he could not pass either of the McLarens on soft tyres that got ahead of him, Daniel Ricciardo joining Verstappen on the front row for the race ahead of Lando Norris in third and Hamilton fourth.
Also, Hamilton, who was on the medium tyres, will now line up five points behind Verstappen in the World Championship standings after the Dutchman extended his slender advantage with the two he collected for finishing second to Bottas.
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Here’s how the boys will line up for tomorrow’s #ItalianGP. 👀
We’ve got the pace. Now let’s deliver the points on Sunday. 👊🔥 pic.twitter.com/czJqKXR8ti
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) September 11, 2021
Asked how he reflected on the sprint qualifying start, Hamilton told Sky F1: “I don’t, it wasn’t that great and it is what it is. That’s where it all started, so we lost a lot of points.
“I think we underestimated how they [soft tyres] would behave. We’ve got to try to figure out how to get by the McLarens tomorrow and how to limit the damage.
“You saw the pace of the Red Bull. I don’t know if he [Verstappen] was quicker than Valtteri but they’re so fast and now he’s on pole, so it should be an easy win for him. I’ve just got to try and get past the two guys ahead.”
Hamilton was less surprised than many pundits that Red Bull were proving so quick in the competitive action at Monza, where they have perennially had a speed deficit to Mercedes since their golden era that ended in 2013.
“I think they’ve got more pace than you think they’ve had all year,” added Hamilton.
“They bring upgrades every week. I think from what I’m told there’s only one race they haven’t brought an upgrade. They’re constantly adding performance to their car and they did a great job. But well done to Valtteri today.”