Lewis Hamilton was a little taken aback as title rival Max Verstappen suddenly became a P1 contender during Italian GP qualifying.
Monza was expected to suit the Mercedes W12 with its high-speed nature, and that is indeed how it turned out on Friday during qualifying.
Valtteri Bottas topped Q3, meaning he will lead the pack away for Saturday’s sprint race, while Hamilton joins his team-mate on the front row.
Verstappen though lines up P3, having found a chunk of time in Q3 following pace struggles in the prior sessions.
Despite his efforts, Verstappen is not getting carried away and poured cold water on talk of challenging Mercedes in sprint qualifying, but Hamilton is readying himself for a tight battle, and one it seems which has taken him by surprise.
“I don’t know where they pulled out their pace, but it’s going to be close,” Hamilton told Sky F1.
“They were miles off in one and two but all of a sudden they were right up their with us. So it shows it’s still super-close.”
After Bottas made major gains on his final Q3 flying lap, Hamilton was unable to match his team-mate’s efforts, and the Briton felt he had not done himself justice.
Certainly, he is not counting Italy 2021 as one of his stronger qualifying showings.
“It was close between us all but Valtteri did a great job at the end. Not the best of qualifyings for me,” he admitted.
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Q3 was a sudden slump for Hamilton, with that following dominant form for the seven-time World Champion in the opening two segments.
Nonetheless, he is happy to be starting from the front row, and also pleased to see Bottas’ form despite the news prior to the race weekend that he will leave Mercedes at the end of the season.
Come 2022, Bottas will begin a multi-year deal with the Alfa Romeo team.
“Q1 was really good, for whatever reason I just struggled in the session,” said Hamilton of his issues in Q3.
“But anyway I’m on the front row and it’s great to have a front row lock-out for the team.
“Particularly with the news last week it’s great to see Valtteri driving so well.”