Monza: Adrian Sutil nearly fetched Force India’s second successive pole position before McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton gate-crashed into his party in the adrenalin-pumped qualifying sessions for Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix here on Saturday.
Sutil, who had topped the timesheet in two of the three practice sessions, made a slight error in his final flyer through the first Lesmo to settle for the second place on Sunday’s starting grid while Hamilton grabbed the pole.
Sutil’s new Italian teammate Vitantonio Liuzzi dazzled in his Force India F1 debut and will start seventh on the grid on Sunday.
For a moment, it seemed Force India would be celebrating their second pole position when Sutil lapped the circuit in 1m 24.261s before Hamilton came from behind to run away with the pole.
It was a great duel between Sutil’s VJM02 and Hamilton’s Kinetic Energy Recovery System-powered McLaren car and the duo, best of friends, will occupy the front row on Sunday.
Ironically, Giancarlo Fisichella, who joined Ferrari after recording Force India’s maiden pole position and podium finish in Belgium, could not make it to the third qualifying session (Q3) and will start 14th on Sunday.
Sutil and Liuzzi made it to the second qualifying session as seventh and eighth fastest cars and then came fourth and fifth respectively in Q2 to storm into Q3.
This is the first time that both the cars of the Vijay Mallya-owned outfit made it to Q3.
Sutil said he was gunning for the pole position since the car was up to the task.
“After the results yesterday and this morning, we wanted to fight for the pole position. We knew the car was up to it and that’s what we showed in qualifying today,” Sutil said.
“We have a great package, this circuit suits us very well as we have an incredible top speed and also a good downforce package so the efficiency of the car is really good,” he added.
Sutil and Hamilton were seen congratulating each other and the German driver said he was looking forward to start from the front row with his best friend on Sunday.
“I’m starting on the front row with Lewis for the first time since F3 and I’m really happy he is next to me, he’s a good friend but we will fight hard for it. I have a lot of respect for him,” he said.
Sutil conceded not having KERS would make the task difficult for him but sounded confident of defending his place on Sunday.
“It’s going to be very difficult start with the KERS cars around me but the race is long, I’ll do what I have to defend my position and have a good strategy. If the race pace is OK we can gain positions and even if they get past me I have a good, fast car on the straights so it’s going to be tight,” he said.
Liuzzi was no less excited after his sterling show in debut.
“Two weeks ago I didn’t expect to be on the grid so this is a fantastic result - better than we expected,” said the Italian.
“The team made a great effort and gave me a lot of support to reach this target. They never gave up and we had a great Friday and Saturday. The race will be difficult physically and mentally but I like the fight.”
“The team are fighters and we will give the maximum in tomorrow’s race. I’m definitely looking forward to racing in front of my home crowd,” he said.
Force India chairman Vijay Mallya was delighted with the team’s consistency since Spa and said he was upbeat for Sunday’s race.
“I’m absolutely delighted with this weekend’s performance so far. We’ve been very strong all weekend and both drivers have been outstanding,” Mallya said.
“Adrian has really showed a great maturity to achieve his best-ever starting position, while Tonio has been a revelation on his debut. Although qualifying is just one part of the equation we are feeling quite upbeat about tomorrow’s race now,” added Mallya, also the team principal.