It was a private battle for pole position at Monza between the two Mercedes cars – and when it counted, reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton got the job done once more, pipping team mate Valtteri Bottas by 0.069s as Ferrari failed to get a car in the top 10 at their home race for the first time since 1984.
At points during qualifying, Bottas’ pace was such that it suggested he was very much in the fight for pole, but he simply had no response to Hamilton’s brilliance in Q3. This was Hamilton’s 68th pole for Mercedes, which ties the number Michael Schumacher (second in the all-time list) achieved in his entire career.
Behind the sensational Mercedes, McLaren’s Carlos Sainz came out on top in a qualifying-long battle with Sergio Perez in the Racing Point for third, the Spaniard sealing his second P3 of the season and McLaren’s third of the season. It’s also McLaren’s first top-three start at Monza since they locked out the front row in 2012.
Perez will start fourth for the eighth time in his F1 career, without having ever started in the top three, with Max Verstappen classified as fifth, meaning Red Bull have failed to start on the front two rows of the grid at Monza since the turbo hybrid era began in 2014.
There was less good news for Ferrari, with Sebastian Vettel getting caught out in Q1, which forced him out in the first segment, meaning he will start P17. Charles Leclerc didn’t fair much better, the Monagasque saying he did the best he could, but that was only good enough for P13 – it’s the Scuderia’s worst qualifying performance at their home race for over 35 years.
Lando Norris pipped Daniel Ricciardo to take seventh, in what is his 15th consecutive race starting in the top 10, with Lance Stroll eighth and Alexander Albon – who had three laps deleted for exceeding track limits – ninth.
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly closed out the top 10, as his team seek their first points finish at Monza since 2013.
Track limits have been a talking point all weekend at Monza, and they played a key role early on with Charles Leclerc, Kevin Magnussen, Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon among those to get their lap times wiped out for straying too far over the white lines.
That heaped the pressure on them to deliver next time around, but there was no such trouble for Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas the only drivers to run the medium tyres – and they eased into P1 and P2.
As the field prepared for the final runs, there was a squabbling for position on the straight down to Parabolica and then on the run down to Turn 1, some of them going wheel-to-wheel.
There were some close moments, too, with Kimi Raikkonen almost clattering into the back of Esteban Ocon.
Sebastian Vettel came off badly in the chaos, the German furious with the Alfa Romeos, which meant he failed to get a clean lap and thus forced him out in the first part of qualifying – his first Q1 exit since the 2019 German Grand Prix.
It means the four-time world champion has now failed to make Q3 in four successive race weekends.
Romain Grosjean, Antonio Giovinazzi and the Williams duo of George Russell and Nicholas Latifi all failed to progress.
Knocked out: Grosjean, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Russell and Latifi
Hamilton beat Bottas to the top time after the first runs, with the Silver Arrows swapping to the soft compound for this session – in line with all of their rivals. Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz were their closest challengers, evenly matched and three tenths off the pace.
After the first runs, everyone waited in their garages waiting for someone else to blink. The Renaults eventually made the move, Ricciardo heading out and of Ocon. They pulled away and did their own thing, which ruled them out of getting a tow but at least put them out of the squabble.
But Ricciardo got it all out and got it all wrong and backed out of his lap after a trip across the gravel trap. Elsewhere, Bottas went quickest, setting a new track record, 0.15s quicker than team mate Hamilton. This time, Sainz went third quickest, swapping places with Perez.
Albon scraped through in 10th, but there was more misery for Ferrari as Leclerc could only go 13th quickest, making it the first time Ferrari have not had at least one car in the top 10 at Monza since 1984.
Knocked out: Kvyat, Ocon, Leclerc, Raikkonen, Magnussen
Hamilton didn’t mess about on his first run in Q3, pumping in a lap that put team mate Bottas in the shade, heaping all the pressure on the Finn in the process.
Perez slotted into third, ahead of Verstappen, with Sainz down in fifth as Albon ran wide again to have his lap time deleted.
Second time around, Hamilton went even quicker, with Bottas improving too but by not enough and he ended up second – meaning Mercedes have their first front row lockout at Monza since 2016.
Sainz, meanwhile, hooked up a far better lap to bolt up two places to third, with Perez and Verstappen failing to respond.
The Italian Grand Prix kicks off at 14:10 tomorrow. Hamilton is in a supreme position to extend his championship lead again, but there could well be a sensational battle for the final podium spot with Sainz, Perez and Verstappen the leading contenders.