Carlos Sainz put a Ferrari on pole position at the Italian Grand Prix after edging out Max Verstappen for the top spot in a thrilling qualifying hour in Monza.
The Scuderia looked down for the count in the earlier qualifying segments, when revised rules mandated drivers use the hard and medium tires on the way to Q3, but the margins closed to practically nothing once the softs broke cover, and the tight picture was resumed.
Ferrari gave the packed grandstands hope after the first runs, with Sainz leading Charles Leclerc for a provisional front-row lockout with Verstappen in third, but the trio was split by just 0.099s — and Verstappen had had his best lap compromised by running marginally wide and onto the gravel exiting the Roggia chicane.
Leclerc led Verstappen and Sainz out of pit lane for the final runs, and again there was little to pick between them. Leclerc was fastest in the first sector to move to top spot, while Verstappen snatched P1 for himself with a purple final split.
But it was Sainz with an unbeatable middle sector who sealed the deal, seizing pole by 0.013s ahead of Verstappen and 0.067s from his teammate to send Ferrari’s home fans into raptures.
“It’s been such an intense qualifying,” Sainz said. “We all three went for it. We were very, very on the limit.
“The last lap I knew I had some lap time to come in Ascari and Parabolica, and I went for it, and it went well. I really pushed hard on that last lap.”
But the Spaniard was more cautious about promising a conversion from pole to victory.
“Tomorrow I’m going to give it everything to hold onto that P1,” he said. “A good start, a good first stint, and see if we can battle Max. Normally in the long runs he’s quicker, but I’m going to give it all.”
Verstappen appeared completely unperturbed at missing out on the pole. Red Bull Racing’s race pace looked strong even from the limited practice running on Friday, and the Dutchman will have a good chance of winning a record-breaking 10th consecutive race with a good launch from the inside of the front row.
“I think we made some good improvements compared to yesterday,” he said. “In qualifying you could see every qualifying session was tight, so I’m happy to be second today.
“Of course tomorrow we’ll try to win the race. Normally we have the quicker race car.”
Leclerc completed an admirable recovery from an anonymous practice campaign to come close to topping qualifying, with the Monegasque noting that he was the only one of the top three without a slipstream for his final flying lap.
“On my side I’m a bit disappointed,” he said. “I obviously wanted to be first, but seeing Carlos is P1 is great for Ferrari. He’s done an incredible job all weekend.”
George Russell headed the next group of cars in fourth, but the Briton was 0.377s off the pace, with Mercedes never in contention for the front row.
Sergio Perez was a lackluster 0.394s off pole and will start fifth, less than 0.1s ahead of Williams driver Alex Albon in a predictably impressive drive to sixth on the grid.
McLaren teammates Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris were seventh and ninth to sandwich a downcast Lewis Hamilton in eighth, the Briton complaining about a lack of grip throughout qualifying.
Fernando Alonso completed the top 10 for Aston Martin in a surprisingly uncompetitive showing 1.1s off the pace.
AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda came within 0.013s of a spot in top 10 and will start 11th ahead of temporary teammate Liam Lawson, who impressively was just 0.164s shy of the Japanese driver.
Nico Hulkenberg qualified 13th for Haas ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas and a frustrated Logan Sargeant, whose medium-tire laps were slower than his best time on the hards from Q1.
Zhou Guanyu will start 16th, the Chinese driver the first of those knocked out of Q1 on the hard tire.
Alpine teammates Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon never looked likely to escape the bottom five once qualifying got underway, and the pair ended up closely matched in 17th and 18th, Ocon having taken a lightly damaging trip through the gravel at Ascari partway through the session.
Kevin Magnussen qualified ninth for Haas ahead of an underwhelming Lance Stroll, who was more than 0.2s off the back of the pack in his Aston Martin.