Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton continued to reign supreme in one-lap speed on Saturday when he secured his 11th pole position in 12 races for Mercedes by topping qualifying for Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix.
The 30-year-old Briton powered around the high-speed Autodromo Nazional in warm sunshine to clock a best lap of 1min 23.383sec and finish three-tenths clear of a resurgent Kimi Raikkonen, who was cheered to the flag in his Ferrari.
The Finn, inspired by the tifosi packed into the main grandstand opposite the Ferrari pits, produced a flying late effort to beat his team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who wound up third.
The Ferrari revival was bad news for Hamilton’s teammate Nico Rosberg who had to change engines before the session. The German reverted to an older power-unit and finished fourth, his worst qualifying result of the year.
Hamilton said: “It has been a great effort by the team. I am very happy and the guys have done a great job with the car and we’ve improved the reliability, for me, really well.
“I hope Nico can pull through tomorrow and we can finish ahead of the two red cars, but they are very close here and it is going to be a tough race.”
Raikkonen, a popular figure with fans, was more talkative than usual and shook off his taciturn image.
“We expected a strong weekend, knew this place was not our strongest and the car turned out to be pretty good,” he said after securing his first front row start for Ferrari since the 2009 Monaco Grand Prix.
“It is nice to be here! It’s a home race for us and this was our best qualifying performance this year as a team. Now we will try and have another go to get a good result tomorrow.”
Vettel said: “We are close to Lewis and that will give us confidence. I hope we both finish ahead of him, that would be a dream come true.
“But the Mercedes has serious pace which we have found out many times and we will have to fight and do all we can.”
For Hamilton, it was a seventh straight pole, enabling him to emulate Michael Schumacher, the last driver to achieve the feat in 2000-01. The record is held by Ayrton Senna with eight in 1989.
It was Hamilton’s 49th career pole and signalled his 20th front row start in succession. His success also extended Mercedes’ run to 23 poles, one short of the record set by the Williams team in 1993.
Felipe Massa was fifth fastest ahead of his Williams team-mate Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Perez of Force India and Romain Grosjean of Lotus.
Nico Hulkenberg was ninth for Force India ahead of Swede Marcus Ericsson of Sauber.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo in his his Red Bull car is 15th on the grid.