Lewis Hamilton has dominated qualifying at the Italian Grand Prix on an untouchable afternoon for Mercedes.
Hamilton’s headline time, a 1 minute 21.135 seconds, was almost a half-second quicker than teammate and Belgian Grand Prix winner Nico Rosberg and slightly more than 0.8 second faster than quickest Ferrari.
“This weekend I have a very strong feeling,” he said. “I came into my A-game today, and particularly that last lap felt incredible.
“What this team has achieved — race by race I continue to say it — is just phenomenal.
“[Nico and I] are so fortunate to be driving for this team and to drive a car as it was today. I got it right in the sweet spot and was able to do an exceptional time with it.”
The pole is Hamilton’s fifth, the same number of Italian Grand Prix poles as Ayrton Senna and Juan Manuel Fangio, and Hamilton said it was an honour to be in such prestigious company.
“I was only made aware of that record as I came into this weekend, so of course that was in the back of my mind, but I was hoping it wouldn’t steer me off course.
“I feel incredibly proud to be up amongst Senna and Juan Manuel — incredible drivers, and I never in a million years thought my name would be mentioned in the same sentence as theirs.“
Hamilton’s only potential race hurdle will be that he flat-spotted the tyres on which he will start, but the Briton played down the significance of the mistake.
“I didn’t really damage the tyres, I just had a small lock-up.
“The flat spot is minimal. You can’t really feel it, so I don’t think it’s a big problem.”
Rosberg, lining up second, never looked in contention for pole against a teammate bouncing back from his 60-place grid penalty last weekend at Spa-Francorchamps, and he was suitably monosyllabic after the session.
“I think the best explanation was that [Lewis] did some good laps and that’s it. I got some good laps in today and [I was] just not quick enough,” he said.
Sebastian Vettel gave the Ferrari tifosi something to cheer about by putting his car third, just ahead of teammate Kimi Räikkönen in fourth.
Vettel could have finished closer to Rosberg, however, had he not made a critical mistake at Parabolica on his final lap.
“First of all I wasn’t that happy with the first shot in Q3,” he said. “I lost the rhythm a bit and then was obviously able to get it back.
“I had a good lap, went just on the limit at the last corner, actually lost and was going a bit late on throttle.
“Very happy for us to lock out the row as a team — [though] not entirely happy because the gap is quite big.
“It looks like [Mercedes] are in a world of their own today, but who knows what happens tomorrow!”
Williams’s Valtteri Bottas was ecstatic with his lap, good enough for fifth and 0.3 seconds behind Räikkönen, after Q3.
The Finn heads the third row by the skin of his teeth, with just 0.001 seconds between him and Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Ricciardo in sixth leads teammate Max Verstappen in seventh, the pair fully expecting the team to be third or fourth fastest in a car not suited to the high-speed circuit.
Force India turned its poor Friday practice session pace somewhat around to qualify in the top 10, though Sergio Perez and Nico Hülkenberg in eighth and ninth were 0.4 seconds behind the Red Bull Racing cars despite being equipped with superior Mercedes engines.
Esteban Gutierrez qualified tenth, two seconds off the pole position pace, earning Haas’s first Q3 appearance since the team debuted at the beginning of the year.
Mercedes, with plentiful pace in hand, opted to qualify on the soft tyre in Q2.
The decision allows both cars to start the race on the more durable yellow tyre, offering a strategic advantage over the delicate supersoft.
Red Bull Racing was the only other team to attempt the gamble, but after the first runs its cars were ninth and tenth with just a half-second buffer.
The lack of a confident gap spooked both cars sufficient to abandon the strategy and qualify on the supersofts.
Felipe Massa was the disappointment of the session, bowing out of his final Italian Grand Prix qualifying session in eleventh and half a second slower than Williams teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Romain Grosjean was the second disappointed teammate, the 0.2 seconds to Esteban Gutierrez making the different between Q2 and Q3.
Fernando Alonso in thirteenth was separated from McLaren teammate Jenson Button in fifteenth by Pascal Wehrlein’s Mercedes-powered Manor.
Carlos Sainz was the slowest of Q2, his 2015 Ferrari power unit limiting his progress beyond P16.
Monza’s power-dominated layout was always going to put the grid’s inefficient cars under the spotlight.
Renault and its drag-laden chasses, Sauber and its underdeveloped car, McLaren and its underpowered Honda engine, and Toro Rosso with last year’s Ferrari motor found themselves in a predictable back-of-grid battle.
McLaren, buoyed by recent Honda progress, nosed ahead of the pack, but both cars were made vulnerable by Manor’s low-drag chassis paired with its powerful Mercedes engine.
Fernando Alonso risked missing out on Q2 in the final flurry of laps, but Daniil Kvyat’s best time for Toro Rosso fell 0.05 seconds short of usurping the McLaren, qualifying P17.
Felipe Nasr led Sauber teammate Marcus Ericsson in eighteenth and nineteenth, and Renault’s Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen will start from P20 and P21.
Esteban Ocon couldn’t set a time before an electronics problem brought his second ever F1 qualifying session to a close, locking in last on the grid.