Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc will start from pole position in Sunday's Italian Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, topping the times ahead of a quartet of drivers who will have to overcome grid penalties.
Leclerc's best Q3 time of 1:20.161s was 0.145s ahead of Red Bull's Max Verstappen, with Carlos Sainz third, Sergio Perez fourth and Lewis Hamilton finished the session in P5.
However it's Hamilton's Mercedes team mate George Russell who will inherit the front row spot alongside Leclerc after all the penalties are applied, with McLaren's Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo set to lock out the second row.
Verstappen will drop to seventh on the grid just ahead of Williams super sub Nyck de Vries, who is set to start his maiden F1 race inside the top ten after stepping in at the last minute on Saturday for an unwell Alex Albon.
Monza was looking simply gorgeous in the late afternoon norther Italian sunshine, with fans seeking shade and the track temperature reporting in at 40C. With no chance of rain, it really couldn't have been any better conditions for an hour of motor sport at the Temple of Speed. The only cloud over the occasion was the number of engine grid penalties hanging over half the field, meaning it was very much up in the air whether whoever came top today would be starting on pole tomorrow.
Q1: Verstappen fastest, with de Vries making the cut despite having quickest lap deleted
The drivers were quick to get down to business when the track went green for the start of the first round of qualifying. Lance Stroll was first to head out, predictability sporting Pirelli C4 soft tyres on the Aston Martin as he posted the first lap time of the session of 1:24.231s, half a second slower than he had managed in final practice.
In the following minutes Yuki Tsunoda, Kevin Magnussen, Sebastian Vettel and Mick Schumacher all went quicker, even though Vettel dabbed a wheel into the gravel on the way. Then the Red Bulls leapt into action, Verstappen going top with a time of 1:22.023 which was 0.062s than the time just set by his team mate Sergio Perez. Lando Norris slotted in behind them ahead of Lewis Hamilton, but George Russell went fastest before a huge cheer went up from the Tifosi as Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz went to the head of the field, Leclerc's 1:21.280s proving a slender 0.068s better than that of his team mate.
There was a surprisingly strong start for Williams, with last minute super-sub Nyck de Vries (standing in for an unwell Alex Albon) popping into the top ten along with team mate Nicholas Latifi. However they were soon shuffled back as new flying laps were recorded by Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon and Zhou Guanyu. Tsunoda then improved to sixth, as Verstappen was able to go faster on his second run to retake the top spot with a time of 1:20.922s as the Ferrari pair headed back to pit lane satisfied with their initial performance.
With all the drivers having set a time, McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo was on the bubble in 15th while those at risk of elimination were Kevin Magnussen, Valtteri Bottas, Lance Stroll, Mick Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel. There was still plenty of time for everyone to head out for another run before the chequered flag, but Red Bull and Ferrari remained in the pits while Mercedes and Alpine came out on used tyres merely as a precaution against being gazumped. The Haas pair were first out and tried collaborating on a tow, but Magnussen's resulting time was deleted for exceeding track limits.
The final moments saw AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly jump up to seventh, with Ricciardo moving into safety in 12th and Bottas scrabbling up to 14th. De Vries then muscled his way clear in 12th before his quickest time was deleted for track limits - fortunately his existing time was still enough to hold on to 15th, two hundredths quicker than Latifi who therefore missed the cut after locking up at turn 1. Vettel had suffered a similar mishap and was also eliminated, as were Stroll, Magnussen and Schumacher.
Q2: Ferrari claim 1-2 from Red Bull and Mercedes as Ocon and de Vries drop out
After a brief reset, it was time to get going with the second round of qualifying - although no one was in a huge rush to break cover, with all the teams eyeballing their rivals daring them to be the first to go out. In the end it was Perez who headed out with 12 minutes to go, followed by Verstappen. Once the Bulls were in play, the rest flooded out behind them. Norris was the last to emerge, although Tsunoda remained in the pits. Inevitably it meant that the track which had been empty just a few seconds earlier was now immediately log-jammed: "Everybody is so slow, man!" complained Zhou from the cockpit of the Alfa Romeo.
A flurry of times saw Perez go top with a time of 1:21.358s, but Verstappen then shaded that by 0.093s. Sainz was soon able to go significantly faster with a time of 1:20.878s, but his team mate ran over the speed bumps at the chicane forcing him to back off and go again. This time Leclerc had a scary twitch at Ascari, but his lap time remained good enough for P2.
The Tifosi were delighted to have a Ferrari 1-2 followed by the formation pairs of Red Bull and Mercedes, then Alonso in seventh followed by Gasly, Ocon and Norris, leaving Bottas, de Vries, Zhou and Ricciardo in danger of elimination. Tsunoda had decided to stay in because of his back-of-the-grid penalty rather than trying to help Gasly out with a tow. Once again the Ferrari and Red Bull drivers saw no need to stir again for a second time in Q2, but Mercedes were back to cover off any potential late emerging threats.
It looked like de Vries could improve significantly, until he locked up the rears at turn 4 and dashed his hopes of progressing. Bottas remained P11 with his final run but there were better fortunes for both McLarens who leapt up to seventh and eighth by the time the chequered flag dropped. "Good job by the team to find the right gaps on track," team principal Andreas Seidl told the TV world feed. "Well done to Daniel and Lando to progress to Q3. We want to beat Fernando and Pierre at least!"
Alonso and Gasly picked up the final top ten spots, but Ocon had been pushed out and missed the cut along with Bottas, de Vries and Zhou, plus the inactive Tsunoda.
Q3: Leclerc clinches pole position ahead of penalty-hit Verstappen, Sainz, Perez and Hamilton
And finally it came down to the top ten pole shoot-out round, although once again no one was in a particular hurry to head out when the lights went green. Those who could came out two-by-two with their team mates in search of a slipstream: Norris was first out, followed by Ricciardo, both on used softs, leaving just Alonso and Gasly all at odds.
The result of this co-ordinated battle saw Sainz fastest with a time of 1:20.584s with Leclerc in second by 0.186s. Verstappen was third quickest ahead of Perez, while Russell was fifth ahead of Norris despite struggling for grip: "Tyres are nowhere, just sliding everywhere" he complained over the radio. Their respective team mates Hamilton and Ricciardo were next up in P7 and P8 followed by Gasly, while Alonso aborted his run and pitted without setting a time after an error at Ascari as he too struggled with his front tyres.
Unsurprisingly Alonso was the first to head back out for the last set of runs, only to end up having his lap time deleted. The McLarens were on new tyres this time but Russell was on a set of used softs with Hamilton ahead of him providing a tow, as his back-of-the-grid penalty made his own position moot. The Ferraris were still flying, Sainz briefly going top but then Leclerc went quicker still with a time of 1:20.161s which Verstappen couldn't match with his own last effport.
As one of the few drivers not to have a grid penalty tomorrow, Leclerc's unbeatable lap time assured him of starting tomorrow's race from pole position on merit. Verstappen, Sainz, Perez and Hamilton would all be starting further back boosting Russell who will climb from P6 in the qualifying timesheets all the way to the front row of the grid on Sunday. Norris and Ricciardo will start from the second row after finishing in P7 and P8 ahead of Gasly who will line up in fifth alongside Alonso despite the two-time world champion ultimately not managing to set a time in Q3.
That's assuming Verstappen's current five place grid penalty means he lines up in seventh (still to be confirmed). Even so, on current form arguably remains favourite to win the race. De Vries is set to be promoted to eighth on the grid for his F1 debut, ahead of Zhou and Latifi. Perez is currently expected to start from P13 with Sainz and Hamilton dropping to 18th and 19th respectively.