Sebastian Vettel became the first driver since the late great Ayrton Senna to take pole on 10 occasions in different seasons when he posted the fastest qualifying time for Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix.
The 24-year-old defending world champion overcame a minor error in his first run to grab the 25th pole of his career and his first at Monza – the venue where he celebrated his first race win in 2008.
He also maintained the Red Bull team’s record of taking the pole at all 13 races this year – Mark Webber having taken the other three.
The runaway leader of this year’s title race proved that he and Red Bull have no fear of the high-speed Autodromo Nazionale Monza, where many believed they would suffer from lack of power against their rivals.
Vettel was fastest ahead of nearest rival Briton Lewis Hamilton of McLaren, who made a mistake on his final lap and finished up 0.450 seconds behind the flying German.
Hamilton’s McLaren team-mate and compatriot Jenson Button was third ahead of two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso in the leading Ferrari with Mark Webber in fifth.
“We thought it would be much closer than that,” said Vettel.
“We knew we had more time in the car and I had some cars in front which always helps at Monza, but we did not think we would be on pole by such a big margin at a track that — for the last two years — did not suit us.
“And we have quite a racy approach, so I’m happy.”
Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton was left stunned by the speed of Vettel.
“I didn’t have another half a second in the bank, maybe two or three tenths. Sebastian was mega-quick today. That was untouchable,” said Hamilton.
Team-mate Jenson Button agreed and admitted Vettel was far too quick in Saturday’s qualifying.
“We were never going to challenge Seb. The strange thing is they don’t look like they’re carrying a lot of wing, but they’re still half a second quicker than us in the second sector, which is the high-speed corners.
“It is difficult to understand.”
Brazilian Felipe Massa was sixth in the second Ferrari ahead of Russian Vitaly Petrov of Renault, seven times champion German Michael Schumacher, 42, a five-times Monza winner, and his Mercedes team-mate and compatriot Nico Rosberg.
Brazilian Bruno Senna – nephew of Ayrton – was 10th after Renault decided not to contest for an improved grid position for their new man.
The drama in Q2 was saved to the final minute when Senna squeezed his Renault into the top ten and – for the second successive race – pushed Briton Paul di Resta down to 11th in his Force India and out of the shootout.
For Ferrari, it was a major challenge to establish competitive grid places in front of the team’s president Luca di Montezemolo, watching from the pit wall.
The Italian, seen by many as a potential president of the republic, had made clear he expected nothing less than a podium finish in Sunday’s race.
Alonso, winner of last year’s race, said that they were capable of delivering a top three finish.
“We didn’t find the right balance or speed all weekend,” he said.
“Yesterday (Friday) we struggled with balance and top speed. Today (Saturday) we are lacking a bit of braking stability and top speed. That was the negative part of the weekend that we are never happy with the car.
“But fourth is a good result. It opens us a possibility of the podium, which is very good news regarding how the weekend went.”