Speculation that Red Bull’s dominance over pole position this season would come to an end in Italy proved wrong, with Sebastian Vettel taking his least-predictable P1 of the year at Monza.
The German, who almost lost his car as he slid through the Ascari chicane, recovered to bank an unbeatable lap time of 1m 22.275 seconds.
‘We thought it would be much closer than that,’ said Vettel. ‘We are quite quick throughout all three sectors, so we just had to put it together.’
The German was stuck in traffic as all cars but Senna left the pitlane at once, but mistakes by Hamilton, Button’s decision to abandon his fast lap, and teammate Mark Webber unable to extract the same pace from the Red Bull meant that he kept the RBR7’s 100 per cent pole record for 2011 alive.
‘We were not expecting, not thinking of being on pole by that margin,’ he continued.
‘This year, I have to say the car is very good here. The balance is perfect.’
The pace promised by McLaren in the lead up to the Italian Grand Prix was only good enough P2, with Hamilton pipping teammate Button to the front from by half a tenth.
‘Sebastian was mega quick today. It looked like we’d be quite competitive in the weekend, but that last lap was untouchable for me,’ elaborated Hamilton.
‘I didn’t have another half a second in the bag. We perhaps could have got another couple of tenths out of the car.’
Button noted that despite Red Bull running a seemingly lower downforce package than McLaren, they still managed to move faster in the high speed turns.
‘I totally agree with Lewis, we were never going to challenge Seb… they’re half a second quicker than us,’ concurred Button.
‘We’re both in great positions, and I think we can both score some good points tomorrow.’
The best Italian favourite Fernando Alonso could manage in his Ferrari was P4, with the team looking out of sorts for most of the weekend. He can take solace, however, in the knowledge that he beat one of the Red Bulls, with Webber sitting beside him on the grid in fifth.
Massa followed Webber, with Vitaly Petrov putting his car ahead of the two Mercedes ‘ Michael Schumacher drawing on his experience as the most successful driver around Monza to out-qualify Rosberg in the sister car. Bruno Senna will start from P10 after choosing to save tyres and not set a time.
Webber, Schumacher, Rosberg and Senna each opted not to complete an early run in Q3, instead saving their tyres for a single, all-or-nothing run in the dying moments of the session.
Qualifying began with the FIA having confirmed that they would be enforcing Pirelli’s maximum camber regulations for all cars to ensure a repeat of the revelations from Q3 in Belgian could not happen.
Pastor Maldonado caused some first-session drama when he put his Williams in the wall coming out of Parabolica. He activated his DRS early and lost the rear of car, propelling front wing into the barrier.
His side of the Williams garage worked frantically to the Venezuelan out before the end of the session, allowing him to post a time good enough to pass into Q2
Fernando Alonso offered the home crowd fans a small ray of light by mixing in with the frontrunners for most of Q1, posting a time ultimately worth fourth in qualifying’s first stage.
A flurry of late runs had the tail of the grid rearrange itself several times in the session’s final five minutes, with the dreaded P18 slot changing hands between Kobayashi, Maldonado, Senna, Buemi and Barrichello.
But it would be Alguersuari who would soon be decided as the one to join Trulli, Kovalinen, Glock d’Ambrosio, Ricciardo and Liuzzi in the bottom seven.
As Q2 pressed on, no clear team asserted their dominance on track. Sebastian Vettel held the top spot for almost the entire session, but by less than one-tenth over Jenson Button.
Hamilton, who struggled to match his teammate for much of Saturday afternoon, spent an extra set of soft tyres to hold third for the session.
Meanwhile, the rest of the midfield was duly eliminated as Bruno Senna, lagging being his teammate Petrov despite his superb showing in Belgium two weeks ago, nudged Force India’s Paul di Resta from Q3 by six-thousands of a second.
Di Resta led Sutil in qualifying for the eighth time this season, who had Barrichello and Maldonado fill the grid places directly behind him.
Despite their promising showing on Friday, the Sauber drivers Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi filled the remaining Q2 grid place, split by STR’s Sebastian Buemi. Kobayashi, who managed to avoid elimination in Q1, perpetuated his poor qualifying form.