Lewis Hamilton sealed the 99th pole position of his career ahead of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola after a tense qualifying session that saw the top eight separated by just half a second.
The seven-time world champion set a 1.14.411 with his first lap and despite failing to improve on his second run, he just had enough to stay ahead of Sergio Perez in second.
Max Verstappen was third, outqualified by his new teammate for the first time, while Valtteri Bottas will start a disappointing eighth.
Charles Leclerc starts fourth for a second consecutive race, another excellent qualifying result for the Monegasque racer, with Pierre Gasly sealing another fifth-place grid spot.
Lando Norris briefly went second after the final runs but had his lap time deleted and will have to settle for seventh, one spot behind his teammate Daniel Ricciardo.
Esteban Ocon starts ninth, just ahead of Lance Stroll, who made a second consecutive Q3 appearance for Aston Martin.
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 17, 2021
Speaking after the session, Hamilton told Sky Sports F1: “Today has been great. I definitely didn’t expect us to be ahead of two Red Bulls.
“They were quick but the car was already feeling quick this weekend. Respect to the team for their hard work to narrow down the window.
“I love the challenge. I love having the two Red Bulls there. It’s going to make strategy harder and make it a real challenge because they have great race pace.
“I’m so happy because the first lap was really good, really clean. The second wasn’t as good as the first but I’m really grateful. I came around the last corner and heard that I got the pole and was super grateful.”
Perez, who became the first driver to outqualify Verstappen without a penalty being applied since Daniel Ricciardo left Red Bull, added: “Yesterday I did a mistake and made them [the team] work hard and the most important thing is we showed progress. I never expected to be here today.
“I’ve been improving, P2, but I should’ve been on pole and I did a mistake on the final corner.
“Everything is positive and we have to make sure we keep progressing and tomorrow is when it matters.
“We’re on a different [tyre] strategy to Max and it will be interesting to see what we can do. The important thing is we get those points and that learning.”
Verstappen was not happy with his Q3 performance but said the race on Sunday was looking set to be interesting.
“Not so good in Q3,” he said. “I went off at Turn Three, so a bit messy, not a good lap.
“You can’t be good every time, so we’ll see what went wrong – but it’s definitely not the easiest in Q3. It’s still P3, which is a good starting position.
It’s going to be interesting. We have the two cars on the different tyres and we will try and make it difficult for them.”
Carlos Sainz was one of a number of big names to fall short in Q2, with the Ferrari man just over half a tenth short of a spot in the top 10 and three tenths adrift of Leclerc.
The Spaniard will start 11th, one spot ahead of George Russell who recovered from a difficult Q1 to put in a typically impressive qualifying showing for Williams.
Russell’s teammate Nicholas Latifi also put in a strong performance and will start 14th, his best starting position since making his Formula 1 debut last season.
Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel were the two other big names to fall in the second qualifying session, with the two world champions both beaten by their teammates.
Vettel had his first lap time deleted and could not improve by enough on his second run to make it through to Q3.
The German will start 13th, one spot ahead of Alonso in 15th.
It’s going to be late night for those AlphaTauri mechanics 🛠
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 17, 2021
Yuki Tsunoda was the first casualty of qualifying, with the Japanese driver hitting the wall at Turn 15 after losing the back end of his AT02 as he navigated the chicane on his first flying lap.
The crash brought out the red flag, pausing the session, and its results will likely take a mighty effort from the AlphaTauri team to fix overnight.
The rookie was joined in the bottom five by the Haas pairing of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, who will start 18th and 19th respectively, and Alfa Romeo drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi.
Raikkonen will start one spot ahead of his teammate in 16th after missing out on a place in Q2 by just over a tenth of a second.