By Robert Haile
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was the fastest around the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari in the final qualifying session in 1:14.411 as he took the 99 pole of his career.
Hamilton said: “Today has been great, obviously. I definitely didn’t expect us to be ahead of the two Red Bulls. I think they’ve been so quick this weekend. There were times when they were six tenths ahead.
“We didn’t really know where they would be, but the car was already feeling a lot better from the beginning of this weekend, so you know, mad respect to the Team for the hard work to really narrow down the window.
“This track is all medium and high speed corners, so I think that’s why we’ve closed the gap. Temperatures are much lower which has brought us closer to the Red Bulls. But they are so strong – it’s going to take absolutely perfect laps to stay ahead of them if we are going to have a chance of the win tomorrow.”
Joining the Mercedes driver on the front of the grid is Sergio Perez for his first front row for Red Bull with teammate Max Verstappen third.
Perez said: “What a massive result for us, knowing that I could win the race tomorrow is definitely a good feeling. There are a lot of positives to take out of today but I made a little mistake at the final turn, I was so close to pole.
“I can’t believe this is my first Red Bull start on the grid, as I started from the pit lane in Bahrain and it’s from the front of the grid. It just shows the amount of work we have put into this as a Team is paying off.
“Looking to the race tomorrow, Max and I are of course on different strategies, I am starting on the softs and Max is on the mediums so I think we have a good race ahead of us, especially as we’ve been able to apply the pressure to Mercedes.
“It was a great result for us today but we can’t get too carried away, I know that there is a lot of work to be done and it’s important that we keep making good progress.”
Ferrari have Charles Leclerc in fourth with Pierre Gasly following for AlphaTauri as Daniel Ricciardo out qualified McLaren teammate Lando Norris after Norris had his fastest lap time deleted due to exceeding track limits.
After third place in Bahrain Valtteri Bottas will start from eighth after a disappointing last qualifying session as Esteban Ocon for Alpine beat Lance Stroll of Aston Martin to finish the top ten.
The red flag came out in the first qualifying session as Yuki Tsunoda for AlphaTauri crashed at turn 15 meaning he will start from the back of the grid after not setting a time before the accident.
After the crash Tsunoda said: “The crash today in Qualifying was my mistake and I want to apologise to the team – I was pushing too hard into the entry of the chicane and just couldn’t control the car after that. It’s a shame because up until that corner the car felt really good and it was a strong lap – I think we could’ve gotten through to Q2 on just one compound.
“I believe there’s the potential for rain at the start of tomorrow’s race, so anything can happen, and I’ll try to push as hard as I can to make my way forward from the back. The car looks really good, so I’ll just reset my mind tonight and jump back in the car tomorrow to go racing.”
Going out in the first session was both Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin for Haas and both Alfa Romeo drivers Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi.
In a quiet second session the biggest surprise was Ferrari losing a car with Carlos Sainz only making it to eleventh though he is joined by Fernando Alonso for Alpine and Sebastian Vettel for Aston Martin towards the back of the grid.
As was seen in Bahrain anything can happen this early in the season and on one of the fastest tracks of the calendar Hamilton will have his work cut out if he is to win.
Q1 – Kimi Räikkönen (Alfa Romeo), Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo), Mick Schumacher (Haas), Nikita Mazepin (Haas), Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri)
Q2 – Carlos Sainz (Ferrari), George Russel (Williams), Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin), Nicholas Latifi (Williams), Fernando Alonso (Alpine)
Q3 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Sergio Perez (Red Bull), Max Verstappen (Red Bull), Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri), Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren), Lando Norris (McLaren), Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), Esteban Ocon (Alpine), Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)