Lewis Hamilton squeaked to pole position by less than half a tenth ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Sergio Perez at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
The Briton took his 99th pole despite failing to improve his first banker lap with his second attempt, leaving him vulnerable to Max Verstappen, who then was trailing by only 0.091s.
But the Dutchman found only 0.004s on his own second attempt. Instead Perez was the biggest gainer, finding almost a quarter of a second to come within a minuscule 0.035s of Hamilton’s still-standing benchmark.
Hamilton betrayed his surprise with some laughter over team radio, the pole winner later admitting that he didn’t think he could hold his place at the front of the grid.
“I definitely didn’t expect us to be ahead of the two Red Bulls,” he said. “They’ve been so quick this weekend.
“I love the challenge. I think it’s great finally we’ve got the two Red Bulls there. I’m so happy.”
Perez will start alongside Hamilton in his best-ever qualifying result, and the Mexican said he was feeling more comfortable in the RB16B in his second race weekend for Red Bull Racing.
“The most important thing is we are showing progress,” he said. “We have been improving.
“I should have been on pole today — I made a mistake on my final lap — but everything is positive.”
Perez is the only driver in the top three who will start on the soft tire rather than the medium, giving him an alternative strategy in pursuit of a second victory.
Verstappen will line up third on the grid, the Dutchman ruing an imperfect final lap but optimistic for the race.
“I went off at Turn 3 — a bit messy,” he said. “But still P3 is a good starting position. We have the two cars on different tires, so let’s see how that will work. We’ll try to make it difficult for them [Mercedes].”
Charles Leclerc was a strong fourth for Ferrari to head the midfield at just 0.329s off the pace, with AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly only 0.05s further back in fifth.
McLaren teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris qualified sixth and seventh, but Norris came within inches of qualifying third with a sensational last lap of the session before being judged by the stewards to have exceeded track limits at Turn 9.
Valtteri Bottas qualified a distant eighth and 0.487s slower than his pole-winning teammate. Almost all the Finn’s deficit came in the first sector on both Q3 attempts.
Esteban Ocon qualified ninth for Alpine ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll.
Carlos Sainz was a shock early elimination in Q2. The Ferrari driver missed the cut for Q3 by just 0.061s, though his 0.391s deficit to top 10-bound teammate Leclerc was less flattering.
George Russell was 12th for Williams ahead of Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel, who set only one timed lap late in the session after a first attempt was deleted for exceeding track limits.
Nicholas Latifi was knocked out in a career-best 14th with an identical time to that set by Alpine’s Fernando Alonso for 15th. The Canadian will start ahead for having set the time first.
Alfa Romeo teammates Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi were separated by 0.1s in qualifying 16th and 17th, while Haas teammates Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin were split by half a second in 18th and 19th.
Yuki Tsunoda failed to set a time after suffering a big crash on his first flying lap in Q1. The Japanese carried too much speed through Variante Alta and spun his AlphaTauri around to rear-end the barriers.
Tsunoda emerged unscathed, but the rear of his car was severely damaged, with the wing and one wheel hanging from the chassis.