Defending Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton secured his 11th pole position in 12 races for the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team by topping qualifying for Sunday's Italian Grand Prix.
The 30-year-old Briton powered around the high-speed Autodromo Nazional in warm sunshine to clock a best lap of one minute and 23.383 seconds and finish three-tenths of a second clear of a resurgent Kimi Raikkonen, who was cheered to the flag in his Ferrari.
The Finn, inspired by the Ferrari fans packed into the main grandstand opposite the Ferrari pits, produced a flying late effort to beat his team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who wound up third. The Ferrari revival was bad news for Hamilton's teammate Nico Rosberg who had to change engines before the session. The German reverted to an older power-unit and finished fourth, his worst qualifying result of the year.
Hamilton said, "It has been a great effort by the team. I am very happy and the guys have done a great job with the car and we've improved the reliability, for me, really well. I hope Nico can pull through tomorrow and we can finish ahead of the two red cars, but they are very close here and it is going to be a tough race."
Raikkonen, a popular figure with fans, was more talkative than usual and shook off his taciturn image. "We expected a strong weekend, knew this place was not our strongest and the car turned out to be pretty good," he said after securing his first front row start for Ferrari since the 2009 Monaco Grand Prix.
"It is nice to be here! It's a home race for us and this was our best qualifying performance this year as a team. Now we will try and have another go to get a good result tomorrow."
Vettel said, "We are close to Lewis and that will give us confidence. I hope we both finish ahead of him, that would be a dream come true.
"But the Mercedes has serious pace which we have found out many times and we will have to fight and do all we can."
For Hamilton, it was a seventh straight pole, enabling him to emulate Michael Schumacher, the last driver to achieve the feat in 2000-01. The record for most consecutive pole positions is held by late Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna with eight in 1989.
It was Hamilton's 49th career pole and signalled his 20th front row start in succession. His success also extended Mercedes' run to 23 poles, one short of the record set by the Williams team in 1993. Felipe Massa was fifth-fastest ahead of his Williams team-mate Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Perez of Force India and Romain Grosjean of Lotus. Nico Hulkenberg was ninth for Force India ahead of Swede Marcus Ericsson of Sauber.
At the other end of the list, the two McLaren Hondas of Jenson Button, the 2009 champion, and Fernando Alonso were eliminated in 16th and 17th places ahead of the two Manor Marussias of Will Stevens and Robert Merhi. Luckless Dutch teenager Max Verstappen was also knocked out without clocking a lap time in a desultory session that saw his Toro Rosso car lose a piece of bodywork, following engine problems, in the closing minutes. It was the first time he failed to make it to Q2 in his infant F1 career.
As the second session unfolded, it was Hamilton again setting the pace in emphatic fashion as the temperature rose and the track dried following a damp morning and overnight thunderstorms. The two Ferraris showed their improved pace, too, to take advantage of Rosberg's power setback, Vettel and Raikkonen clocking the second and third best laps.
Out this time went Pastor Maldonado of Lotus along with Felipe Nasr of Sauber, Carlos Sainz in the second Toro Rosso, Daniil Kvyat and, in 15th, Australian Daniel Ricciardo his Red Bull team-mate.