Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz pipped Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to pole position in a gripping qualifying session at the Italian Grand Prix.
Pole changed hands three times in the dying seconds of qualifying.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took pole from Sainz, who was fastest on the first runs, before Red Bull’s Max Verstappen went to the top and then Spaniard Sainz replaced him.
Sainz beat Verstappen by 0.013 seconds to send the home fans into ecstasy.
Leclerc was only 0.054secs further adrift as the top three were separated by just 0.067secs over 3.6 miles of the historic Monza circuit.
Mercedes driver George Russell beat Red Bull’s Sergio Perez to take fourth place, with another impressive performance from Williams and Alex Albon giving them sixth.
Lewis Hamilton could manage only eighth, sandwiched between the McLarens of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris, with Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin completing the top 10.
A dream comes true
Sainz, who was quickest in Friday practice, and again in Saturday’s final session, had looked the most likely Ferrari driver to take pole at their home race.
But even he had seemed to think it unlikely – when asked on Friday whether he could fight for pole, he had said: “Dreaming is for free, no?”
The Ferrari drivers started their day arriving at the track 20 minutes late for some filming for Brad Pitt’s new Hollywood F1 movie because of the crush of fans at the nearby Hotel De Ville, where they, like so many legends of the past, have spent their Italian Grand Prix weekend.
The royal park in which the autodromo is situated has a different feel this year, after 10,000 of its historic trees were blown down in a storm in July, giving the normally verdant surroundings a sparser feel.
But the fans serenaded their heroes as always, crowding the entry to the paddock, cheering from the grandstands and pit building, and reaching to touch them if they were lucky enough to be granted access to the paddock, where all the teams have their headquarters.
The drivers put on a session they will remember for a long time.
Verstappen was fastest in the first two sessions, but the Ferrari drivers saved their best for last.
Sainz led Leclerc and Verstappen after the first runs, but the fear of Ferrari was that the world champion would come good on the final runs – the Red Bull driver had not only been the only driver not to have a tow on the first lap, but he had also brushed the gravel with a rear wheel on the exit of the Roggia chicane.
On the final runs, Leclerc ran ahead of Verstappen and Sainz. A stunning first sector from Leclerc had him on course for pole and he kept it up throughout the lap to leap to the top of the times.
But Verstappen and then Sainz displaced him as they each crossed the line behind, first disappointing the grandstands and then thrilling them.
Sainz was cheered loudly by the famous tifosi in the pit-lane grandstand as he climbed from his car and waved across the track.
The 29-year-old said: “Honestly, it has been such an intense qualifying, especially Q3. We all three went for it. We were very on the limit and on the last lap I knew I had some lap time to come in Ascari and Parabolica and I went for it and it went well.
“Since I crossed the finish line, the whole in-lap, I haven’t finished the goosebumps. Everywhere we go, the noise from the support of the fans has been incredible. It is the best feeling you can have as an athlete.
“My birthday yesterday gave me something extra and today I put in one of my best laps to get pole.
“Tomorrow I will give out everything to hold on to that P1 and a good start and first stint, see if we can battle Max. Normally he is quicker but I am going to give it a go.”
Verstappen said: “We made some good improvements compared to yesterday and in every session it was very tight. I am happy to be second today.
“Normally we have a quick race car and I will try to win the race, but let’s first enjoy today.”
Leclerc, savouring the rapturous applause from the fans, said: “My feeling can only be amazing with the tifosi. Of course, on my side I am a bit disappointed, I obviously wanted to be first.
“But seeing Carlos is first is amazing for Ferrari. He has done an incredible job this weekend. I have been struggling a bit more this weekend but in qualifying it came together. I missed a slipstream on the final run, which probably cost at least one place.”
The top three were in a league of their own compared to the rest.
Russell in fourth was 0.31secs behind in the Mercedes, but he did an outstanding job to beat Perez in the second Red Bull – by just 0.017secs – in a car that has struggled these past two years on high-speed tracks.
It also makes it two strong qualifying performances in a row from the Briton, who feels he has made a breakthrough since returning from the summer break.
He was 0.149secs quicker than Hamilton, with three cars separating the Mercedes stars.
Albon continued Williams’ impressive run, while Piastri gave another indication of the potential he has shown in the McLaren in his rookie season.
Outside the top 10, New Zealander Liam Lawson impressed in his second race standing in for the injured Daniel Ricciardo at Alpha Tauri to be 12th, just 0.164secs and one place behind team-mate Yuki Tsunoda.
For the Alpine team, for whom Pierre Gasly took an outstanding third place at the Dutch Grand Prix last weekend, it was a sobering day.
Exposed by their engine, which is the weakest on the grid, Gasly and team-mate Esteban Ocon were knocked out in the first session in 17th and 18th places.