Charles Leclerc delighted the Ferrari fans by roaring to pole position for Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix.
Formula One’s rising star delivered another impressive performance to see off Lewis Hamilton and claim his second pole in as many weeks, the fourth of his career.
Sebastian Vettel in the sister Ferrari could manage only fourth as he played second fiddle to Leclerc once more following the young Monegasque’s maiden win in Belgium last weekend. Valtteri Bottas lines up third for Mercedes.
Vettel may have been hired by Ferrari to end the Italian team’s championship drought, but Leclerc has emerged as the man carrying the hopes of a nation.
Leclerc, 22 next month, left Vettel firmly in his shade at Spa-Francorchamps, and the Ferrari rookie finished 0.150 seconds clear of the German in Italy on Saturday.
Vettel is in danger of becoming yesterday’s man. Tellingly it is Leclerc’s face, and not the four-time world champion, which looks out from a huge Ferrari fan club flag opposite the team’s garage.
Leclerc’s opening lap in Q3 was good enough to take the front slot after the drivers failed to complete a second run as they jostled for position in the closing seconds.
“It feels amazing,” said Leclerc. “I am happy with the pole. It is a shame there was a big mess at the end, but the first lap was good enough.”
Hamilton is bidding for a record-breaking sixth victory at the ‘Cathedral of Speed’, and the Mercedes star is well placed to take the challenge to Leclerc.
“I have to be grateful that I am on the front row,” said Hamilton after finishing just 0.036secs behind his Ferrari rival. “We get to have a fight with the Ferraris tomorrow.
“It is an anti-climax that we didn’t do a final lap. Everyone backs up and tries to get a position, and they timed us out. On the out lap it was dangerous for us all. It is risky business.”
Kimi Raikkonen’s crash led to a 11-minute suspension of the final phase of qualifying.
The Finn, the last man to win the world championship for Ferrari in 2007, lost control of his car through the final Parabolica corner, sliding backwards into the gravel before slamming into the barriers.
Raikkonen emerged unscathed from the accident, but the red flags were issued to deal with his damaged Alfa Romeo.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was already due to start from the back of the pack, penalised for taking on a revised Honda engine this weekend.
In Q1, the Dutchman then reported a power problem forcing him to limp to the pits without setting a time.
Verstappen is the closest non-Mercedes challenger to Hamilton in the championship but he looks set to lose further ground to the Briton.
Lando Norris finished 14th for McLaren, but, like Verstappen, he too will be sent to the rear of the field following engine penalties.
Norris helped team-mate Carlos Sainz into Q3 by affording him a tow. The Spaniard will start seventh.
Williams driver George Russell finished 18th, half-a-second clear of his struggling team-mate Robert Kubica.