World champion Lewis Hamilton edged out the Red Bull duo to claim pole position for the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix on Saturday.
It was Hamilton’s 99th career pole and although there is a Red Bull directly behind the Mercedes driver, it will be Sergio Perez rather than Max Verstappen.
Hamilton edged Perez by .039 seconds and was .087 faster than Verstappen, who is expected to be his main challenger this season.
“I didn’t expect to be ahead of two Red Bulls, they’ve been so quick this weekend,” Hamilton said. “The car is feeling much better, I want to thank the team for their hard work.
“I love the challenge, having two Red Bulls will definitely make strategy harder.”
Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas had a scrappy final lap and will start from eighth on the grid after finishing .487 slower.
Lando Norris will start just ahead of Bottas. The McLaren driver was heading for the front row after a superb final lap but had his time deleted because of exceeding track limits.
Charles Leclerc qualified in an encouraging fourth for Ferrari but his teammate Carlos Sainz failed to make it into the final part of qualifying, known as Q3, and will start 11th on the grid.
Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo will start fifth and sixth, respectively, while Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll round out the top 10.
Earlier in the day, Verstappen posted the fastest time in the final practice as the Red Bull driver was nearly half a second faster than the rest of the pack. He was .456 ahead of Norris and .557 clear of Hamilton.
Mercedes led the two practice sessions on Friday with Bottas fastest in both, just ahead of Hamilton as Red Bull endured a tough start to the weekend.
Verstappen’s second practice lasted just 10 minutes after a driveshaft problem.
The Emilia-Romagna GP is the second race of the Formula One season. Hamilton won the opener in Bahrain last month, just ahead of Verstappen after a thrilling duel.
Saturday’s practice was briefly red-flagged after Nicholas Latifi lost control at the Villeneuve chicane and slid through the gravel and into the barriers.