Sebastian Vettel maintained Red Bull's 100 per cent record of securing pole position in 2011 by topping the times in qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix.
The runaway World Championship leader breezed through the first two segments of qualifying, comfortably setting the best time in Q2, and ended Q3 0.450s ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
The German immediately asserted his dominance in Q3, bumping McLaren driver Jenson Button from the top of the times with his first flying lap. But when on course to improve on his second flier of that run, he was forced to abort after a lurid slide in the Ascari chicane.
With Lewis Hamilton only 0.112sec behind him after the first runs, Vettel had no choice but to go back out for another attempt. But both McLaren drivers had to abort their final runs, with Hamilton locking up his left-front tire heading into the second chicane and Button losing time in the final sector, leaving German to knock another 0.338sec off his fastest time unchallenged.
Fernando Alonso qualified fourth, within one-tenth of a second of Button, after improving on his final run. He knocked Mark Webber down to fifth place, with positions second through to fifth covered by only three-and-a-half tenths.
Felipe Massa qualified sixth, with Vitaly Petrov causing an upset by beating Mercedes pairing Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg to best-of-the-rest honors after putting in a lap of 1m23.530s late in the session. Unusually, Schumacher was the better of the two Mercedes drivers, comfortably outpacing Rosberg, largely thanks to his speed advantage in the second sector. They both ended up ahead of the second Renault of Bruno Senna, the Brazilian opting not to run after using all of his option rubber after making Q3 for the second consecutive race.
Force India pairing Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta looked on course to make the top 10 shootout having ended Q1 ninth and 10th, only to lose out to the Renaults in the next session.
Petrov set his time, which proved good enough to make Q3, on his sole run, but Senna had to rely on a last-gasp effort to bump di Resta by just six-thousandths of a second.
Behind them, Rubens Barrichello pipped Williams teammate Pastor Maldonado by less than a tenth. That said, the Venezuelan was perhaps fortunate even to be in Q2 after losing control exiting the Parabolica and spinning into the barrier on the inside of the track during the first segment of qualifying. The only significant damage he suffered was to the front wing, meaning that he could limp back to the pits and return to the track a few minutes later.
Behind them, Sauber pairing Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi, along with Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi, never looked like credible threats to make Q3. The other Toro Rosso driver, Jaime Alguersuari, was the main casualty in Q1, joining regular drop-outs Team Lotus, Marussia Virgin and HRT. The Spaniard was bumped into 18th place in the final moments of the session by teammate Sebastien Buemi and Rubens Barrichello. He ended up 0.17sec off the Swiss.
Jarno Trulli was best of the "new team" group, outpacing Lotus teammate Heikki Kovalainen by half a second, with all cars comfortably within the 107 percent qualifying cutoff.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m22.275s
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m22.725s + 0.450
3. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m22.777s + 0.502
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m22.841s + 0.566
5. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m22.972s + 0.697
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m23.188s + 0.913
7. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m23.530s + 1.255
8. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m23.777s + 1.502
9. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m24.477s + 2.202
10. Bruno Senna Renault No time
Q2 cut-off time: 1m24.157s Gap **
11. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m24.163s + 1.249
12. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m24.209s + 1.295
13. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m24.648s + 1.734
14. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m24.726s + 1.812
15. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m24.845s + 1.931
16. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m24.932s + 2.018
17. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m25.065s + 2.151
Q1 cut-off time: 1m25.164s Gap *
18. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m25.334s + 1.358
19. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m26.647s + 2.671
20. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m27.184s + 3.208
21. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m27.591s + 3.615
22. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m27.609s + 3.633
23. Daniel Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth 1m28.054s + 4.078
24. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m28.231s + 4.255
107% time: 1m29.854s
* Gap to quickest in Q1
** Gap to quickest in Q2