MONZA, Italy (AP) — Championship leader Sebastian Vettel will start the Italian Grand Prix from the pole position after posting the fastest time in qualifying Saturday, while Lewis Hamilton's bid for a fifth straight pole ended in disappointment and Fernando Alonso also had a difficult session.
Vettel has won the Italian GP twice and will be hard to stop after securing his 40th career pole in impressive fashion. The three-time defending Formula One champion will share the front row with teammate Mark Webber.
"Bit of a surprise to have both cars on the front row in a place where historically we've had bad years," said Vettel, whose win here in 2011 remains Red Bull's only podium at Monza. "Hopefully we'll have good race tomorrow, too. It was a tough session, but we managed to get through and get a great result."
Alonso needed a strong performance, but finished fifth behind Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa and Sauber's Nico Hulkenberg, who was a surprising third.
Hamilton placed 12th in his Mercedes for his worst performance since last year's Spanish GP, while Kimi Raikkonen also recorded his poorest qualifying run of the campaign in 11th.
Vettel was in top form as he posted the leading time in the first qualifying session and then the second, with his team saying "right Sebastian, that's quick enough" over race radio.
Alonso was second fastest in an eventful second session in which Hamilton, last year's winner from the pole, took the Parabolica turn too wide on the left. He went off into the gravel briefly and was unable to generate any speed after that.
"That's the worst I've driven for a long, long time. I'm sorry to the team," Hamilton said. "I just didn't drive well. There's not really much more to say. I was quick in Q1 and then, I don't know."
Vettel earned the first of his 31 career victories in Monza in 2008 with Toro Rosso and won here from the pole two years ago. Rain is expected Sunday and that may be his rivals' best hope to challenge the German, given the pace he showed all day Saturday and most of Friday.
The 26-year-old Vettel clocked the fastest time in the morning's third and final practice in 1:24.360 — ahead of Alonso — having also been best in Friday's second practice.
Frenchman Romain Grosjean, who struggled with the grip in the third practice, locked his front wheels at the first chicane and bounced across the track. He qualified 13th on a poor afternoon for Lotus.
Alonso also has won the race twice — for Ferrari in 2010 and for McLaren in 2007 — but was wobbling all over toward the end of the third qualifying.
He has not qualified higher than third all season and will now be up against it on a Monza track regarded as the quickest in Formula One, and where five of the past six winners have started from the pole — the exception being Rubens Barrichello, who started fifth in 2009.
"Especially here it's important to qualify in the top group," Vettel said.
Alonso is second overall in the standings, 46 points behind Vettel, and Ferrari has basically given the Spaniard two races — here and Singapore in two weeks' time — to close the gap before they abandon their hopes and start focusing on developing next year's car.
Monza is a massive race for Ferrari, anyway, because of the thousands of flag-waving Italian fans.
But Ferrari must improve its outright pace because Vettel is almost impossible to catch if he makes a flying start, although he is sometimes known to struggle in the rain.
"If you want to put the pressure on the guys who are in front of us we need to try to be faster and faster," Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali said. "It is not enough to try to be very close to them in case they have an issue."