Lewis Hamilton took his seventh pole position in nine races this season at the first Tuscan Grand Prix.
The world champion beat Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas by just 0.059 seconds on Formula 1’s first competitive experience of the spectacular Mugello circuit.
Red Bull locked out the second row, Max Verstappen ahead of Alex Albon.
And Charles Leclerc gave Ferrari something to celebrate at their 1,000th grand prix with fifth place.
Hamilton does it when it matters
Bottas had topped all three practice sessions and Hamilton looked to be on the back foot heading into qualifying.
But Hamilton was quickest in the second session by 0.013secs and he extended his margin on the first laps of the top-10 shootout.
Hamilton did not improve on his final lap, and Bottas’ hopes of doing so were dashed when Renault’s Esteban Ocon had a spin and brought out yellow flags.
Hamilton said: “It has been really close this weekend. This is a really challenging circuit and Valtteri was quicker than me all day yesterday and this morning and even in Q1.
“I have been working really hard in the background to improve on my lines and set-up and I finally got the lap I needed.
“At the end, I think the wind picked up and I wasn’t able to go any quicker. But I got the job done.
“It’s crazy. You go through Turns Six, Seven, Eight and Nine at 180mph and the G-force is insane.”
Bottas said he felt the Ocon incident had cost him his first pole position since the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone last month.
The Finn said: “I still had more and I was waiting for the time to get it right but I didn’t get the opportunity. For sure it’s disappointing.”
Verstappen’s margin in the Red Bull was the smallest it has been to pole position all year.
“I didn’t expect to fight in qualifying but this weekend it has looked very promising,” he said. “To be third we can be very happy with that.”
Leclerc on top form
Leclerc had said coming into the weekend that he expected Ferrari to be stronger at the track they own after two disappointing showings at Spa and Monza, but he did not expect to be the best of the rest.
Leclerc was the only Ferrari driver to make it into the top 10. Team-mate Sebastian Vettel was 14th, and knocked out in second qualifying, when he was 0.534secs slower than Leclerc.
“It felt quite a bit better,” said Leclerc. “Very happy with my last lap. P5 is definitely the best we could do. Overall very happy with the car. With the balance, we did quite a good job this weekend compared to Monza, where we have been struggling massively. Today was one of the strong points of the car.
“The race is going to be tricky but at least we have the position and now it is up to us to keep it.”
Leclerc headed the Racing Points, with Sergio Perez ahead of Lance Stroll despite the Canadian benefiting from a new bodywork package that the Mexican, who was informed before the weekend he would be dropped in favour of Vettel for 2021, will not get until the next race in Russia.
Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and Ocon completed the top 10, with Lando Norris in the second McLaren in 11th.
‘If in doubt, flat out’ – bravery from Russell
George Russell, who missed the entire final practice session with a brake problem, put in an outstanding performance to pip Williams team-mate Nicholas Latifi for 18th place despite running wide and bouncing over the gravel and grass on the exit of the ultra-fast Savelli left-hander.
Russell kept his foot down through the moment and into the daunting, flat-out Arrabbiata double right-hander and sneaked ahead of Latifi by 0.088secs. In doing so, he kept up his record of never having been out-qualified by a team-mate in F1.
Russell said he had taken Casanova at the start of the right-left flat for the first time all weekend and thought he would try to do Turn Seven, Savelli, flat as well, adding: “That was a little bit stupid to be honest.”
“I have no idea [how I kept it on track],” continued Russell, who revealed that the team had trimmed the car’s downforce level ahead of qualifying. “If in doubt, flat out.
“I knew Nicholas was ahead of me on the previous two runs and I knew if I didn’t finish that last lap he was going to finish ahead of me. I kept it pinned, damaged the diffuser quite a lot. Q2 was definitely on the cards.”