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Sainz pips record-chasing Verstappen to pole position at Italian GP on good day for Ferrari

Carlos Sainz Carlos Sainz - The Canadian Press

MONZA, Italy (AP) — Carlos Sainz Jr. was enjoying a perfect birthday weekend so far after he secured pole position for the Italian Grand Prix to the delight of the Ferrari tifosi on Saturday.

Thousands of red-clad Ferrari fans cheered as Sainz, who turned 29 on Friday, crossed the line 0.013 seconds quicker than runaway Formula One leader Max Verstappen, who is chasing a record 10th straight victory on Sunday.

“Tell me we have it, tell me we have it,” Sainz yelled into race radio after beating Verstappen's time on his final flying lap after pole changed hands three times in the dying seconds of qualifying.

The roars from the grandstands should have confirmed it.

“Difficult to put into words to describe the feeling,” Sainz said. “It’s just amazing, just the whole weekend really … the support and the feeling with the crowd and the energy that they put into us, it’s incredible.

“I had my birthday yesterday also, so I enjoyed that and I am pretty sure it gave me also good feeling, good vibes and good energy into today … I put together honestly one of my best laps there in Q3 to set a pole.”

It was a fourth career pole for Sainz and his first since Austin last year. He was quickest in two of the three practices and Ferrari looked good on its home track.

Teammate Charles Leclerc will start third on Sunday, just ahead of George Russell in the Mercedes.

Montreal's Lance Stroll qualified 20th for Aston Martin.

Leclerc was only 0.067 slower than Sainz.

It was a timely boost for Ferrari in the midst of another season that has been plagued by botched strategy decisions and bizarre incidents, with the latest coming at the Zandvoort track last weekend.

“At the end we are Ferrari so of course there’s a lot of noise around the team, and we need to deal with it,” Leclerc said. “None of us are happy in the team of the performance we are showing at the moment — apart from today, of course where we are quite proud and happy, but the rest of the season for now has been very difficult.”

Grid positions aren’t necessarily as much of a factor at Monza as they are at other tracks.

Only Leclerc has converted his pole position into a Sunday win at the Italian GP since 2018.

“It’s a good opportunity tomorrow but also being realistic the Red Bull should be quicker,” Sainz said. "We’re just going to try to make their life as complicated as possible and try to take the win.

“Nothing is impossible tomorrow, especially starting from P1. If I get a good start. I’m going to do everything I can to stay ahead of Max.”

Verstappen won from seventh last year for his first triumph at the Temple of Speed, where he has traditionally struggled. Before he ended his winless run at Monza last year, the Dutch driver had never finished higher than fifth.

But the two-time defending champion is crushingly dominant this season.

Verstappen has won 11 of the 13 races for unbeaten Red Bull and matched Sebastian Vettel’s F1 record of nine straight victories last weekend at the Dutch GP to increase his huge championship lead to 138 points. Teammate Sergio Pérez has the other two victories.

“This weekend for us … was a little bit more tricky but I think we can’t really complain,” Verstappen said. “So many weeks in a row where we put the car on the track and it has been like easygoing and has been really well set up

“I’m happy with second to be honest. I mean, here in Monza, it’s always very tight. Sometimes you might jump ahead, sometimes you’re just behind. But I’m confident for tomorrow.”

Pérez will start from fifth at Monza, followed by Alex Albon and Oscar Piastri.

Lewis Hamilton — who extended his contract with Mercedes on Thursday — was eighth fastest, ahead of Lando Norris and Fernando Alonso.


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