Lewis Hamilton took his 99th career pole ahead of the Imola Grand Prix on Sunday, with Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen completing the top three.
Mercedes' Hamilton is going in search of a record-breaking eighth F1 title this season, and will hope to build on his winning start in Bahrain with a win in Italy. Teammate Valtteri Bottas qualified in eighth place.
And Hamilton was happy to embrace the challenge with two Red Bull contenders behind him.
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"I love it, I love the challenge!" he said.
"We've got the two Red Bulls there, I think it's definitely going to make strategy harder, and they've got great race pace."
Hamilton produced the pole time of one minute 14.411 seconds with his first flying lap of the final session.
"We knew in Bahrain that it was going to be close and it is going to be close throughout this season and it’s going to take laps like that, it’s going to take us as a team performing as close to perfection as possible," said Hamilton.
"I know that’s kind of the idea going into most weekends but we can’t afford any slip-ups and I think so far we’ve really been firing on all cylinders and we still are hunting, believe it or not."
"I think for all of us we’re operating at such a high level, the differences are milliseconds between us all and we could all go back and look at our data and say we can go faster. But at the end of the day it’s what you do on that one moment that counts and so that’s what we really try and focus on."
Perez, who will be making his first front row start, was signed to put more pressure on Mercedes than Verstappen's previous team mates had managed, and he delivered in only his second race for Red Bull.
He still felt he could have done better, however.
"I've been improving, P2, but I should've been on pole and I did a mistake on the final corner," said Perez, a first time winner with Racing Point (now Aston Martin) in Bahrain last year.
It was the first time Verstappen had been outqualified by a team mate in regular conditions since Australian Daniel Ricciardo was alongside at Red Bull in 2018.
"You can't be good every time, so we'll see what went wrong," said the Dutch driver. "It's still P3, which is a good starting position."
AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly qualified fifth with Ricciardo sixth for McLaren and team mate Lando Norris seventh.
Norris would have been on the front row had his fastest lap not been deleted for exceeding track limits.
Spaniard Carlos Sainz, in his first race in Italy with Ferrari, failed to make it through to the final shootout and starts 11th.
Both Williams drivers reached the second phase for the first time since last July, with George Russell still sounding disappointed with 12th despite being ahead of former champions Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.

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Four-time champion Vettel will line up 13th for Aston Martin and Alonso, a winner at Imola with Renault in 2005 on his way to the first of two titles, 15th for Alpine.
Japanese rookie Yuki Tsunoda was the big casualty of the first session, losing control at the Variante Alta and smashing his AlphaTauri backwards into the tyre wall.
"For me that was a huge mistake and I feel really sorry for the team," he said, with the session red-flagged as the badly damaged car was removed from the track.
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