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Associated Press

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Sebastian Vettel is poised to extend his big Formula One lead over Fernando Alonso after grabbing the pole position for the Italian Grand Prix in Monza on Saturday.

Vettel already leads Alonso by 46 points and will be confident of moving further clear of his rivals. Alonso starts this morning’s race from fifth on the grid and Lewis Hamilton — who is third overall in the title race — from a lowly 12th.

“The car was fantastic, better than what we could expect. We had a strong pace [Friday] and we were able to take that into qualifying,” Vettel said. “This year we’re obviously in strong position. We’re able to match other cars down the straight and we know that in corners we have a strong car.”

Five of the past six winners — including Vettel in 2008 for Toro Rosso and 2011 for Red Bull — have started from the pole, and such is the speed Vettel showed on Saturday and Friday that it appears only a mishap will stop him from securing his sixth win of the season this morning.

“We’ve seen in the past that a lot of things can happen,” Vettel said, referring to Sergio Perez’s second-place finish last year from 12th on the grid. “Race pace is very important, but today we did our homework.”

It was Vettel’s fourth pole of the campaign — the first since the Canadian GP in June — and 40th of his career. He shares the front row with Red Bull 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 2011 triumph is Red Bull’s only podium at Monza. “Hopefully we’ll have a good race [today], too.”

Webber, who is retiring from F1 at the end of the season, competes for the last time in Europe.

“I said to the boys I was looking for a qualifying PB [personal best],” the Australian said. “It hasn’t been the best place for me, so it’s a nice step toward a good result.”

Alonso needed a strong performance but finished fifth behind Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa and Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg, who was a surprising third.

“I didn’t expect it especially after a very difficult Friday,” Hulkenberg said. “The guys have done a fantastic job to turn the car around and give me such a competitive car.”

It was Hamilton’s worst qualifying since last year’s Spanish GP, while Kimi Raikkonen also recorded his poorest qualifying run this year for 11th.

Hamilton, last year’s winner from the pole, took the Parabolica turn too wide on the left. After his Mercedes went into the gravel, he was unable to generate any speed.

“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.”

Vettel was in top form as he posted the leading time in the first qualifying and then the second.

The German earned the first of his 31 career victories in Monza and won here from the pole two years ago. Rain is expected today and that might be his rivals’ best hope.

Vettel clocked the fastest time in the morning’s final practice — ahead of Alonso — and was best in Friday’s second practice.


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