Lewis Hamilton took his first pole position of the 2021 Formula 1 season and the 99th of his career with a stunning lap at the Emilia Romagna GP. Sergio Perez was an equally impressive second, outqualifying teammate Max Verstappen.
Further behind, Lando Norris shocked everyone for a moment towards the end of Q3 until his lap time was deleted whilst Yuki Tsunoda crashed out of qualifying.
Hamilton makes the difference once again
The seven-time world champion continued his incredible form to beat Perez by 0.035 seconds. Hamilton needed a near-perfect weekend to beat Red Bull in the season-opener and he required a similar performance on Saturday to come out on top.
With the battle between Mercedes and Red Bull tantalisingly close, the drivers are making the final difference. Hamilton's brilliance is exacerbated by Valtteri Bottas' torrid Q3 which saw the Finn make a significant error at the first chicane.
This put Bottas under severe pressure for the second lap. He was too cautious in the first sector, in an attempt to not repeat the same mistake, and he overdid the second half of the lap. Bottas starts down in eighth place and will need to bounce back strongly to make the podium on Sunday.
Perez proves his worth
In just his second F1 event with Red Bull, Perez had a fantastic Saturday in Imola to outqualify teammate Verstappen. It's the first time the Mexican has qualified on the front row of the grid after nearly 192 race starts in Formula 1.
Perez appeared to be struggling for much of the weekend but managed to put together a clean lap when it mattered most.
He overcame deleted lap times in Q1 and began to make an impact in Q2 on the soft tyre which gave him some confidence for the final part of qualifying.
With Perez starting the Grand Prix on the soft tyres, compared to Hamilton and Verstappen on the medium tyre compound, he could find himself challenging for the lead going into turn one.
Verstappen fails to deliver
Red Bull had a slight one lap pace advantage over Mercedes but Verstappen failed to make the most of it, missing out by 0.087 seconds.
Verstappen was always behind Hamilton throughout the hourly qualifying session but he made a crucial error on his final run at turn three which cost him at least a tenth of a second.
The Dutchman was visibly disappointed and knew that pole position got away from him. It's the first time Verstappen has been outqualified by his teammate on genuine pace (without reliability mishaps or untimely red flags) since Daniel Ricciardo beat him at the 2018 Abu Dhabi GP.
Nevertheless with starting on the medium tyres on Sunday, Verstappen will still be a major threat to Hamilton.
What could have been for Norris
Lando Norris continued his stunning start to the 2021 season with a sensational lap in Q3 which would have put him third on the grid.
The McLaren driver set the quickest first and second sectors but had his lap time deleted after he ran wide at Turn 9.
Instead, Norris will start the race from seventh place behind teammate Daniel Ricciardo who is currently the second-best McLaren driver.
As Norris mentioned, all it takes is one small error to go from the head of the grid to fall back to the midfield in Formula 1 2021.
Ferrari close the gap to the front
Ferrari's practice form turned into a strong qualifying session, at least for Charles Leclerc who managed to excel over one lap once again. Leclerc believed there was more time in the car, having made a mistake at the Turn 14/15 chicane.
Despite the error, Leclerc was only 0.329 seconds behind Hamilton. Last year in Imola, Leclerc was one second behind the pole sitter.
Carlos Sainz felt he was unable to put a good lap together which contributed to his elimination in Q2. However, it seems Ferrari are heading in the right direction with their car which bodes well for the rest of 2021.
Russell keeps his streak, but only just
Williams had one of their best Saturdays in recent years in Imola, as George Russell was forced to push hard to retain his streak of never being outqualified by his Williams teammate since he joined Formula 1 in 2019.
Russell qualified 12th with Nicholas Latifi in 14th. Latifi has had one of his best weekend's in the sport so far and was on course to beat Russell in qualifying, only to be edged out at the end of Q2.
Williams' strong day was bad news for Alfa Romeo drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi, who were dumped out in Q1.
Ocon gets a confidence boost
Esteban Ocon's ninth place went somewhat under the radar in amongst the qualifying drama. The Alpine driver was nearly half a second quicker than Fernando Alonso.
Imola qualifying could be the event that kickstarts Ocon's season following a difficult season-opener in Bahrain.
Elsewhere, Pierre Gasly impressed once again, whilst his AlphaTauri rookie teammate Yuki Tsunoda made his first big mistake with a heavy crash in the early stages of qualifying.