Sebastian Vettel ended Lewis Hamilton's run of four straight pole positions on Saturday when he secured the prime
starting spot for Sunday's Italian Grand Prix.
Vettel's Red Bull team swept the front row in qualifying, with the 26-year-old German in awesome form and teammate Mark Webber just behind in second.
Seeking his third win at the Autodromo Nazionale, the series leader and defending triple world champion Vettel clocked a best lap time of one minute and 23.755 seconds ahead of Webber, who recorded a best of 1:23.968.
They were the only two drivers to go below 1:24.
This weekend, the car was fantastic. We had a really strong pace yesterday and we were able to take that into qualifying today
"This weekend, the car was fantastic. We had a really strong pace yesterday and we were able to take that into qualifying today," he told reporters.
"In the end, it's a bit of a surprise to have both cars on front row at a place where historically we've had bad years. This year it seems to work well and hopefully we'll have a good race tomorrow."
German Nico Huelkenberg delivered a stunning late lap to snatch third place for Sauber ahead of the Ferraris of Brazilian Felipe Massa and Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who were a disappointing fourth and fifth in front of watching Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo.
German Nico Rosberg was sixth for Mercedes while his teammate Hamilton qualified only 12th after running off the circuit during Q2.
Daniel Ricciardo, the young Australian who will succeed compatriot Webber at Red Bull next season, was seventh ahead of the two McLarens of Mexican Sergio Perez and Briton Jenson Button, with Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne
completing the top 10 for Toro Rosso.
On another hot late summer's day in the old royal park, Vettel was in dominant form in Q1, setting the pace ahead of the McLaren pair of Rosberg and Hamilton.
The air temperature was a balmy 30 degrees celsius, but on the track it was 43 degrees.
As if any confirmation of the level of competition was needed, it was shown by the fact that the top 15 drivers were separated by just seven-tenths of a second.
'Drove like an idiot'
A late fast lap from Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado saw him carry his Williams into Q2 and avoid the cut which claimed exits for Mexican Esteban Gutierrez of Sauber, Finn Valtteri Bottas in the second Williams, the two Caterhams of Dutchman Giedo Van Der Garde and Frenchman Charles Pic and the two Marussias of Frenchman Jules Bianchi and Briton Max Chilton.
Alonso showed he and Ferrari were in shape when he clocked 1:24.227 to go top before Vettel responded with 1:23.977 in a busy session that saw Hamilton run off the track at the Parabolica and miss the cut for the top 10 shootout.
That's the worst I've driven for a long, long time and I'm sorry, for the team. Yes, I was impeded, but there's nothing you can do about it
He ran wide at the corner and bounced through the gravel at high speed, but managed to retain control and avoid hitting the barriers.
It was enough to wreck his bid for a fifth straight pole, and though he recovered, he could not improve on 12th after finding himself trapped behind Adrian Sutil's Force India car.
It was the first time in 67 races, excluding penalties, that Hamilton had failed to make the cut to Q3.
"I just drove like an idiot," said Hamilton.
"That's the worst I've driven for a long, long time and I'm sorry, for the team. Yes, I was impeded, but there's nothing you can do about it.
"I should have done a lap before that. I just didn't drive well and there's not really much more I can say. I'll do whatever I can, but it's going to be tough."
Out with the 2008 champion went the 2007 title winner, Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus, who was 11th, Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Lotus, Sutil, Maldonado and Briton Paul Di Resta in the second Force India.