MONZA, Italy, Sept 8, 2012 (AFP) - Lewis Hamilton scorched to his fourth pole this year and the 23rd of his career on Saturday when he outpaced all his rivals as McLaren dominated qualifying for Sunday's Italian Grand Prix.
The 27-year-old Briton pushed all the speculation over his future aside as he clocked a best lap of one minute and 24.010 seconds to set the pace before McLaren team-mate and compatriot Jenson Button joined him on the front in the closing seconds.
Button's late flying lap ensured McLaren of their first front row since dominating the opening two races of the season in Australia and Malaysia. For Hamilton, it is his second pole at Monza for a race that he has never won.
"It's been a tough weekend," said Hamilton, with some understatement given the ongoing furore surrounding him in the paddock.
"We managed to work on set-up and do a great job. Congratulations to the team. It was a great effort by the lads to do that.
I managed to get a half decent lap early in Q3, so I'm pretty happy.
"It's great for team to have Jenson up front, too."
Asked about any distractions he may have experienced, he kept an expressionless face as he said: "I haven't had any distractions this weekend.
It's been quite positive.
"The support from my family and friends has been incredible, as always. I've just been enjoying the weekend. It's been great so far."
Button said: "First of all it's fantastic for the team for us both to be on the front row. The last few races have shown the strength of the team so to qualify at the front at Monza is great."
Referring to McLaren's current form in qualifying - they have taken three successive poles - he added: "I don't think any other team has managed to do that this season, but being on the front row here doesn't mean it's going to be easy"
Brazilian Felipe Massa, strongly assisted by his Ferrari team-mate Spaniard Fernando Alonso, was third fastest ahead of Briton Paul Di Resta of Force India, who will start from ninth because of a penalty following a gearbox change.
Michael Schumacher qualified fifth for Mercedes, the 43-year-old seven-time champion showing no sign, like Hamilton, of being distracted by mounting speculation about their futures.
Defending champion and fellow-German Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull took sixth place in his Red Bull.
Alonso topped the times in Q1 ahead of Hamilton, Button and Rosberg, but there was disappointment for German Nico Hulkenberg, who was eliminated almost immediately when his Force India car was hit by technical issues and he had to abandon.
The Q2 mini-session began with Alonso pushing hard and clocking the fastest lap of the weekend to date in 1:24.242 while the two Red Bull drivers struggled to find the pace to ensure top ten 'shootout' participation.
This proved to be the case for Mark Webber as he was unable to improve on 11th and was one of the seven to miss the Q3 session.
"No massive surprise, that's roughly where we thought we'd be and where we ended up," said Webber. "We've got work to do. I was pretty happy with my lap."
Vettel just managed to squeeze through in ninth place.
Alonso topped the times again ahead of Button to keep Ferrari's tifosi enthralled by the prospect of a repeat of his feat in 2010 when he secured the team's first home pole position for six years.
Massa was soon out again to set the pace for the scarlet scuderia with Alonso giving him a tow as the track temperature hit 40 before Hamilton went top with a lap in 1:24.010.
This left the 2008 champion on provisional pole by a massive and unexpected four-tenths ahead of Massa and Button with Schumacher grabbing fourth for Mercedes.
Di Resta then clocked his best lap with seconds remaining to go wiuthin three-tenths of the Englishman to set up the final flurry in which Massa and Button improved again without removing Hamilton from pole.