F1: Charles Leclerc takes pole at the Italian Grand Prix

MONZA, Italy –

Charles Leclerc will be looking to revitalize Formula One championship racing at his home circuit after securing pole position for Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix.

The runaway championship leader Max Verstappen will have to try to make his way back up again – this time only from seventh place – after being among the many drivers to be handed starting penalties.

Leclerc – who said he risked everything in the end – set the fastest time on his final lap in Saturday’s qualifying and knew he would start at the front of the grid even before Verstappen crossed 0.145s slower, meaning the Ferrari driver secured pole on credit and not just for his rival’s grid penalties.

“How nice. Now guys, tomorrow,” Leclerc said on the team radio in Italian as the roar of the passionate red-clad Tifosi fans echoed around the circuit.

Despite a brilliant start to the season, Ferrari had a difficult season full of mistakes. Leclerc, who is 109 points behind Verstappen in the standings, admitted it was a “surprise” to qualify for the top spot.

“It feels really, really good,” said Leclerc, who will try to emulate his 2019 Monza triumph. “We still have to finish that tomorrow, otherwise there’s no point in taking pole on Saturday, but it’s a very good surprise today considering where we’re from… we didn’t expect to be fighting for poles here.

“So it’s a very good surprise to be home. Yes, there is a special motivation for this weekend. And it’s great that we managed to do a good job today.”

Verstappen bids for a fifth straight win and a first appearance on the iconic Monza podium. The reigning champion had a more daunting task at the Belgian GP two weeks ago when he was again among several riders who were penalized and started 14th but pushed through the field to victory.

And the Red Bull driver believes the strategy is simple.

“I just need to have a clean lap 1, clear the cars between us pretty quickly and I think we still have a good chance here,” said Verstappen.

Carlos Sainz Jr. was third fastest but he will not start alongside his Ferrari team-mate on the front row as he also received penalties and will start at the end of the grid ahead of seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and Yuki Tsunoda.

“I’m not going to lie, it hurts to start from the back tomorrow, especially considering how competitive the car is this weekend, how good I feel on the car, especially after this qualifying session, and knowing that I will start at the back,” said Sainz.

“I’ll do my best and try to put on a good show… but I wish I could be up front with Charles to try and get a one-two for the Tifosi tomorrow.”

A total of nine drivers received a starting penalty. Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez finished fourth ahead of Mercedes duo Hamilton and George Russell, but it’s Russell who will start alongside Leclerc on Sunday. Perez instead starts back in 13th.

McLaren duo Lando Norris and last year’s Monza winner Daniel Ricciardo form the second row ahead of Pierre Gasly and Fernando Alonso.

There was an impressive qualifying debut from Williams reserve driver Nyck de Vries, who is replacing Alex Albon this weekend after the Thai driver was diagnosed with appendicitis.

27-year-old De Vries made it into Q2 – beating team-mate Nicholas Latifi – to finish 13th fastest, meaning he will start his first-ever F1 race in eighth place.