By Alan Baldwin
MONZA, Italy (Reuters) - Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton saw off a strong Ferrari challenge at the Italian team's home Grand Prix to seal his seventh pole position in a row and 11th in 12 races on Saturday.
The Mercedes driver, whose team mate and title rival Nico Rosberg will start fourth after engine problems forced him to revert to using one without the latest updates, now has 49 career poles.
The pole, in bright sunshine, was the Briton's fourth at Monza and 23rd in succession for Mercedes, one short of the record set by the Williams team in 1992-93.
Kimi Raikkonen joined him on the front row with Ferrari team mate Sebastian Vettel qualifying third.
"These guys did a great job, they are very close," said Hamilton, who leads Rosberg by 28 points in the championship, of his Ferrari rivals after taking pole with a lap of one minute 23.397 seconds and two tenths faster than Raikkonen.
"My Spa lap was better," he added, referring to his Belgian pole of two weeks earlier.
Vettel, who could become the first driver since Stirling Moss in the 1950s to win at Monza with three different teams, hoped Ferrari would have a chance on Sunday but made clear Hamilton was the overwhelming favorite.
"I think it's a fantastic result, second and third and very close to Lewis," said the German, racing for the first time in Italy in Ferrari red.
"Sorry Lewis, but I wouldn't mind if you are not on the podium," he grinned. "You can be, but if we are both ahead of you that would obviously be a dream come true.
"I think dreaming is allowed but you have to be realistic. It's going to be a tough race tomorrow and these guys (Mercedes) have some serious pace."
Raikkonen, the 2007 champion for Ferrari, said it was nice to be back on the front row in front of the tifosi after a long absence.
"We expected a strong weekend, knew this place is not our strongest probably but in the end the car turned out to be pretty good in qualifying conditions," said the Finn.
"It's nice to be here, a home race for us. This was our best qualifying performance this year as a team so we will try and give another good go tomorrow and get a good result for ourselves and our fans."
The Finn's performance drew immediate praise from watching Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne: "We saw a different Kimi. I was expecting that Kimi would have relaxed after his contract renewal."
The Williams pairing of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas qualified fifth and sixth with Mexican Sergio Perez seventh for Force India.
Toro Rosso's Dutch teenager Max Verstappen failed to set a lap time after his car's engine cover blew off in the first phase of qualifying -- the first time he has failed to reach the second stage in his 12-race career.
He should move up the grid once a mass of penalties on cars ahead, including both Red Bulls and McLarens, are taking into account.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Martyn Herman)