Lewis Hamilton beat Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg to pole position at the Italian Grand Prix as he looks to close the gap in the race for the Formula One drivers’ championship. Hamilton put down an early marker in the final phase of qualifying to claim a crucial first pole since the Spanish Grand Prix four months ago, with Rosberg only able to close his deficit late on to 0.274 seconds back. The Mercedes-powered teams dominated on Saturday at Monza, with Williams again performing strongly, with Valtteri Bottas qualifying third, just ahead of teammate Felipe Massa and the two McLaren drivers of Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button.

The focus is at the top of the grid, though, and the continuing and increasingly fractious title battle between the two Mercedes teammates, which Rosberg currently leads by 29 points. At the Belgian Grand Prix two weeks ago, Rosberg collided with Hamilton to effectively end both drivers’ chances of claiming a win and leading to a tense team meeting in which Rosberg was reprimanded by the team. But Hamilton said the stern words from Mercedes to avoid such collisions in the future won’t be at the forefront of his mind when the race gets underway on Sunday.  “They won’t be ringing in my ears at all,” he said, according to Sky Sports.

Rosberg struck a similar tone. “It’s not changed. Already before the start of the season the message has been clear so there’s no reason to change,” he explained. “It’s the same as always.” Instead Hamilton focused on the joy of getting back to the front of the grid.

“It's a great feeling to be on pole here at Monza and I'm really excited for the race tomorrow,” he said, reports the official Formula One website. “It's also a relief to have had a clean qualifying session, my first for quite a while! It's business as usual tomorrow, we're free to race and I hope we get a strong result for the team, hopefully a one-two.”

The winner of the past two races Daniel Ricciardo looks unlikely to make it three victories in a row after qualifying down in ninth, a place behind Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel. There was disappointment for Ferrari at their home Grand Prix, with Kimi Raikkonen unable to even make it into the final phase of qualifying and Fernando Alonso only able to claim seventh spot on the grid.

“We knew that, as usual in qualifying, it would be tough and that the encouraging signs we saw in free practice should not create false expectations,” the Spanish former world champions said afterward, according to the Formula One website. “Unfortunately today, we could not have done better, because even though I was trying my hardest, we set very similar times with all four sets of tires. Now, we must look ahead to the race, which will be a tough one and, given how small the gaps are, it could also be very interesting.”

Raikkonen will at least get boosted up a place to 11th, due to Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat being handed a 10-spot grid penalty for using more than the allowed five engines.

Prediction: The fact that 11 of the last 14 winners at Monza have come from pole position shows how difficult it is to overtake around the historic circuit. Hamilton then has picked a good time to rediscover his qualifying form and take a crucial pole position, with time now running out for him to close the gap in the championship. The rivalry between the two means Rosberg is unlikely to fade easily behind his teammate, but there surely won’t be a repeat of Spa. Hamilton should beat Rosberg to the win, then, although the two Williams drivers could be closer than many expect after showing some impressive pace in qualifying.

Start time: 8 a.m. EDT

TV channel: NBCSN

Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra