Alonso takes pole on Italian GP debut for Ferrari

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MONZA, ITALY (AP) - Fernando Alonso marked his Italian Grand Prix debut for Ferrari on Saturday by taking pole position for the Formula One race.

The two-time world champion from Spain set the pace with a lap of 1 minute, 21.962 seconds for his 19th career pole. It was the Italian team’s first qualifying win since the 2008 Brazilian GP _ a span of 30 races.

“It was a nice surprise,” Alonso said. “A much better feeling. This was a great achievement by the team _ we proved that we were quick.”

Defending world champion Jenson Button of McLaren finished just over one-tenth of a second slower to start on the front row for the first time in 23 races. Alonso and Button need strong showings in Sunday’s 53-lap race to stay close in the championship fight.

Felipe Massa of Ferrari and Mark Webber of Red Bull fill out the second row, while F1 leader Lewis Hamilton of McLaren will start fifth.

Sebastian Vettel was sixth for Red Bull, which had taken pole in 12 of the first 13 races this season.

Alonso, who crashed out of the Belgian GP two weeks ago, gave himself the best shot at moving up the standings with an electrifying run.

“Tomorrow, we need a podium _ minimum _ to remain in the fight,” said Alonso, who won in Monza for McLaren in 2007. “There’s not big pressure or stress to win the race but we know we cannot afford another DNF.”

Button went with a high downforce setup that ensured he has a good chance of making up the points gap to Hamilton, who won in Belgium after his McLaren teammate was knocked out at Spa by Vettel.

“It’s very important _ I have the trophy at home and I want it to stay there,” Button said. “It turned around very quickly for us in Spa (and) I think it can all turn around again very quickly (again).”

Hamilton, the 2008 F1 champion, has 182 points to lead Webber by three. Vettel is third with 151 points, and faces a difficult task Sunday after his worst qualifying performance of the season. Button is next with 147 points, six more than Alonso.

Nico Rosberg of Mercedes was seventh in qualifying ahead of Williams driver Nico Hulkenberg and Robert Kubica of Renault, while 2009 Italian GP winner Rubens Barrichello will start 10th for Williams.

Michael Schumacher will drive from 12th in his first race at Monza since winning his fifth Italian GP title four years ago.

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