Formula One: Valtteri Bottas' 'mega lap' secures top spot for experimental sprint race

Valtteri Bottas put in a 'mega lap' to beat Mercedes Formula One team mate Lewis Hamilton and qualify fastest on Saturday (NZ time) for Sunday's experimental Italian Grand Prix sprint race.

The Finn, whose departure from the team at the end of the season was announced this week, did a 1m 19.55s lap, with seven times world champion Hamilton 0.096s slower and championship leader Max Verstappen third for Red Bull.

"Boom!" Bottas said over the team radio, after the lap catapulted him from fifth to first at the fastest circuit on the calendar.

He will start from the back of the grid on Monday, after a strategic power unit change triggered a penalty for exceeding the allocation of three for the season, but can still score on Saturday.

Three points go to the sprint winner, who will take pole position for Monday's main event. Two go to the second-placed driver and one for the third, with any grid penalties not applied until afterwards.

"That qualifying lap was nice," said Bottas, who will be moving to Alfa Romeo to replace retiring compatriot Kimi Raikkonen.

"It feels so good when you get a nice lap. I managed to save it to the end and had a bit of a (aerodynamic) tow as well so it was good fun. I enjoyed it.

"I feel good, I feel relaxed and everything is sorted for the future. Really pleased with the team today, the car has been so good."

Hamilton is three points behind Verstappen after 13 races and is set to cut the gap to the Dutchman in Saturday's 100km dash.

"Congratulations to Valtteri, he did a mega lap," said Hamilton. "It was looking good for us until the end but then he went quicker, and I just couldn't match it."

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff indicated that Bottas would be told to swap places with Hamilton on Monday if running one-two and comfortably clear of Verstappen.

"Presumably, yes," the Austrian told Sky Sports television.

"It's difficult generally when you have to call team orders because all of us as racers we don't want to see that... but Valtteri's going all the way to the back on [Monday]."

The hour-long qualifying at the 'Temple of Speed' outside Milan replaced the usual second practice, with the sprint format being trialled for the second time after a debut at Silverstone in July.

Verstappen was 0.411 slower than Bottas and Mercedes seem to have the edge again at a circuit where they have won five times in the last seven years.

"I think for us around this track it's always going to be difficult," said Verstappen. "We struggled a little more than we wanted in the free practice but I think we recovered quite well throughout this qualifying.

"For the race hopefully we can be a bit closer."

McLaren's Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo will line up fourth and fifth, with AlphaTauri's 2020 winner Pierre Gasly sixth and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc seventh and eighth.

Red Bull's Mexican Sergio Perez qualified ninth, but gave Verstappen a vital tow to his own cost. Alfa Romeo's Antonio Giovinazzi, whose place for 2022 looks uncertain, completed the top 10.