Kimi Raikkonen has admitted that he did not expect to get between the two Mercedes drivers on the Italian Grand Prix grid, let alone qualify on the front row in front of the tifosi.

The Finn took full advantage of Nico Rosberg's enforced pre-session engine change to out-gun the #6 machine, but also found a little extra to bump Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel off the front row after the chequered flag had fallen. With the hype surrounding the introduction of a new Mercedes engine at Monza seemingly backed up by the Friday results of Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton on the opening day, another all-silver front row had been widely expected, but Raikkonen played down the significance of practice as he revelled in his Saturday performance.

"In a way, it's a big surprise that we were this strong and ahead of the Mercedes," the 2007 world champion acknowledged, unable to explain where he got the better of Vettel, "People always talk too much about Friday, but it's a Friday and you focus on long runs, so it's not about the lap times or what the others are doing.

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"We just improved the car a bit and drove a bit better than yesterday and, in qualifying, it worked out for us. We're still not happy with second and third, but I think this was a place where we were expecting it to be a bit more difficult because of the circuit layout, so things have been working well for us.

"What does it mean? I'm very happy for it, obviously, and I'm happy for all the people that are supporting us and all the team. The biggest thing now is to avoid the struggle in the first corner and make a normal start, so it gives a good chance in the race. Obviously, we have to do a good job in the race, but this gives us a better chance of a good result."

The long run down to the first chicane could provide Raikkonen a rare opportunity to get into the lead, despite Hamilton holding a couple of tenths advantage on qualifying pace. Mercedes has shown a weakness at race starts, struggling with one or other car at the last three rounds, and the Finn is keen to capitalise, if only to avoid the chance of being caught up in a first corner accident.

"At almost every circuit, it's more or less not that different a length of straight to the first corner, but I think it helps here," he reasoned, "Hopefully, we'll make a normal start and we stay where we are, but it's going to help us at the first corner which can be a bit of a mess. Hopefully we'll make a normal start and go from there and see what we can do.

"I don't expect an easy race, but I think usually I'm more comfortable in the race than in qualifying, so hopefully it's the same thing tomorrow. We'll see what happens and try to get a great result. Obviously, we want to at least keep the places that we have, but the main aim is to try to win races. We will do our best and hopefully that will bring us a good result."