Michael Schumacher stormed to what should have been his 69th career pole position in Monte Carlo this afternoon – but starts 6th following his penalty for crashing into Bruno Senna in the Spanish GP.
Mark Webber is the main beneficiary and moves forward to pole position for the 2nd time in his career on the streets of the historic Monaco circuit.
This qualifying hour proved to be the best yet of the wildly unpredictable 2012 Formula One season. Following the free practice sessions on Thursday and Saturday morning the Lotuses of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean had looked unbeatable, with Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button also looking strong amongst others.
In the first part of qualifying Sergio Perez followed up his horrendous 2011 Monaco accident that saw him miss the race with another crash, this time at the fastest part of the circuit. Entering the ‘swimming pool’ chicane at over 120 miles an hour the young Mexican felt his Sauber suddenly fail to respond to his steering inputs before veering left and smashing into the retaining barrier, ending his qualifying there and then. He was unable to continue and after a brief checkup at the medical centre was left to explain his second Monaco crash in as many years to his disappointed team. His Japanese team mate Kamui Kobayashi was lucky to continue after brushing the barrier at the fast turn one, apparently failing to see exactly where his car was in relation to the Armco catch fence. The first session ended with the usual suspects as victims and Perez in P24 failing to record a laptime. Pedro De La Rosa did give the HRT team something to cheer about however when he outqualified Marussia’s Charles Pic to place his car 22nd on the starting grid.
In Qualifying 2 a mad scramble ensued in the dying moments to catch the all important top ten places to proceed to the final part of qualifying. Jenson Button once again struggled with the balance of his Mclaren after suffering a mysterious drop in pace between practice and qualifying and despite being only six tenths of a second off the fastest time was bundled out in 13th place, ahead of Senna’s Williams, Paul Di Resta in the Force India and the Toro Rosso cars of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne. Kobayashi overcame his close brush with disaster in Q1 to line up 12th behind Nico Hulkenberg in the other Force India.
In the final shootout Sebastian Vettel chose to run only once having used a set of his softer Pirelli tyres in the first part of qualifying to ensure his continued survival. Thus the initial benchmark was set by Nico Rosberg who slipped ahead of an impressive Romain Grosjean by just a tenth of a second in a stunning 1:14:448. The session was not over by a long chalk though as Lewis Hamilton failed to take a pole some thought would be his easily earlier in the week. Vettel failed to impress as well and never completed a timed lap to start 10th, a far cry from his dominant 2011 Monaco weekend. Spanish GP winner Pastor Maldonado went 9th fastest but incurred a penalty for seemingly using his car as a weapon in a confrontation with Sergio Perez during practice three earlier Saturday morning, and consequently starts 19th on the grid rather than 9th. After an impressive morning, the Ferrari duo of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso wound up 7th
and 8th, the Brazilian nonetheless pleased to make it into the top ten for the first time in his so-far desolate 2012 campaign. Grosjean was sitting pretty but was blasted by the laptimes from Rosberg and Hamilton before everyone was stunned by the flying Webber who didn’t let a scrappy first sector time discourage him and slammed home a lap of 1:14:381, which all thought would stand up to any challenge. Embarrassingly for them, they neglected to notice a certain 7-time World Champion lapping mightily quickly and Michael Schumacher crossed the line to shade Webber my a mere eight hundredths of a second and celebrate the 18th anniversary of his first pole position with his (provisional) 69th. The record books will not however record this as his pole, the accolade instead going to the 2nd placed man for the 2nd time in a fortnight.
Webber then holds all the aces going into the race tomorrow. Pole position is vital to success at Monaco as overtaking is an almost impossible challenge in the tight confines of the crash barriers, but Rosberg may have a chance of jumping the Australian into turn one should Webber experience one of his trademark slow starts.
Whoever wins tomorrow, chances are it will be the 6th different driver to taste glory in the 2012 season.
Race start at 13:00 GMT live coverage available via BBC One and Sky Sports F1 HD.