Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher dismissed retirement rumors during the week leading into the Monaco Grand Prix, and then he went out and dismissed 23 competitors to lead qualifying around on a sunny Saturday in Monaco.
Schumacher shocked the series by piloting his Mercedes-powered rocket around the Monte Carlo streets in 1:14.301 to best Mark Webber by .08 seconds. The stunning result came on the same course where Schumacher scored the first of his 68 poles – that coming in a Benetton-Ford in 1994.
After what I have been through during the last two-and-a-half years, it is very satisfying to manage a pole here at Monaco.
But the joy of the surprise pole was tempered for the German ace as he will start sixth after serving a five-spot grid penalty owing to his contact with Bruno Senna at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Undaunted, Schumacher will take his third-row starting spot and told the post-qualifying press that he intends to win Monaco for a sixth time tomorrow.
“I told you in the press conference (earlier in the week) that we would win the pole, I would start sixth (due to the penalty) and we would win the race, and that is what we are going to do,” Schumacher grinned. “This confirms what I have been feeling all along about our team. After what I have been through during the last two-and-a-half years, it is very satisfying to manage a pole here at Monaco.”
The penalty vaults Australian Mark Webber to the Monaco pole, marking the second time in the last three years that the Red Bull driver will start on pole at the principality. Webber used his 2010 pole to storm away to the victory – his first at Monaco – and today’s top qualifying spot is the 10th of his F1 career.
“That was a pretty wild session today and Michael did a great lap, but we are happy to be starting from pole tomorrow,” Webber said. “Our team worked very hard this week and they have always given us good cars on Sunday, so I am feeling confident about our chances.”
Schumacher’s penalty drops him back to sixth on the grid but promotes his teammate Nico Rosberg to a front-row starting spot. Rosberg – who won from pole in China – earned the third front-row starting spot of his career with a top time of 1:14.448. Rosberg is the only driver in the first two rows to have earned a victory this year as the series looks to break a record by carding its sixth different winner in as many races to start the season.
Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean will fill the second row while Schumacher’s demotion means that he will split the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa. Kimi Raikonnen needed last-lap fliers just to get out of the first and second qualifying sessions, allowing him to grid eighth.
Jenson Button was the shocker of the second qualifying session as his last-second lap was not enough to move him into the final skirmish. Raikonnen’s final lap in that same session knocked opening qualifying round leader Nico Hulkenberg back to 11th, although he will be promoted to 10th after Pastor Maldonado serves the 10-spot grid penalty he earned in Saturday morning’s practice.
Sergio Perez failed to get out of the first qualifying session for the first time in his 23 F1 starts after he brushed the wall, damaging his steering and causing another impact that ended his session.