The battle for pole position at Monte Carlo came down to McLaren teammates Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton and in the end it was the world champion that won out. Alonso clocked 1:15.726 on his final flying lap in qualifying for the Monaco Grand...
The battle for pole position at Monte Carlo came down to McLaren teammates Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton and in the end it was the world champion that won out. Alonso clocked 1:15.726 on his final flying lap in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix, two tenths quicker than Hamilton, who was really the only other candidate. Felipe Massa was a solid third for Ferrari but Kimi Raikkonen had problems and ended down in 15th after a brush with the barriers.
The track had dried out after practice but just before the first qualifying session a rain shower passed over, making conditions a little tricky to start with. The Hondas of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello were quickly out, along with the Spykers of Adrian Sutil and Christijan Albers, the Toro Rossos of Tonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed and the Williams duo of Alex Wurz and Nico Rosberg.
The Super Aguris of Anthony Davidson and Takuma Sato soon joined them as well as the Red Bull pair of Mark Webber and David Coulthard. Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen were also out for Renault, as was Raikkonen and BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica. Speed was an early leader, then Coulthard took over followed by Rosberg, all in quick succession. Button was next, then Barrichello.
Kubica then took over, all the times in the 1:18 area, but Rosberg snatched the lead back. Massa's Ferrari was out on track, as were Hamilton and Alonso. Raikkonen was next to the top, 1:17.905, and Fisichella slotted into second, then Kubica and Alonso respectively went faster. Hamilton clocked 1:16.924, the times changing very rapidly.
Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber was a late arrival in eighth while Alonso and Hamilton were trading the top spot lap by lap. Raikkonen got in between them for second, while Heidfeld went up to fifth. Massa took the third spot, once again the McLarens and Ferraris fighting it out at the front with the BMWs lurking behind. Barrichello got in the mix in fifth and Hamilton lowered the top time to 1:15.685.
Meanwhile, Albers appeared to be in difficulty with a hydraulic problem and was stuck in the garage. Jarno Trulli climbed up the order to 10th but Toyota teammate Ralf Schumacher was down in 16th and in the danger zone. Rosberg improved to the fifth spot after dropping down, with Liuzzi sixth and Coulthard seventh. The minutes ticked away and there was a mad rush to try and escape the drop zone.
Davidson led the six who didn't make it in 17th, then came Speed, Sutil, Schumacher, Sato and Albers, who didn't set a time. At the other end of the pack, Liuzzi had managed to get up to fourth behind leaders Hamilton, Alonso and Raikkonen. No surprises elsewhere although there was a fairly large gap between some teammates, such as Rosberg sixth and Wurz 16th, Coulthard seventh and Webber 14th.
There was a fair amount of activity right from the start of the second session and Rosberg's 1:16.100 was first to the top. Raikkonen ground to a halt at Rascasse and bought out the yellow flag; it seemed that he scraped the barrier at the swimming pool. The stricken car also held up teammate Massa, who just about squeezed past without any incident. Raikkonen managed to get back to the pits with steering damage.
Meanwhile, Rosberg was still leading with Massa into second, followed by Fisichella and Coulthard. Hamilton took over but Alonso was four hundredths quicker for 1:15.431. Kubica posted third and Heidfeld fourth, while both Hondas were in the top 10 but there was still five minutes to go. The McLarens didn't see reason to go out again, a secure one-two on the time sheet, but everyone else bar Raikkonen did.
Kovalainen was on a flyer but got held up by Coulthard on an out lap, while Massa posted fifth behind the BMWs. Liuzzi made a heroic last effort to get as far as 13th while Barrichello put his Honda through to the pole shootout in 10th. Button led the six to be dropped in 11th, then Wurz, Liuzzi, Trulli, Kovalainen and the unfortunate Raikkonen. Alonso's 1:15.431 remained top.
A good effort from Red Bull to get both cars through but Coulthard apparently holding up Kovalainen was under investigation. The Scot duly got a penalty in the form of having his Q2 times deleted and was not permitted to take part in the final session. That effectively promoted Button to 10th and he was included in the last 15 minutes.
So, it appeared that the battle for pole would come down to the McLaren teammates and Alonso and Hamilton led out for the fuel burning phase of the final session. Hamilton posted 1:15.905, which was not too shabby for a race fuel lap. Rosberg was third and then came the BMWs, Heidfeld ahead of Kubica, then the Hondas in formation, Barrichello ahead of Button. Massa was an early visitor to the pits for a tyre change.
Rosberg followed suit and it wasn't long before the rest started going in, evidently not taking any chances about getting two flyers in. It was a still a little longer, though, before anyone went for a hot lap. Fisichella clocked fourth but the McLarens were scorching round -- Hamilton got the top spot with a 1:15.905 but Alonso was less than a tenth behind.
Massa clocked third and Fisichella fouth, then the BMWs next, but there was time for another lap. Webber scored fifth and Button eighth, then Rosberg took third but Massa, who was fifth, dived into the pits. Heidfeld nabbed the fifth slot and Fisichella third, it was all still changing quickly. Hamilton went back out and again set a very fast first sector but finished marginally slower than his previous flyer.
Alonso, however, squeezed out enough from the car to snatch pole from his rookie teammate, 1:15.726 for McLaren's first pole position of the season. Massa's late pit stop gave him just enough breathing space to move up to third -- a good effort from the Brazilian but a McLaren one-two is going to be hard to get past on Sunday. It was fine driving from Alonso and Hamilton with very little between them.
"As always seems to happen in Monaco I got caught up in traffic on my last flying lap but that is one of the challenges of this place," said Alonso. "Qualifying was extremely stressful due to the constant threat of rain. We even started the third session on fresh tyres just in case. I don't know what the weather will bring tomorrow which can make for an interesting race."
Hamilton commented: "To start my first Formula 1 race in Monaco from the front row is amazing and for the team to have a one-two is just fantastic... My last flying lap was affected by traffic in turn four and I lost a lot of time but that is just the challenge of this place. The car has been super all the way through, and I believe we have a strong strategy."
Some say there's no such thing as good luck and bad luck but Raikkonen seems to attract more than his fair share of the latter. However, it did appear that it was simply driver error that took him too close to the barriers and consequently caused the damage that forced him to retire. Despite not setting a time the Finn will start 15th ahead of Coulthard, who was dropped due to his penalty.
Massa was satisfied with third. "I am happy as I did a good lap, without traffic and I am in a good position for tomorrow's race," he said. "I am confident and will try for a good result. The race here is very long and it is vital to maintain concentration. If it were to rain, it would make it even more of a lottery."
Fisichella did a grand job for Renault in fourth, although it's a bit strange thinking that's a good job for the French squad after the last couple of years. Rosberg was also noteworthy, a solid fifth, as was Webber in sixth. BMW seemed to fall off its early pace by the end, Heidfeld seventh and Kubica eighth, but it does make you wonder what their race strategy is. The Hondas rounded things off, Barrichello ninth and Button 10th.
Like Button and Raikkonen, those from Wurz to Kovalainen (now 11th to 14th) all gained a place due to Coulthard's penalty. It was quite an exciting qualifying due to the scrap between Alonso and Hamilton but the rest didn't really get a look in. But it's a long race on Sunday and you never know what peculiarities Monaco might produce. Final top ten classification: Alonso, Hamilton, Massa, Fisichella, Rosberg, Webber, Heidfeld, Kubica, Barrichello, Button.