Mark Webber stunned F1 again today with his second pole position in eight days as he dominated qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix.
It is the sixth pole in six races for Red Bull this season. That is championship winning form and after early season reliability issues, they need to make sure they again convert it to a win tomorrow.
All predictions, including his own, were that it would be very close. In the end it wasn’t close at all. Webber was 3/10ths of a second ahead of Robert Kubica’s Renault, with Sebastian Vettel in third, 4/10ths behind Webber.
But the big story was Fernando Alonso’s accident in the morning practice session, which destroyed his car and meant that he missed qualifying. He will start the Grand Prix tomorrow from the pit lane in a newly made-up car.
It was an uncharacteristic error by the two times world champion and is the second major error this season, after his jump start in China which led to a drive through penalty on a day when he could have won the race. Alonso accepted full blame for the incident, “I lost the car,” he said glumly.
Comparisons will be drawn with Michael Schumacher’s drive through the field in 2006, but the conditions are very different. For a start there is no refuelling strategy nowadays, so less tactical options. Also there are more cars on the track than there were back then and the slowest ones are much slower. And finally he doesn’t enjoy the same level of car advantage as Schumacher did in 2006 on the Bridgestone tyre.
Webber’s lap was really something special, Christian Horner told me that the telemetry shows the tiny corrections on the steering wheel through Casino Square are amazing. He described Webber’s form as being a ‘purple patch’ and it will be fascinating to see how long it lasts. Certainly Vettel’s expression afterwards said it all, he is being soundly beaten at the moment.
But Webber’s fight was not with Vettel in the sister Red Bull car, but with Kubica. The Pole also elevated himself today with some incredibly committed driving. He reminded us in the interviews afterwards that his car was a second and a half off the Red Bull in Spain, so it was quite an achievement.
The surprises of the qualifying were Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton, whom many had expected to challenge for pole position. Massa was third until the final seconds when Vettel stole the place from him on his last lap, while Hamilton ended up 5th, six tenths slower than Webber. Team mate Button was 8th.
All the leading cars had advantages in different areas; the McLaren is quick up the hill in sector 1, while the Red Bull is very strong in the low speed middle sector and the final sector with the Swimming Pool. This is where Massa wasn’t so strong.
Nico Rosberg was fastest in the second part of qualifying, but couldn’t carry that form through to Q3, ending up 6th, 5/100ths faster than team mate Michael Schumacher. “It just went completely wrong in the last qualifying – just didn’t get it together – too many laps with traffic and just made a mistake myself,” said Rosberg, going on to describe his performance as a “disaster”.
Earlier on the Lotus of Heikki Kovalainen came very close to making it into Q2 for the first time as he set a blistering pace for a new team car. He was ninth for a time, but ended up just under a second slower than the Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari.
Once again the Virgin cars were two tenths behind.
MONACO GRAND PRIX – QUALIFYING
1. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:15.035 1:14.462 1:13.826
2. Kubica Renault 1:15.045 1:14.549 1:14.120
3. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:15.110 1:14.568 1:14.227
4. Massa Ferrari 1:14.757 1:14.405 1:14.283
5. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:15.676 1:14.527 1:14.432
6. Rosberg Mercedes 1:15.188 1:14.375 1:14.544
7. Schumacher Mercedes 1:15.649 1:14.691 1:14.590
8. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:15.623 1:15.150 1:14.637
9. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:15.590 1:15.083 1:14.901
10. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:15.397 1:15:061 1:15.170
11. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:16.030 1:15.317
12. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:15.445 1:15.318
13. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:15.961 1:15.413
14. Petrov Renault 1:15.482 1:15.576
15. de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 1:15.908 1:15.692
16. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:16.175 1:15.992
17. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:16.021 1:16.176
18. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1:17.094
19. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:17.134
20. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:17.377
21. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:17.864
22. Senna HRT-Cosworth 1:18.509
23. Chandhok HRT-Cosworth 1:19.559
24. Alonso Ferrari Did not set a time