In a surprising and frantic qualifying session in Monaco, 43 year old Michael Schumacher gave Mercedes its second pole position of the season and the 69th of his career. Schumacher is the fourth oldest pole sitter of all-time; only Jack Brabham, Juan-Manuel Fangio and Giuseppe Farina took pole position at a greater age than Schumacher is today. He is the oldest pole position driver since Spanish GP 1970.
But with the 5 place penalty he was handed for the collision with Bruno Senna in Spain, Mark Webber will inherit the pole, his second in Monaco. And that will give him a golden opportunity to become the sixth winner in six races, which would be the first time in F1 history.
Webber won the race from pole here in 2010 and has every chance of a repeat tomorrow, as Monaco has been won from pole all but one occasion in the last seven years. Nico Rosberg was third on the day and will therefore start from the front row tomorrow with his best chance yet of a win in the he grew up in.
The threat from McLaren, Lotus and Ferrari was somewhat blunted. Romain Grosjean saved two new sets of supersofts, but the signs were already there from his team mate’s struggles that the Lotus wasn’t really performing over a single lap. It’s strengths lie in low speed traction and the way that lack of wheelspin leads to better tyre life on long runs. However Grosjean was lying second after the first runs in Q3, but Grosjean’s final run didn’t work out in the middle sector.
“I did a very good lap in the first part of Q3 but then I couldn’t improve on my second set of tyres, ” said the 26 year old Frenchman. “This was a shame because our strategy was perfect for the last part of qualifying. The traffic wasn’t too bad but I missed out in sector two. I think pole position was within reach.”
Nevertheless Grosjean starts fourth, just behind Lewis Hamilton, another pre-race favourite. The McLaren wasn’t at the top of the time sheets at any stage in qualifying, but Hamilton – one of only two drivers to have scored points in every race – is on a consistency programme and will be targetting a podium as a minimum tomorrow.
The Ferrari duo of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were much closer then they have been in prior races and they will sandwich Schumacher on the grid tomorrow in fifth and seventh. They looked to be competitive throughout, although Massa was unable to improve on his Q2 lap time and challenge for pole position. Sebastian Vettel used up all his sets of supersofts just to get into Q3 for the second race in a row. He set no time in Q3 again, so has a free choice on starting tyre tomorrow and has hinted he may start on the harder tyre.
Pastor Maldonado will start 19th after being handed a 10 place penalty by stewards for driving into Perez at the end of practice 3.
Mercedes’ threat had been clear from Saturday morning practice; Rosberg had been the pace setter and was on provisional pole after the first runs in Q3. But he did not find enough improvement at the end to hold it and Schumacher and Webber slipped through.
The Mercedes pairing looked like potential pole sitters from the outset of qualifying, as they were both in the top five in each session. A variety of cars were in amongst the front three rows of the grid during the earlier stages, including Felipe Massa, who set the pace in Q2 and, like Schumacher has done no harm to his confidence.
As is often the case in Monaco, track conditions improved significantly during the session and times continued to drop until the dying seconds of each session, causing headaches for teams that did not want to waste a second set of tyres. However, the lack of overtaking in the Principality means that starting position is all the more important. And for those that could get the job done in the earlier sessions on just one set of tyres, they were able to save a set of options for the final shoot-out. This was the case for the front three cars, as well as Hamilton and Grosjean.
Schumacher did not want to compare the pole to others from his first career, “Monaco is so special, it’s more of a driver track than others but it’s super fantastic if you do such a lap. We saw how tight qualifying was. It’s sweet and a good feeling. You come back and hope for results and finally you get it together and are able to prove it. You have to see there are two different chapters of my career,” said Schumacher. “This is the second one. It’s the best position I’ve been in and I can give back a little to the team for all the trust that’s been put in me these last two years.”
Webber was delighted with the way qualifying had turned out, especially after not finding the sweet spot in practice on Thursday, but some changes to the balance on the car since Thursday have given him a car with the feel he was looking for.
“Its Michael’s day, it was a good lap from him,” said Webber. “Quali is the first time you start to pull everything together. I was aiming for the first few rows, I thought I would go for pole, it was a good lap and it’s a good position to start from tomorrow.”
The session started with Sergio Perez crashing heavily in the Sauber after a breakage in the left side of his steering arm. This is the corner of the car that was hit by Pastor Maldonado at the end of FP3, which led to Maldonado being given a 10 place grid penalty by the stewards.
In Q2 Jenson Button was the high profile scalp, failing to make the cut, along with both Force Indias, both Toro Rossos, Senna and Kobayashi. The Briton had set the fastest time in practice on Thursday but couldn’t get the performance when it mattered. He only just scraped through Q1 by a tenth of a second.
[Additional Reporting: Matt Meadows]
MONACO GRAND PRIX, Qualifying
1. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m14.301s
2. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m14.381s + 0.080
3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m14.448s + 0.147
4. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m14.583s + 0.282
5. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m14.639s + 0.338
6. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m14.948s + 0.647
7. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m15.049s + 0.748
8. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m15.199s + 0.898
9. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m15.245s + 0.944
10. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull no time
11. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m15.421s + 0.510
12. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m15.508s + 0.597
13. Jenson Button McLaren 1m15.536s + 0.625
14. Bruno Senna Williams 1m15.709s + 0.798
15. Paul di Resta Force India 1m15.718s + 0.807
16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m15.878s + 0.967
17. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m16.885s + 1.974
18. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m16.538s + 1.120
19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m17.404s + 1.986
20. Timo Glock Marussia 1m17.947s + 2.529
21. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1m18.096s + 2.678
22. Charles Pic Marussia 1m18.476s + 3.058
23. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m19.310s + 3.892
24. Sergio Perez Sauber no time