Nico Rosberg will start the Monaco Grand Prix from pole for the second year in a row, despite a final run mistake that saw him forced to take an escape road. The error brought out yellow flags, effectively ending any threat from team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who was forced to abandon his final run. Daniel Ricciardo claimed third place.
Hamilton had set his best first sector time but whether the Briton would have been able to find more in the final sectors will remain an unknown as ahead Rosberg momentarily lost control under braking for Mirabeau and was forced to take the escape road bringing out the yellows.
While Rosberg jumped out of his car and pumped his fist in the air in celebration, Hamilton was left stoney-faced by the incident.
“I just locked up, the outside front, I think it was, or the inside, I’m not sure, and that put me off line,” said Rosberg of the incident. “I was still trying to make it but in the last moment I had to turn out because I was going to hit the tyre wall. It was close but I managed to go into the escape road.
“I thought it was over once that happened, because I thought the track would ramp up and somebody else could beat the time but no, of course, in the end I’m really, really happy that it worked out in the end. To be on pole is fantastic, at home; couldn’t be better,” he added.
Rosberg then admitted that the incident had disadvantaged Hamilton but “that’s the way it is”.
“Of course I’m sorry for Lewis,” he said. “I didn’t know exactly where he was but once I was reversing I did see he was coming up. Of course that’s not great, but that’s the way it is.”
A clearly disgruntled Hamilton had little to say after the session, simply saying that didn’t have an answer when Rosberg admitted the incident had been a disadvantage for the Briton.
“It is ironic. But it’s OK. I was up a couple tenths so it’s OK,” he murmured.
Ricciardo claimed third, three tenths back, with team-mate Sebastian Vettel in fourth place, just under two tenths behind his team-mate.
The Australian too was displeased with how the session had panned out, saying that a late mistake had cost him.
“I think all three of us don’t seem to be too pleased with ourselves,” he said. “I think we left a bit on the table. We fought the car pretty hard in qualifying and trying to find a bit more from it. I thought I was getting around it OK but coming up to Turn 8 I just lost the rear completely on exit and pretty much the lap was gone after that. Frustrated, I think we could have been much closer. So a little bit disappointed.”
Unlike at other circuits, Q1 got off to a frantic start. Rosberg led the way out of pit lane and the German was soon followed by the bulk of the field, with only the Red Bulls choosing to sit out the opening skirmishes.
Rosberg set the early pace too with a time of 1:17.938, eight tenths quicker than Hamilton’s opener, and then lowered his own benchmark by three tenths. Hamilton soon closed the gap getting to within two tenths of his team-mate.
The Red Bulls eventually joined the fray after six minutes and both were quickly in the mix, with Ricciardo slotting into third and Vettel fifth.
Eleven minutes in, Toro Rosso rookie Daniil Kvyat, driving his first Monaco qualifying session in any series, lost control at the tunnel exit and hit the barriers, splintering his front wing and nose cone. He headed back for replacements and was soon circling again.
As the clock ticked down, Hulkenberg moved to the Supersofts, triggering a general move to the option, with only the Mercedes, Red Bulls and Fernando Alonso remaining on the prime tyre. The Spaniard though would eventually move to the red-banded tyre in securing fourth.
In the final moments of the session, Marcus Ericsson miscalculated, trying to pass Felipe Massa down the inside but the Swede only succeeded in pitching both into the barriers. Massa had already set a lap good enough for 10th on the end-of-segment timesheet but the incident meant he would eventually slide to 16th on the grid as he wasn’t able to take part in Q2.
When the flag fell it was the supersoft-shod Jean-Eric Vergne who topped the timesheet with a lap of 1:17.557, just over a tenth clear of Rosberg’s soft-tyre time of 1:17.678. Hamilton was third ahead of Alonso, Button and Ricciardo.
The eliminations, meanwhile, had a familiar cast to them, with 17th-placed Esteban Gutierrez ruled out of Q2, along with (P18-22) Adrian Sutil, Jules Bianchi, Max Chilton, Kamui Kobayashi and the hapless Ericsson.
Q2 saw everyone use the Supersofts and again it was Rosberg who set the pace ahead of Hamilton, Ricciardo and Vettel. Hamilton eventually moved ahead, putting in a lap of 1:16.354 to claim top spot, just over a tenth quicker than his team-mate.
The Mercedes pair also stretched away from their rivals, with Rosberg’s time six tenths clear of third-placed Vettel, who sealed the spot despite reporting and ERS problem. Alonso was fourth ahead of Ricciardo.
Elsewhere, Jean-Eric Vergne’s last-ditch effort was good enough to vault him to ninth but the Frenchman’s lap wasn’t as impressive as his rookie team-mate’s. After losing his front wing in Q1, Kvyat recovered to put in some impressive times in the second session, eventually finishing with a lap of 1:17.594, which was good enough for seventh behind Kimi Raikkonen and just in front of Kevin Magnussen. With Vergne ninth, the final Q3 place was claimed by Sergio Perez. Out, though, went Nico Hulkenberg, Jenson Button, Valtteri Bottas, Romain Grosjean and Massa.
The first runs in Q3 saw Rosberg steal back P1, the German becoming the first man to break the 1:16 barrier with a time of 1:15.989. Again, though hardly anything separated him from his team-mate, with Hamilton just five hundredths adrift. They were followed by Ricciardo and Vettel, the Australian three tenths behind Hamilton.
The final runs should have been the cue for another titanic battle between the Mercedes pairing but when Rosberg hit the brakes at Mirabeau he also unfortunately put the brakes on the drama – at least until the post-session analysis began.