Nico Rosberg powered to pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix after a tense qualifying session where wet conditions played havoc with strategy and threw up some surprises along the way, but nothing deterred the Mercedes driver who has been unbeatable around the principality this weekend so far.
Having topped the timing sheets in all three free practice sessions, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Rosberg – who grew up and still lives in Monte Carlo – would be the man to beat. Although the scenario did transpire it was by no means straightforward thanks to intermittent drizzle, and a damp patches throughout the hour session.
Everyone started Q1 with intermediate tyres, but as the Q2 and Q3 evolved the red stripe Pirelli soft tyres were unwrapped and would be used to decide the outcome when it mattered.
In the dying moments of Q3 Lewis Hamilton’s final run saw the Englishman top the timing screens, but moments later Rosberg’s best time of 1:13.876 was good enough to claim top spot on the grid, and crucially the most important pole starting slot on the Formula 1 calendar. Fourth pole in a row so far this season for the Silver Arrows…
Rosberg said afterwards, “It definitely could have been easier. The conditions were all over the place, and then it started drizzling again so the lap times got a lot slower. It was changing so much – you have to be on the right tyres at the right time. Everything when to plan and the last lap went OK.”
Hamilton who has played second fiddle to his teammate all weekend revealed, “I’ve been struggling all weekend and my pace has been slacking. I’ve struggled with the car and this is the first time that’s happened since 2005. It’s been a difficult weekend so I’m happy to have been able to lock out the front row for the team. It’s been a massive improvement for me.”
World championship leader Sebastian Vettel was third fastest in the Red Bull. The top three were separated by less than 0.100 seconds, and the trio were the only ones to dip below the 74 seconds barrier all weekend.
Vettel summed up his afternoon, “It was very close. Mercedes were very quick all weekend. We know they’re quick one lap. I don’t want that to sound like an accuse. There was more than a tenth missing – I think I had that today, but it didn’t come together on the last lap. If anyone is to blame, then it’s me. The car was very good. I’m not entirely happy with my last lap but happy there’s not a Lotus or Ferrari ahead so therefore sitting in third I think is still a good result and should be a good opportunity to win the race.”
Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber is set to line up alongside him in fourth, making it an all Red Bull second row.
Up next in fifth was Kimi Raikkonen, who has appeared uncomfortable all weekend in the Lotus. He was a mere 0.002 seconds quicker than Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari. The pair almost a full second down on the top time.
The Maranello squad compromised with Felipe Massa failing to do a lap in qualifying after a big shunt in FP3 virtually destroyed his F138. He watched proceedings from the pit garage. The Brazilian will line up last on the grid.
Making the most of the conditions were McLaren who made the right calls throughout the session, resulting in seventh place for Sergio Perez and ninth for Jenson Button.
Adrian Sutil recovered well from his FP3 shunt and will start from eighth on the grid, splitting the Mclaren duo.
Jean Eric Vergne made it into Q3 for the first time this season in the Toro Rosso, out qualifying his teammate Daniel Ricciardo (13th) for the first time since Melbourne. He was also best placed Frenchman in the field in what is about as close to a home race they will have this season.
Biggest smile of the day was a toss up between pole winner Rosberg and Caterham’s rookie Giedo van der Garde. The Dutchman was the toast of the paddock as he got the better of the conditions to progress into Q2 for the first time.
At one stage Van der Garde was sixth on the timing screens, as he was one of the first to bolt on soft tyres. he will start the race from 15th which induced high fives and bouts of back slapping in the Caterham pit garage where team boss Tony Fernandes was in attendance for the first time this season.
After three shunts to his name in the three free practice sessions all eyes were on Romain Grosjean in qualifying. The Lotus driver having to wait as mechanics finished repairs to his car until the last few minutes of Q3 before he was unleashed out on to the track. Quite remarkably his first flying lap put him top of the timing screens at a time when the track was very tricky. He made it into Q2, but fumbled his hot lop and did not progress into the final stanza. He will start from 13th on the grid.
Much was made of Pastor Maldonado being a Monaco ‘specialist’, but when the pressure was on he fluffed his lines and will start from 16th, bettered by his rookie teammate Valtteri Bottas, 14th fatsest, who had never raced at Monaco prior to this weekend.
Considering he at one stage topped the timing screens in Q1, it was big disappointment and early shower for Paul di Resta who failed to make into Q2 in a classic tale of bad timing when the strategy calls were made.
In closing it is noteworthy that thirty years ago Rosberg’s dad, Keke won the 1983 Monaco GP. When asked about the possibility of being the first son of a former winner, the Mercedes driver said, “It’s always nice to hear statistics like that, but It doesn’t change much for tomorrow. I’m very happy. In Barcelona we were struggling lot in the race and I finished 70 seconds behind the winner. We’re improving step by step, but there are still a lot of questions remaining. It’s still our weakness, but we’ll make the best of it and who knows.”
Monaco Grand Prix, Qualifying – Saturday, 25 May 2013