Michael Schumacher showed he’s still got it as he set the fastest time in Saturday Qualifying for the Grand Prix of Monaco but he doesn’t get to reap the reward of his good work as a five-place grid penalty sees him drop down to sixth on the grid. That means Red Bull’s Mark Webber will start from pole with Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg in second place and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton in third.
Lotus’ Romain Grosjean starts fourth with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso on fifth and Schumacher sixth. Felipe Massa makes it to the top ten for the first time this season as he starts seventh ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in eighth, Sebastian Vettel in ninth and Nico Hulkenberg in tenth.
The narrow street circuit at Monaco produced one of the more interesting qualifying sessions of this year. With most of the top teams very close to each other in terms of pace and timing, it was really hard to hazard a guess as to who’ll emerge at the top of the timing charts. In fact, the drama unfolded in final practice itself as Williams Pastor Maldonado was deemed to have turned into the Sauber of Sergio Perez and was handed a ten-place penalty for Qualifying.
Q1 saw Perez suffer a steering malfunction and crash into the barriers, damaging his rear suspension beyond repair, condemning him to last place on the grid for Sunday. That brought the red flag out for a while and when the session resumed and finished, Nico Hulkenberg was at the top of the timesheets and the other six drivers to join Perez towards the tail end of the grid were the two Caterhams of Vitaly Petrov & Heikki Kovalainen, the two Marussias of Charles Pic and Timo Glock and the two HRTs of Narain Karthikeyan and Pedro de la Rosa.
Q2 was a nervy affair for Raikkonen and Vettel who had to strap on the super-soft tyres in order to eke out a time fast enough to get into the top ten. They eventually succeeded but it wasn’t as rosy for Jenson Button, who missed the cut. The two Force Indias of Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta, the two Toro Rossos of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne, the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi and the Williams of Bruno Senna were the ones to drop out, alongside Button. Surprising was to see Massa top the timesheets and the first driver to clock 1m14s & make it through to Q3 for the first time this season!
Q3 was a close rum affair with all cars pretty close together in terms of timings and Rosberg set the initial fastest time. It was only towards the fag end of the session that saw Webber pip that by 0.019 seconds and be on provisional pole. But the final say was that of Michael Schumacher, who bettered Webber’s time by 0.08s. Alas, that brilliant drive will not see him start at the head of the order.
It is all to drive for on Sunday and though the race winner has been from the top two starters for almost as long as I can remember for this race, tyre wear and a clever strategy might yet see someone from the middle of the order sneak up towards the top. My money’s on Alonso to win with Webber second and Hamilton third. Of course, seeing as how this season progressed, it might well be a sixth different driver to take victory come Sunday. Kimi Raikkonen or even Romain Grosjean?