A front-row lockout by Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen gave Ferrari their best chance of breaking their six-year losing streak at Monaco.
The red team seemed just as surprised to be on the front row of the grid as Lewis Hamilton did at being bumped back to third. A mere 0.052s covered the top three drivers.
The anticipated rain failed to materialise but the first part of qualifying saw an exciting scrap between the drivers vying to get through into the second part of qualifying.
Among those visibly struggling was Nelson Piquet Jnr who Renault looked ragged around the Monte-Carlo track. He came within centimetres of hitting the barrier of Portier.
Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen kept their laps to a minimum and were content to let their team mates go out chasing lap times and take over at the top. Felipe Massa led Heikki Kovalainen and Hamilton, the trio covered by a tenth of a second.
It was little surprise to see Piquet eliminated, although his final time was only three tenths of a second off Fernando Alonso’s. Still, he was bumped back to 17th by Sebastien Bourdais in the new Toro Rosso STR3 at the end of the session.
Afterwards the stewards revealed they were looking into an incident between Rubens Barrichello and GIancarlo Fisichella, the Italian driver having been unusually slow compared to his team mate, suggesting he might have been held up.
Bottom five drivers’ times for part one
16. Sebastien Bourdais 1’16.806
17. Nelson Piquet Jnr 1’16.993
18. Sebastian Vettel 1’16.995
19. Adrian Sutil 1’17.225
20. Gincarlo Fisichella 1’17.823
The McLarens and Ferraris went to battle at the top of the times once again with Hamilton dramatically fast in the first sector of the lap but clearly struggling in the second. On one lap the rear of his MP4/23 slewed wide dramatically at the Grand Hotel hairpin.
The session was within minutes of ending when David Coulthard slammed into the barrier on apporach to the chicane. He wasn’t sure if he’d made a mistake or if something had broken on the RB4, but it brought his qualifying session and everyone else’s to an abrupt end.
That wasn’t too much of a problem for Coulthard as it cemented his place in the top ten. It also suited Fernando Alonso, who had just taken ninth place when Coulthard crashed. But it caught out Nick Heidfeld, who became the first BMW driver not to reach Q3 this year.
Bottom five drivers’ times for part two
11. Timo Glock 1’15.907
12. Jenson Button 1’16.101
13. Nick Heidfeld 1’16.455
14. Kazuki Nakajima 1’16.479
15. Rubens Barrichello 1’16.537
For the second year in a row the final part of qualifying at Monaco took place without David Coulthard, even though the Red Bull driver had set a top ten time. The nine cars present included his team mate Mark Webber, plus Fernando Alonso, Robert Kubica, Jarno Trulli, Nico Rosberg and the Ferrari and McLaren drivers.
On the first round of laps it was Kimi Raikkonen went quickest and Kubica popped up into second place, raising hopes the BMW driver could score another pole position.
It wasn’t to be, though, as he was knocked back into fifth by the quicker Ferraris and McLarens. Raikkonen lowered his time and although Hamilton looked poised to beat it he lost his advantage in the final sector of the lap and crossed the line with a time 0.024s slower than the Finn’s.
But then came the real surprise of the session as Felipe Massa emerged from nowhere to take over the top of the times.
It gave Ferrari their first front row at Monaco since 1979 – and more importantly, gives them all the strategic options ahead of a race that might yet be affected by rain. For within minutes of the qualifying session ending, it began to pour once again…
Top ten drivers’ times for part three
1. Felipe Massa 1’15.787
2. Kimi Raikkonen 1’15.815
3. Lewis Hamilton 1’15.839
4. Heikki Kovalainen 1’16.165
5. Robert Kubica 1’16.171
6. Nico Rosberg 1’16.548
7. Fernando Alonso 1’16.852
8. Jarno Trulli 1’17.203
9. Mark Webber 1’17.343
10. David Coulthard no time
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