Monaco Qualy: Schumi fastest, but...
The ultimate bittersweet result for grid-dropping Michael...
Last Updated: 26/05/12 4:52pm
Michael Schumacher has claimed a sensational pole position for the Monaco GP but it is the Red Bull of Mark Webber which will line up first on the grid with the Mercedes driver denied the 69th pole of his career due to a grid-slot penalty.
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Having endured so much criticism and corrosive speculation in the build-up to this weekend's showpiece, the 43-year-old could have been forgiven for not knowing whether to laugh or cry as he climbed out of the W03 at the culmination of another utterly absorbing and unpredictable qualifying hour.
What must have been one of the most satisfying results of his career - a career, lest we forget, that is the most successful in the sport's history - will only count for sixth place once his five-place grid demotion, carried over from Spain following his collision with Bruno Senna, has been factored in. Still, even that demotion might not count for much compared to the satisfaction of silencing his critics with such a stunning lap. In the blink of 1 minute and 14.3 seconds, his comeback has suddenly been transformed and success snatched from the jaws of ignominy.
Yet it is Webber who will start the race on pole, a fact which carries particular resonance around the mean streets of Monaco given that the last three victors around the Principality have each led from start to finish. The Aussie is another driven protagonist with critics to silence and would be the sixth different winner in six races this year were he to maintain Monaco's streak of pole-position victories on Sunday.
Although nothing can be predicted with any confidence in the midst of such an unpredictable campaign, the severe restrictions imposed on overtaking by Monaco's uniquely-tight confines means that, barring the onset of rain, Webber's most likely challengers for victory are those drivers starting around him.
The fact that Nico Rosberg was himself denied pole by scarcely one-tenth of a second served to underline what a formidable package Mercedes have produced this weekend, while the post-session smiley demeanour of Lewis Hamilton would also suggest that the McLaren driver still believes he has a realistic shot at victory from third of the grid.
"Anything is possible," he told Sky Sports F1. "It's going to be so tough with the two guys ahead, they are very quick, and [I'm] very, very fortunate that Michael has his penalty. But he did a great job today and it was great actually to see Michael performing so well."
For Jenson Button, however, this was another qualifying afternoon to forget. His Q2 elimination was his second-successive failure to reach the top-ten shoot-out, a dramatic fall from grace from a driver who won the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in such emphatic style. Perhaps most worryingly of all, Button had been all smiles on Thursday night after topping the Practice Two timesheets, believing that he had finally solved the riddle of his sudden slump in form in Barcelona. Instead, he struggled throughout Q2 and missed the cut by the country-mile margin of three tenths.
Sebastian Vettel, so resplendent just two races ago in Bahrain, also suddenly seems to be on the cusp of a mini-crisis. Like Button, his pits-to-car radio has been privy to a stream of discontent this weekend and his description of the RB8 as "jumping like a rabbit" was as baffling as it was revealing. Whatever its precise meaning, they were the unmistakable words of a driver losing faith in his car and it spoke volumes about just where Vettel is at the moment that he abandoned his solitary Q3 lap in order to save tyres at a circuit where grid position is king.
The Lotuses were also curiously peripheral, with Romain Grosjean only fifth-fastest on the road and the deeply-disappointing Kimi Raikkonen seemingly made to pay for missing the bulk of Thursday's truncated running as he wound up in eighth. For a team seemingly fastest of all in Practice, it was a distinctly underwhelming set of results.
Between the pair of Lotuses will start both Ferraris. Quietly but surely, Felipe Massa appears to have rediscovered something of his old zest in Monte Carlo and, although out-qualified by Fernando Alonso once again, seventh place marks the Brazilian's best result of the season.
Earlier, another potential pole-sitter in the form of Pastor Maldonado had removed himself from the front-row battle with an act of petulant recklessness in Practice Three that resulted in the rather lenient imposition of a ten-place grid penalty from the stewards.
From calmness personified en route to his maiden F1 victory in Spain to immature hot-headedness two weeks later, Maldonado's fortunes have swung in spectacular style this month but the South American only had himself to blame for this crippling setback after deliberately ramming the Sauber of Sergio Perez.
The question of whether that collision was a factor in the suspension failure that resulted in Perez crashing out of Q1 might have been left unanswered, but even the potential of such a dangerous cause-and-effect association served to underline just how fortunate the Williams driver was not to have been excluded from the session altogether. To his mitigating credit, however, Maldonado spoke well afterwards, fronting up to the cameras to deliver his side of the story.
Yet the final word most be reserved for another. It was, after all, Schumacher, against the odds and all the pre-race speculation, who spoke with the greatest eloquence when it really mattered.