But for a clumsy overtaking manoeuvre a fortnight ago and Michael Schumacher would be celebrating a well-deserved 69th career pole position – the first since his return to the sport – with a scintillating qualifying lap ahead of Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix.
Instead, the German’s five-place grid penalty hands pole position to Mark Webber, with the Australian claiming his first pole position since last year’s German Grand Prix.
The major headline news item heading into qualifying was the not unexpected grid penalty awarded to Pastor Maldonado, who reverted back to the wild and ill-disciplined reputation that he has found impossible to shake. The Venezuelan was involved in a ridiculous collision with Sauber’s Sergio Pérez in the day’s earlier practice session, and was rightly awarded a ten-place grid penalty. No back-to-back wins for Williams…
Pérez would also be at the centre of more drama in the first phase of qualifying. The Mexican brought out the red flag less than five minutes into the session when he crashed at the Swimming Pool on his first flying lap. Initial footage suggested driver error, but closer analysis of replays suggested a steering failure on the left-hand side of the C31 – coincidence or not, the same section of the car that Maldonado hit earlier in the day…
It was the first time Pérez would fail to make it out of Q1 in his career (he was the only driver in the field not to have earned this honour), and despite the best efforts of the HRT, Marussia and Caterham runners, they were all ensured another knockout in the first run. Heikki Kovalainen came closest to making it into Q2, missing out by just five-hundredths of a second.
The second phase of qualifying features more drama, with Jean-Éric Vergne crashing his Toro Rosso in the Nouvelle Chicane’s braking zone, damaging his front wing and right-rear suspension and ensuring he would be slowest of the session.
The session featured a few more shock eliminations, with Jenson Button missing the Q3 cut for the second race running, while Kamui Kobayashi compounded Sauber’s miserable afternoon with the thirteenth-fastest time, which included a brush with the wall at Sainte Devote.
Neither Force India made it into the top-ten, with Nico Hülkenberg going eleventh-quickest, and Paul di Resta fifteenth-fastest. Bruno Senna also struggled to match team-mate Maldonado’s pace, managing the fourteenth-fastest time, while Maldonado would sneak into Q3 in his hastily-repaired Williams.
Mercedes was able to prove that its final practice pace was no fluke, with Nico Rosberg being promoted to a front-row start alongside Webber, after slipping to third place in the final seconds of qualifying when both Webber and Schumacher went marginally quicker than his 1:14.448 benchmark.
With track temperatures much higher than expected, it forced some drivers to be more aggressive with their tyre selections earlier in the session, which in turn left them in a weaker position to challenge for pole if they made it through to the final stage.
Sebastian Vettel was once such driver – he resorted to a run on ‘super soft’ tyres in Q1 to ensure he wouldn’t be eliminated – and he opted for a single lap on the ‘soft’ compound tyres without posting a lap time. All other runners posted lap times on the super soft tyres, which could put the German in a decent position to capitalise on his alternative strategy.
2012 Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix – Qualifying Session Times:
|1.||Michael Schumacher*||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||1:14.301|
|2.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||1:14.381||+ 0.080|
|3.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||1:14.448||+ 0.147|
|4.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||1:14.583||+ 0.282|
|5.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Renault E20||1:14.639||+ 0.338|
|6.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||1:14.948||+ 0.647|
|7.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||1:15.049||+ 0.748|
|8.||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus F1 Renault E20||1:15.199||+ 0.898|
|9.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Renault FW34||1:15.245||+ 0.944|
|10.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||no time|
|Q2 Cut-Off – 1:15.322||Time||Gap|
|11.||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India Mercedes VJM05||1:15.421||+ 0.099|
|12.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari C31||1:15.508||+ 0.186|
|13.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||1:15.536||+ 0.214|
|14.||Bruno Senna||Williams Renault FW34||1:15.709||+ 0.387|
|15.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM05||1:15.718||+ 0.396|
|16.||Daniel Ricciardo||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||1:15.878||+ 0.556|
|17.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||1:15.885||+ 0.563|
|Q1 Cut-Off – 1:16.491||Time||Gap|
|18.||Heikki Kovalainen||Caterham Renault CT01||1:16.538||+ 0.047|
|19.||Vitaly Petrov||Caterham Renault CT01||1:17.404||+ 0.913|
|20.||Timo Glock||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||1:17.947||+ 1.456|
|21.||Pedro de la Rosa||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||1:18.096||+ 1.605|
|22.||Charles Pic||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||1:18.476||+ 1.985|
|23.||Narain Karthikeyan||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||1:19.310||+ 2.819|
|107% Cut-Off – 1:20.697||Time||Gap|
|DNQ.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber Ferrari C31||no time|
* Michael Schumacher incurs a five-place grid penalty stemming from his collision with Bruno Senna during the Spanish Grand Prix.
** Pastor Maldonado incurs a ten-place grid penalty for causing a collision with Sergio Pérez during Free Practice 3.