Felipe Massa laid his claim on the jewel in the Formula One calendar after storming to pole position in Monte Carlo, his least favourite track, with a blistering lap in the dying seconds of qualifying.
The Brazilian ace danced his Ferrari around the tortuous streets of Monte Carlo en-route to the top spot, a mere two hundredths of a second quicker than his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen who locked out the front row for Ferrari.
Lewis Hamilton, the man many had touted to take pole, had to settle for third place, the British ace just failing to pip Massa’s 1m 15.787 pole lap.
“Obviously I would have preferred to be on pole, but I am pleased with how the car felt and our strategy,” reflected Hamilton afterwards.
“My two flying laps in the final part of qualifying were good, but I lost a bit of time in the second sector, because I lacked a bit of traction accelerating out of turn eight, and in the third sector, at the last corners, I did not brake as late as I should.”
Heikki Kovalainen in the sister McLaren, who lost control of his MP4-23 in the pre-qualifying warm up, wound up fourth fastest a further three tenths down the line.
“I am little disappointed as I put maximum effort in my last qualifying run. The car felt good, so I don t know where the small gap to the cars in front comes from.”
“I did not put a foot wrong in all three sessions. The race is a different affair, and I expect us to be in good shape.â€
The McLarens traded blows with the Ferraris throughout the opening knock-out sessions and although Massa went fastest in both Q1 and Q2, Lewis Hamilton was the man that most had expected to see take the top honors given McLaren’s superiority at the circuit.
Massa’s pole position, his third this season and the eighth of his career, was therefore something of a surprise to the paddock as was the all Scarlet front row that he heads up.
Robert Kubica lapped an impressive fifth fastest ahead of Fernando Alonso, who twice faced the chop in Q2 and Q3. And Nico Rosberg hustled his Williams into sixth place, ahead of Jarno Trulli’s Toyota and Mark Webber’s Red Bull.
David Coulthard stormed into the top ten shoot out for the second time this year but was unable to take part in the elite knock-out session after huge crash at the end of Q2.
The Scott suffered a massive 160mph impact on the exit of the tunnel when his RB4 snapped away into the Armco ripping the wheels off the car and sending him careering into the escape road barriers.
“It’s the worst place to have a crash but thankfully I went down escape road,” he told ITV Sport afterwards. “I hit the breaks the car turned the car turned so it’s possible I locked the rear axel. I’m surprised what happened was so violent. But we’ll look at the data.”
Nick Heidfeld failed to progress into Q3 for the first time this year after struggling with the handling of his BMW F1.08. The German will start the race from thirteenth place where he will be hard-pressed to progress.
Other drivers who have their work cut-out tomorrow having missed the top ten include the Hondas of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello who line up twelfth and fifteenth respectively. Timo Glock just missed the cusp by less than a tenth of second after running as high as sixth place in Q2.
Kazuki Nakajima was similarly unable to progress, the Japanese driver unable to hook up his Williams as well as team-mate Nico Rosberg.
With the morning showers washing the rubber of the track, all the drivers struggled with grip in the opening laps of Q1 as they went about getting a banker lap on the board.
At the rear end of the timing sheets, Coulthard, Trulli, Bourdais, Vettel, Fisichella and Sutil were all locked in a battle to escape the Q2 chop.
Coulthard and Trulli both managed to lift themselves clear while the Toro Rosso drivers struggled to make it through in the new STR3.
Nelson Piquet had a torrid time in his Renault, over-cooking it to St. Devote on one of his hot laps and clipping the Armco on the exit of Portier on another.