Forumula1.com’s Hugh Podmore reflects on a frantic qualifying session in Monte Carlo which saw Brits Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton end up at polar ends of the grid.
Jenson Button swept to another pole position this afternoon at the Monaco Grand Prix. The Brawn driver was followed by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Button’s team-mate Rubens Barrichello. While these three were clearly the winners of today, the session was perhaps more remarkable for those who failed to put themselves at the front.
Button had been expected to dominate here, as the nimble Brawn was thought to suit the narrow confines of the Principality’s streets. Despite complaining of low grip, Button nevertheless appeared reasonably comfortable with his flying lap in the final session, and gave the impression of one who could have gone faster if necessary. Barrichello, celebrating his 37th birthday, proved the competitiveness of the package by ending up third on the grid.
The other major success story was Kimi Raikkonen, who from mid-way through the third session appeared to be going quicker and quicker. The Finn put in a magnificent lap with two or so minutes to go, a comfortable four-tenths quicker than all the others, only to have pole whipped from under his nose by Button. Ferrari are quick here, for the first time in a few years – Massa ended up fifth and might have bettered that had he not had his rhythm disrupted by an early mistake.
Red Bull are also more or less on the pace, with Vettel fourth and Webber eighth, as are a resurgent Williams with virtuoso performances from Rosberg and Nakajima seeing them into sixth and tenth respectively. Fernando Alonso did his habitual trick of dragging the Renault up the grid, ending up ninth, from where he stands a reasonable chance of points tomorrow.
Force India put in a strong performance, as did Toro Rosso, with both teams making it to the second session. Sebastian Buemi underlined his talent by ending up 11th. For a time it looked as though Adrian Sutil was determined to exorcise the ghost of last season, when he was destined for the points until Kimi Raikkonen ruined his life, but the German will find it tough to replicate that performance tomorrow from 15th.
More interest is perhaps found in those at the back. An apparent driver mistake from Lewis Hamilton saw his McLaren smack the barriers at Mirabeau, probably breaking the rear left suspension but definitely ending his qualifying session there. The world champion ended up 16th; a hard task awaits the Stevenage man tomorrow if he wants anything from this weekend. He will be praying for rain and attrition tomorrow, both of which always possibilities in this part of the world.
The other big losers were the mystifyingly off-form Toyotas, who ended up last. The TF109 has been one of the cars of the season so far, but it could be that the unique nature of the Monte Carlo circuit does not at all suit it. BMW were also worse here than they have been at previous tracks, relegated with Toyota at the end of the first session.
Nelson Piquet yet again failed to make third quali; he too made a mistake, at Anthony Noghes, and afterwards spoke of the severity of a tiny error at this of all racetracks. It is a sentiment with which Lewis Hamilton will sympathise.