Posted by Simon Wright
THERE is life in the veteran yet as Michael Schumacher rolled back the years in qualifying this afternoon for tomorrow’s Monaco Grand Prix. In an unpredictable and cracking session, the 42-year old German ended as the fastest driver and in normal circumstances, would be celebrating his first pole position since the 2006 French Grand Prix. However, a five place penalty for causing a collision with Bruno Senna at the Spanish Grand Prix means it is only a moment of glory. Consequently it will be the 2010 winner in Monaco, Mark Webber who will start from pole position.
The day started quietly but burst into life with a dramatic final 15 minutes in FP3. Paul di Resta damaged his front wing against the guardrail exiting the tunnel, whilst Sergio Perez was baulked in a dangerous position by Nico Hulkenberg’s dithering Force India. The Mexican, returning to the venue of his terrifying crash in qualifying last year was in the thick of the action today. He was involved in another incident with Spanish GP winner Pastor Maldonado, for which he was totally blameless. Out of the way in the Portier complex, Maldonado deliberately turned in and connected with the Sauber, leaving Perez furious. The stewards agreed with the Venezuelan’s ridiculous driving and slapped him with a ten place grid penalty. Maldonado then went on to dismantle his Williams at Casino Square shortly afterwards, giving his mechanics a real headache ahead of qualifying.
The drama wasn’t all over for Perez when he clouted the barriers in the Swimming Pool chicane five minutes into Q1. It initially looked like a simple driving mistake but BBC commentator David Coulthard spotted damage to the Sauber’s front steering, with the left-front tyre not responding to Perez’s steering movements from inside the cockpit. Perez was out in Q1 and required a trip to the medical centre as a precautionary measure. If the damage was caused by his earlier clash with Maldonado, no doubt the bill will be going to Maldonado’s bank manager!
Q2 saw Jean-Eric Vergne wipe his front wing and damage his rear suspension against the barrier before the Nouvelle Chicane. It led to a near miss between him, Daniel Ricciardo and Felipe Massa as the Frenchman was recovering his battered Toro Rosso machinery to the pits. Having only been a tenth quicker than Heikki Kovalainen in Q1, then this incident, Vergne’s qualifying struggles continue. Another driver suffering with qualifying at the moment is Jenson Button. The Brit never looked on the pace and was eliminated in Q2 for the second successive event, lining up 12th. World champion Sebastian Vettel battled his car and scraped into Q3. Having ran out of super soft tyres, he sat the final session out and begins from an uncompetitive ninth. His issues were highlighted by some team radio in Q2; “We need to add more front wing Rocky, because the car is jumping around like a rabbit!”
One unhappy world champion at Red Bull and McLaren but Lewis Hamilton’s focus continues to impress everyone. Watched on by Men in Black film star Will Smith and girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, Hamilton looked at ease with his car on his way to third on the grid. He said afterwards to Sky Sports F1; “It’s going to be so tough with the two guys ahead, they are very quick, and 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. I have no idea how tomorrow’s going to go. I hope the weather stays good but if it rains a little I’ll be grateful for it.”
After the first set of runs in Q3, it was the fastest driver this morning, Nico Rosberg top of the timesheets, followed by Romain Grosjean. Webber managed to string together a lap with all three sectors to record a laptime of 1.14.381, less than a tenth quicker than Rosberg. Grosjean and Lotus struggled to get tyre temperature into both sets of Pirelli compounds today and leaves him back in fifth, still a good effort. Kimi Raikkonen only just escaped Q1 and was a distant eighth in the final session. Ferrari took a cautious approach to qualifying, with both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa only doing one run in the final session. The rejuvenated Massa set the benchmark in Q2 and starts seventh, easily his best performance of 2012 so far. Alonso was just over a tenth faster and two places better off.
This paved the way clear for Schumacher to storm around the principality and set a lap of 1.14.301, fractionally quicker than Webber and Rosberg. Sadly the Spanish penalty denies him the top spot but it was a metroic lap and reminds everyone, including yours truly that he still has the ultimate speed on a flying lap. Following his penalty, Schumacher will begin from sixth, so Webber heads Rosberg, Hamilton, Grosjean and Alonso on the startline tomorrow. Ross Brawn told BBC Sport his surprise at Schumacher’s lap; “I have to confess it took a little tear from my eye. He’s been in good shape all weekend. It all came together in qualifying. The penalty is frustrating but that’s the way it is.”
Qualifying turned out to be an intense and storming session and the race could turn into another special. As many as eight drivers could count themselves to be serious contenders for the victory and over 78 laps, with unpredictable weather forecast and a high chance of Safety Cars, who knows what might happen tomorrow.
2012 MONACO GRAND PRIX QUALIFYING CLASSIFICATION – (AFTER GRID PENALTIES)
|1||MARK WEBBER||RED BULL RACING RENAULT||19||1.14.381|
|2||NICO ROSBERG||MERCEDES GP||21||1.14.448|
|3||LEWIS HAMILTON||MCLAREN MERCEDES||20||1.14.583|
|4||ROMAIN GROSJEAN||LOTUS RENAULT||27||1.14.639|
|6||MICHAEL SCHUMACHER||MERCEDES GP||22||1.14.301|
|8||KIMI RAIKKONEN||LOTUS RENAULT||28||1.15.199|
|9||SEBASTIAN VETTEL||RED BULL RACING RENAULT||24||NO TIME IN Q3|
|10 (Q2)||NICO HULKENBERG||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||17||1.15.421|
|11 (Q2)||KAMUI KOBAYASHI||SAUBER FERRARI||19||1.15.508|
|12 (Q2)||JENSON BUTTON||MCLAREN MERCEDES||18||1.15.536|
|13 (Q2)||BRUNO SENNA||WILLIAMS RENAULT||20||1.15.709|
|14 (Q2)||PAUL DI RESTA||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||14||1.15.718|
|15 (Q2)||DANIEL RICCIARDO||STR FERRARI||19||1.15.878|
|16 (Q2)||JEAN-ERIC VERGNE||STR FERRARI||14||1.16.885|
|17 (Q1)||HEIKKI KOVALAINEN||CATERHAM RENAULT||13||1.16.538|
|18 (Q1)||VITALY PETROV||CATERHAM RENAULT||13||1.17.404|
|19 (Q3)||PASTOR MALDONADO||WILLIAMS RENAULT||22||1.15.245|
|20 (Q1)||TIMO GLOCK||MARUSSIA COSWORTH||11||1.17.947|
|21 (Q1)||PEDRO DE LA ROSA||HRT COSWORTH||11||1.18.096|
|22 (Q1)||CHARLES PIC||MARUSSIA COSWORTH||12||1.18.476|
|23 (Q1)||NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN||HRT COSWORTH||8||1.19.310|
|24 (Q1)||SERGIO PEREZ||SAUBER FERRARI||2||NO TIME|
MICHAEL SCHUMACHER RELEGATED FIVE PLACES FOLLOWING CAUSING AVOIDABLE ACCIDENT AT THE SPANISH GRAND PRIX
PASTOR MALDONADO RELEGATED TEN PLACES FOLLOWING DANGEROUS DRIVING IN FREE PRACTICE