Qualifying debrief: Can Webber claim second Monaco win?

By on Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mark Webber will start from the front in Monaco

The 2012 Formula One season is the gift that keeps on giving. After a quiet opening few days, Formula One burst into life around the streets of Monte Carlo on Saturday and little did we think that in the midst of the Williams pit burning down in Barcelona, news of Michael Schumacher’s five place penalty for crashing into Bruno Senna would have such repercussions two weeks later. Schumacher has not shown exceptional pace compared to Nico Rosberg since his comeback at the start of the 2010 season, making the front row just once in Canada. Even then, Schumacher could barely conceal his disappointment at a half second deficit to his compatriot. But the seven times world champion, who has been outqualified by a team-mate just once in Monte Carlo, stunned the F1 paddock by snatching pole position in the dying moments of qualifying for Sunday’s race. Sadly for him and for his masses of committed fans, he will drop to sixth on the grid. Schumacher commented that ‘it has taken a little bit longer than I might have wanted in the second chapter of my career, but that makes it even sweeter. It's just beautiful’. Indeed.

Ross Brawn admitted to feeling emotional following Schumacher’s first pole position since 2006 but the German’s penalty means that Nico Rosberg will start on the front row. Rosberg has had a quiet start to the weekend but has breezed confidence around the streets where he grew up. Pole position will officially be awarded to Mark Webber for the second time in three years. Team mate Sebastian Vettel was less fortunate. The German had to use an extra set of option tyres in Q2 following a crash by Jean Eric Vergne; this left him short on tyres for the final segment of the session and he abandoned his flying lap meaning that last year’s winner will start from an unenviable ninth position. Vettel has not looked confident all weekend; he radioed into his team that the car was bouncing all over the place and he skimmed the wall in final practice. This race could be a case of damage limitation for the reigning world champion who hinted after qualifying that he may start the race on the prime tyres.

There were contrasting fortunes too next door at McLaren. After his abysmal weekend in Monaco a year ago, Lewis Hamilton will be relieved at third place although team mate Jenson Button is having progressively dire Saturdays. He failed to make it out of Q2 for the second successive race weekend and will line up twelfth; memories of his dominant Australian victory are ebbing into the past.

Michael Schumacher went fastest, but he's not on pole

Ferrari will be confident of taking a large points haul away from the principality, even if a first victory in Monaco since 2001 is a long shot. Felipe Massa has been driving with a new found confidence and lines up seventh, just two places behind Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard commented that “it will be nice to have [Michael] close by, but I’ll be concentrating on passing the four in front rather than thinking about the sixth placed man”. With rumours circulating that Ferrari is keen to sign a replacement for the Brazilian, could this be the start of an upturn in fortunes for the man who came within a whisker of the 2008 world title? The build-up has been all about this weekend being Monte Carlo or bust for Massa; so far, so good.

Many tipped Lotus to be electric around Monaco but ultimately the team came up short in preparation for their 500th race. Kimi Raikkonen could manage only eighth having struggled to advance from the second knockout session. Nevertheless, Romain Grosjean has been outstanding all weekend and will start from fourth place. A first win for the team since 2008 may be a long shot, but don’t rule out the French driver climbing onto the podium on Sunday.

Williams had high hopes of adding a second victory to their tally but all hopes evaporated after a moment of madness for Pastor Maldonado in final practice. The Venezuelan was irate at being held up by Sergio Perez and moved across the Mexican when the latter moved off-line to let the Spanish Grand Prix victory through approaching Portier. The two made contact and Perez was irate at the incident. Maldonado made it through to Q3 comfortably but set only the ninth best time. As a result of his actions he sustained a ten place penalty so drops to nineteenth on the grid. Bruno Senna’s qualifying struggles continue; the Brazilian could manage only thirteenth.

Perez fared little better than his aggressor in qualifying as a mechanical failure pitched him into the wall exiting the Swimming Pool chicane. The Mexican attempted to hobble back to the pits but was thwarted when his left rear wheel detached itself from his C31 as he entered Rascasse and he had to park his car agonisingly close to the pit entry; he missed the 2011 race through injury and he will be the last driver to take to the grid on Sunday. “We are still analysing everything to see if there was something wrong with the car”, the Mexican said. “I was on my first lap, so was not pushing a lot. I went into the tunnel and had a lot of understeer and then I went into turns 13 and 14. Thirteen was quite fine but in 14 I just went straight and didn’t get the car to turn.”

Vitaly Petrov suffered a KERS failure

Nico Hulkenberg will start from tenth place following an indifferent start to his season in which he has been overshadowed by team mate Paul di Resta. The German, whose only Monaco Grand Prix in 2010 ended on the opening lap, has kept it out of the barriers this weekend. The same cannot be said for di Resta, who lost control under braking for the Nouvelle Chicane during final practice and blamed his qualifying woes on struggling with the rear of the car. Jean Eric Vergne made a similar mistake during the second qualifying session and starts from seventeenth, behind Di Resta and alongside team mate Daniel Ricciardo.

Heikki Kovalainen came close to spoiling the day for a couple of runners but could ultimately only manage eighteenth; Vitaly Petrov starts nineteenth but was impressive considering the KERS on his Caterham CT01 malfunctioned. Timo Glock outqualified his team mate Charles Pic but the duo was split by Pedro De La Rosa; the HRT has looked like a terrifying machine to guide around the principality so credit has to go to the Spaniard for usurping the highly-rated Pic. Narain Karthikeyan, who has spent much of the weekend failing to negotiate the Nouvelle Chicane, was over a second down on his team mate and may well find himself getting in the way of the leaders during the race.

Pirelli expects drivers to be able to make just a single pit stop, although most may favour a two-stop strategy. Sebastian Vettel emerged victorious in 2011 after just a single detour to the pit lane but he was being harassed by the multi-stopping Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button until the red flag intervened. Five men have now claimed pole position in 2012; the stage is set for an enthralling seventy-eight laps of Monte Carlo on Sunday. Can we have six from six?

Update: Williams elected to change the gearbox on Pastor Maldonado's car; he will start 24th.

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