Monaco Grand Prix – qualifying


It’s the sound that counts, rather than its provenance. As soon as an exhaust’s siren bark first echoes from Monte Carlo’s many apartment blocks, it creates a feelgood factor. This morning a Formula Renault 3.5 symphony struck up just as Ferrari peeled the wraps from its traditional media breakfast. Croissants, a cuppa and sonic bliss: a fine cocktail.

About two hours later the final F1 practice was a messy affair, littered with accidents that sidelined Felipe Massa, Adrian Sutil and Romain Grosjean. Massa’s car could not be repaired in time for Q1 and his day was through: the Brazilian’s gearbox was damaged in the shunt and required replacement, so he picked up a five-place grid penalty (which will make little difference unless he’s forced to start from Antibes). Sutil’s car suffered relatively minor scuffs and Lotus’s mechanics did a stellar job to get Grosjean back on track with little more than four minutes of qualifying’s first phase remaining. Conditions were tricky, with the circuit rendered greasy by lunchtime drizzle, but Grosjean’s confidence had taken rather less of a battering than his car. On his first flying lap he shot momentarily to the top of the timesheets: yes, he had fresh intermediates at that stage, but the immediacy of his commitment was impressive. Ultimately the Franco-Swiss would be knocked out in Q2, hindered by traffic and having been among the first to complete his run on a track that was becoming quicker by the lap as drivers switched from intermediates to super-softs.

At least he got that far: late in Q1, Force India failed to call Paul di Resta for fresh intermediates and the Scot duly tumbled, Giedo van der Garde capitalising to stick his Caterham in Q2 for the first time.

Nico Rosberg has been Mercedes-Benz’s quickest representative all weekend and we wondered what tactical mischief might come into play if the two Silver Arrows qualified at the front. Would Ross Brawn ask one driver to perform strategically to assist the other? How might Hamilton respond if he’s asked to fulfil a defensive role? Or will the pair be free to race from the start, with the possibility that one of the Monaco GP’s biggest ever traffic jams could develop if the Mercs’ tyre degradation follows a pattern that has become familiar in recent races? The answers await.

“Conditions were all over the place so you had to be out there at the right time on the right tyres,” Rosberg said, after a session that ran reasonably smoothly from his perspective (with the exception of two minor lapses at Mirabeau).

Hamilton expressed surprise that he’d qualified at the front. “I’ve really been struggling,” he said, “the first time I’ve ever experienced that in Monaco – and I’ve been competing here since 2005. That final lap was the first all weekend in which I’ve been able to switch my tyres on.”

The seasonal qualifying score between the Mercedes drivers stands at three apiece – but the momentum is very much with Rosberg. Should he win tomorrow, he’ll repeat the feat his father Keke achieved in a Williams 30 years ago.

Both Mercedes drivers opted for two-lap runs at the end, but championship leader Sebastian Vettel plumped for only one en route to third, ahead of team-mate Mark Webber. “The car was good and I thought one lap would be enough,” the German said, “but the front tyres weren’t really up to temperature through Ste Dévote or Casino. I’m happy to see the two Mercedes guys ahead of me, though, rather than a Lotus or a Ferrari, because I’m sure they’ll have to stop at least as often as we do.”

Shortly after Friday’s blog filtered onto the ether, we learned that serial miscreant Johnny Cecotto would be suspended from this afternoon’s GP2 Series race. There have been several reasons to punish the Venezuelan this season, but yesterday’s multiple accident wasn’t necessarily one of them. Cecotto simply made a hash of the first corner – and Fabio Leimer, pincered to the outside, followed him off the road. There were two separate accidents to Cecotto’s right, neither directly his fault, but stewards decreed that he should carry the can for a pile-up involving 16 cars.

He could justly have been barred earlier in the campaign – for crudely barging Sam Bird off the road during qualifying in Malaysia, or one particularly vicious defensive swipe in Barcelona, a major accident being avoided thanks only to rivals’ prompt evasive action. In the first instance he was stripped of his qualifying times, in the second he escaped censure of any kind. Things have morphed from no reaction to overreaction.

GP2 points leader Stefano Coletti (Rapax) won this afternoon’s race, after passing pole-sitter and early leader Adrian Quaife-Hobbs (MP Motorsport) at the chicane, but for Cecotto it was a case of right punishment, wrong time.

In his absence, though, the race passed without a yellow flag until lap 24 of 30.

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