Monaco GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
Schumacher's glory; Webber's pole
BY TONY DODGINS
On Wednesday, Ross Brawn, absent from Barcelona, talked about Michael Schumacher's five place Monaco grid penalty for his collision with Bruno Senna in Spain.
He thought it was perhaps a bit harsh, likening it to a couple of people heading towards each other on the sidewalk, going the same way and accidentally bumping into each other.
Whatever, on the evidence of the past two and a half years, few would have suspected it would make the difference between Michael starting from his 69th F1 pole position and starting the 70th Monaco GP sixth.
Unfortunately for Schumacher, and to a certain extent the story, that's precisely what has happened. You can only speculate on the extent to which it will grate on Schumacher's mind when goes to bed contemplating race day, but he certainly wasn't letting it show.
But for that Barcelona moment Michael would have been the oldest pole sitter since Jack Brabham in 1970. What nobody could take away though, was that, at 43, he was the fastest man around Monte Carlo! And didn't he love it...
"It's beautiful!" Schumacher beamed. "I'm more than thrilled and excited. Monaco to all of us is the race of the year and to manage pole here after what's happened in the last two and a half years, is just fabulous."
There was humility too: "Last week I had a special session with the guys who work closely with me. I'm grateful for the trust and support that Mercedes has given me and it's nice to give something back. I hope I can give more tomorrow." He meant it, too.
While not even Schumacher would claim that he had expectations of pole in Monaco, it was not a complete surprise to him that Mercedes qualified quickest and third quickest in the Principality.
"I said that here and probably Canada should be tracks that suit us, so it's not a complete surprise," he said, "After Thursday free practice and this morning though, I wasn't confident about fighting for pole. But we dialed the car in to perfection and it's a great team effort."
Schumacher knows that he will face an uphill task in the race if he has ambitions of climbing onto the top step of the podium.
"I've finished fifth here from last and I'll do the best I can," he added, "but it's likely to be a one-stop race with only a small window to play with strategically, and overtaking is tough."
Schumacher's penalty means that Mark Webber will start Monaco pole for the second time in three years.
"It's Michael's day," the Australian admitted graciously, "but it was an amazing session. Q3 was very tight between the first few with different tyre strategies going on. Michael did a good lap but here of all places it's great to move up a position. We weren't too strong on Thursday but our cars on Sunday are generally pretty good. I'm very happy with today's job."
On Thursday Webber hadn't been too convinced by the Red Bull at the quicker places, like Massenet/Casino and the Swimming Pool but suddenly the balance was better and there was more rubber down. "And the driver always brakes a bit later on Saturday..." Mark smiled.
It was tight. Schumacher lapped in 1:14.301, Webber in 1:14.381 and third-placed Rosberg in 1:14.448.
"It was a good session but I had a bit too much understeer," Nico said. "The first row tomorrow is a good place to start but it won't be an easy race. Tyre degradation will be an issue but we've done the best we can."
A 1:14.583s lap from Lewis Hamilton for fourth on the grid was probably a stand-out performance given that McLaren never seemed truly in the fight and team mate Jenson Button languishes back 13th after failing to make it out of Q2.
Romain Grosjean (1:14.639) did not quite manage to join the pole scrap despite being the quickest driver to escape Q1 without using the option tyres. The Frenchman was still more than half a second clear of Lotus team mate Kimi Raikkonen (1:15.199), who starts eighth.
The inter-team Ferrari battle was much closer than of late, with Felipe Massa actually quickest of all in Q2 and the only driver under 1m15s during that session. Fernando Alonso (1:14.948) got it together to narrowly pipe Felipe (1:15.049) in Q3 as the red cars line up sixth and seventh.
Barcelona man of the moment Pastor Maldonado, frustratingly for Williams, will pay heavily for a moment of madness in FP3, when he chopped Sergio Perez going into Portiers and made contact with the Sauber. The stewards gave Madonado a 10-place grid penalty and he will now start the race 19th instead of ninth (1:15.245).
World champion Sebastian Vettel did not feel he had the pace to compete for the pole. He used a set of supersofts to escape Q1 and could manage only ninth in Q2. He did not set a Q3 time, giving the option to start the race on hard tyres.
Theoretically, if he Vettel can stay in touch, he could lead when the front-runners pit after their supersoft starting stint and run a one-stop race, the strategy that saw him win last year, albeit with a little help from a late red flag.
Perhaps the biggest loser of all was poor Perez, the man who was excellent last year at Monaco until the Q3 accident that put him in a coma. He had been excellent again this time but on the first run through the Swimming Pool in Q1, his left front - the one hit by Maldonado in FP3 -- did not go in the same direction as the right. The Sauber went into the barrier and Perez starts last - at Monaco of all places.
Webber, Hamilton, Schumacher or Grosjean look well placed to make it a sixth different winner in 2012, unless Rosberg can do anything to stop them...