Just as the rain stopped, qualifying began around the streets of Monte Carlo, and following on from the practice times set on Thursday, it was clearly going to be a contest between the McLaren drivers of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. Saturday warm up though threw up a little surprise, with a wet circuit allowing Adrian Sutil in the Spyker to set a fastest time. For the Dutch team, it was disappointment by the time qualifying began as the circuit had pretty much dried out. The conditions were though, less than perfect, with grip levels unknown and weather reports threatening further downpours.
Qualifying round one saw the usual procession of cars, although this time more went out early to get a banker lap in, just in case the rain returned and plagued them further into the session. For the first five minutes, both Honda’s looked improved as Jenson Button led Rubens Barrichello, who then went faster to lead Button. Unfortunately for the Japanese team though, their pace was short lived as the McLaren’s and Ferrari’s soon went out and pushed everyone down the table.
With four minutes on the clock, the times really started to tumble and the McLaren’s were going back and forth between first and second. Alonso went 1m17s, Hamilton went 1m16.9s. Alonso went 1m16.8s, Hamilton went 1m16.2s. And then, just because he could, and possibly to play a mind game with his competitors, Hamilton went and improved on his already red hot lap by doing a 1m15.6s.
Dropped out from Q1: Christijan Albers, Adrian Sutil, Scott Speed, Ralf Schumacher, Anthony Davidson, Takuma Sato.
With no further rain, qualifying two started in much the same way as the first round, with a few drivers out to set banker laps, but the majority just waiting around until the twelfth minute before venturing out to set times. In fact, it was three minutes into the session that I felt a moment of déjà vu.
By the time the TV cameras had picked up on the action, we were seeing Kimi Raikkonen closing to a stop in La Rascasse, pointing his nose at the same bit of wall his predecessor did last year. While Michael Schumacher’s incident caused a great deal of controversy in 2006, Kimi Raikkonen clearly had a problem, as he had nothing to gain by stopping on circuit. His actions actually blocked team mate Felipe Massa, who had to squeeze his F2007 around Raikkonen just to clear him. Kimi eventually got the car back to the pits where it was apparent his steering arm had dismantled itself. Looking at replays, Kimi appears to turn in very early into the Tabac, clips the inside barrier, darts across the inside area, bounces heavily over a kerb and lands with his front wheels pointing to two different directions.
Later, Kimi is seen leaving the pit lane in a very bad mood. One cannot blame the Finn, but it does appear his reputation as a car breaker has followed him to Italy. The young charger is having a tough time at the moment, and starting in 16th position in Monaco will not help.
Once the area was clear at La Rascasse, the times started to tumble again, but this time Hamilton managed to edge out Alonso earlier with a 1.15.4s. Although Fernando came close, it just wasn’t enough. But with both cars through to round three, they were doing better than rivals Ferrari.
In the dying moments of the second round, David Coulthard is touring the track on an out lap, while Heikki Kovalainen is storming up behind the Scot on a fast lap. However, despite catching the Red Bull through the Swimming Pool complex, Coulthard does not move out of the way and remains in position through to the start of his own fast lap. Heikki does not improve on his lap time, and I’m sure some rude Finnish words were uttered inside his helmet. Both drivers were called to the stewards office in the 15 minute break between Q2 and Q3. David Coulthard was removed from Q3.
For the chop in Q2: Kimi Raikkonen, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Jarno Trulli, Alex Wurz, Heikki Kovalainen, David Coulthard.
Qualifying three turned out to be less spectacular than we had hoped. With a small amount of rain falling on certain parts of the track, the circuit appeared to not get any faster, and the ‘Dan Dare’ drivers seemed to back-off almost unnecessarily. Of course, the absence of Raikkonen meant that all Ferrari’s eyes were on Felipe Massa, but the Brazilian could only manage third on the grid, and even then it was after a late surge. It seems Ferrari are going to be having a difficult Monaco Grand Prix, where the only real chance of winning will come from both McLaren’s taking each other out. Lewis Hamilton seemed to over-cook it a little on his fast laps, getting his MP4-22 sideways too much. While the British driver does seem to revel in a lively car, going around Loews while looking back up the hill is perhaps too much! Still, front row outside position for the fast starter will be welcome for the young man.
Experience reigned though, and when it mattered, Alonso’s calm and collected nature rose above the feisty abilities of his team mate to take the pole. Alonso drove fast when it mattered, kept his car in check and seemingly cruised to the front of the grid in true Alonso-style. A deserved pole for the Spaniard and a deserved second for Lewis.
Williams ran well, just as they did last year, and hopefully improved reliability will deliver a better result than their 2006 form. Red Bull racing have Mark Webber up in sixth, who last year helped the Williams’ run well. However, with team mate David Coulthard in trouble with the stewards, Webber will need to lead the team to a points paying finish if they are to redeem themselves. Renault have also improved, and it seems the tight and twisty nature of Monte Carlo suits the R27 better than the fast sweeping corners. Let’s hope the Anglo-French squad can capitalise on this.
For full qualifying result, click here.