Vettel takes Monaco pole as Perez crashes


Ahead of today's all important qualifying session for the Monaco Grand Prix, the air temperature is 23 degrees C, while the track temperature is 45 degrees. It is bright, sunny and quite beautiful.

Fernando Alonso was quickest in this morning's session, as he was on Friday, however, the session was marred by two hefty crashes - one involving Nico Rosberg the other Tonio Liuzzi - which meant we lost 18 minutes of tracktime.

Liuzzi's crash, coming at the very end of the session, meant that neither Red Bull driver got to do a flying lap on the supersoft option rubber. Consequently, it would appear that the Milton Keynes duo have something in reserve.

Over the years Monaco has produced some surprises, however, it is unlikely that the weather or lack of fuel will decide tomorrow's winner. On the other hand, tyre strategy could play a major part in deciding the finishing order, as it has in most races this season.

Pirelli reckons the supersofts are 1.2s - 1.4s quicker than the softs however, they are only good for 2 hot laps. On the other hand, the softs are said to be good for 30 laps which means we could be seeing a number of drivers opt for just one stop here.

As ever, traffic is a nightmare here and even if Rosberg and Liuzzi don't make it Q1 there will be 22 cars out there and could still be a lottery with some of the big names paying the price.

With overtaking nigh impossible here tomorrow, despite KERS and DRS, pole position here is more important that at any other circuit, with the pole-sitter usually heading off into the distance unchallenged. The big question is who can stop the Vettel/Red Bull steamroller, because this is going to be one of the best opportunities.

As the lights go green Rosberg stands at the back of the Mercedes garage, helmet on and ready to go. However, his mechanics are still working feverishly on his car.

Petrov and D'Ambrosio get the session underway, followed by Schumacher, a five-time winner here.

D'Ambrosio posts a 1:23.192 enjoying a moment of glory at the top of the Monaco timesheets before Petrov posts 18.112 and Schumacher 18.176. Elsewhere, Rosberg climbs into his car.

Heidfeld goes third, ahead of Sutil, Buemi, Perez and Alguersuari.

Button goes straight to the top of the timesheets (17.059) having gone quickest in the two final sectors. Next time around he immediately goes quicker in S1. As the Englishman continues on his way, teammate Hamilton posts 16.321 to go quickest. Button re-takes the top sot with a 15.969 having been quickest in all three sectors. All these times posted on the harder (prime) rubber.

As Schumacher improves with a 16.910, Vettel goes quickest in S2, finally crossing the line at 16.317 to go second overall.

A 15.606 sees Vettel go quickest as teammate Webber consolidates seventh with a 16.985. Moments later Button sticks in a 15.397 the 2009 champion looking very, very good this weekend. If it is down to tyres, Jense is your man.

With 9:40 on the clock, Rosberg leaves the pits. Only the Hispania duo haven't post a time, both having failed to make the 107% rule cut in any of the practice sessions.

Hamilton posts 15.207 to make it a McLaren 1-2, as Rosberg immediately goes fifth with a 16.265, his first flying lap of the day. Superb stuff from the youngster.

Other than the Hispanias, the Virgins and Lotus fill the danger zone with Buemi keeping them company. The Swiss makes the surprise decision to switch to the option rubber, playing his cards mighty early. Sutil, di Resta and Perez hovering above the danger zone.

Buemi improves to seventh with a 16.358 as Schumacher opts to make the switch to supersofts - a big gamble from the German.

Perez (option) goes sixth with a 16.115 as Schumacher fails to improve, the German bogged down in traffic. As Alguersuari clouts the back of Kobayashi's Sauber as the two round Rascasse.

Schumacher improves to sixth with a 16.092 as teammate Rosberg, now on the softer rubber, posts 15.858.

Hamilton, Button, Vettel and Alonso remain in their cars, happy with what they've done. Alguersuari looks as though he'll miss the cut, the Spaniard in the pits following his collision.

Di Resta makes a late improvement to sixteenth, however, he's bumped down when Kobayashi goes thirteenth with a 16.513. Both Lotus drivers are on track but unlikely to endanger the Scot.

At the end of Q1, we lose Kovalainen, Trulli, Alguersuari, Glock, D'Ambrosio, Karthikeyan and Liuzzi, neither of the Hispania drivers having posted a time. Other than the obvious damage to Liuzzi's car, Karthikeyan was sidelined by a rear suspension problem.

Quickest was Hamilton, ahead of Button, Vettel, Maldonado, Rosberg, Perez, Alonso, Webber, Schumacher and Massa.

Sutil, Buemi, Rosberg, Schumacher and di Resta are first out for Q2, the air temperature having dropped (slightly) to 22 degrees C.

Most drivers are on prime, saving their options for later in the session. Only Schumacher is on options, albeit used ones.

No sooner has Schumacher gone quickest with a 15.850 than he is demoted by Webber (14.996). Moments later Hamilton and Button go first and second with a 14.275 and 14.587 respectively. Elsewhere, Alguersuari has been hauled off to see the stewards.

Vettel splits the McLarens with a 14.314, but Button is already on a hot lap, the McLaren driver going quickest in S1. Button improves with a 14.545 but remains third.

With 7:45 on the clock, Perez, Petrov, Sutil, di Resta, Heidfeld, Buemi and Kobayashi in the danger zone.

Vettel goes quickest in S2 but at the line is two-thousandths slower than Hamilton. Alonso can only manage fourth (14.569) while Massa is down in eighth (15.786). Replay show the Brazilian cutting the exit at the Swimming Pool.

Desperate to make it into Q3, Schumacher fits another set of options as Petrov looks set to improve. The Russian crosses the line at 16.037 to go tenth… is it enough?

Massa improves to fifth (14.648), dropping Petrov to eleventh as Perez goes eighth (15.482). Both Williams still very much in danger.

Maldonado goes tenth, thereby demoting his teammate into the danger zone. Rosberg leaves the pits on supersofts.

With 1:50 on the clock all but Hamilton, Vettel, Button, Alonso and Webber are on track.

Sutil can only manage fourteenth, Force India disappointing here this afternoon as di Resta looks to improve on seventeenth.

Petrov pits, the Russian resigned to not making the cut, as Barrichello attempts to improve on twelfth. He fails.

Di Resta misses the cut but does at least leapfrog his teammate. For reasons best known to himself, Perez is back out despite having made the cut.

Therefore, we lose Petrov, Barrichello, Kobayashi, di Resta, Sutil, Heidfeld and Buemi.

Quickest, by two-thousandth of a second, is Hamilton, ahead of Vettel, Button, Alonso, Massa, Rosberg, Webber, Schumacher, Perez and Maldonado.

Ahead of the all important final phase, only the Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari drivers have two sets of options available.

Schumacher is first out for a phase which we hope will be a little more exciting than some of those witnessed in recent times.

As Schumacher begins his first flying lap, all but Vettel, Hamilton, Maldonado and Perez are on track. Hamilton, in particular, showing no particular desire to get to work.

Schumacher crosses the line at 15.020, while Alonso goes second with an 18.681 having obviously had a problem.

No sooner has Massa posted 14.889 than Button raises the benchmark with a mighty 13.997.

Webber posts 14.019 to go second as Vettel goes quickest in S1. The German remains quickest in S2 as Alonso posts 14.483, finally crossing the line at 13.556 to take provisional pole.

With 4:50 on the clock Hamilton heads down the pitlane, followed by Perez and Maldonado.

While Hamilton saves a new set of options for tomorrow, the majority of his rivals come out for a second run. The McLaren driver gesticulates at Massa, the Englishman clearly feeling his Ferrari rival cost him time.

As Schumacher goes fifth (14.682), Perez crashes at the Nouvelle Chicane, bringing out the red flag and seriously damaging Hamilton's chances. As the marshals surround the Sauber, with no sign of the Mexican moving in the car it brings back memories of Karl Wendlinger's accident at the same spot in a Sauber in 1995.

Replay shows the Mexican losing control as he exits the tunnel, the car snapping to the right and into the barriers, the driver is totally helpless as he heads sideways into the barrier at the foot of the hill. It's a virtual mirror of Rosberg's crash this morning, though in this case Perez unfortunately hit the barriers. However, he can be seen raising his hands in anticipation of the impact.

There is a long, worrying wait as the marshal extract Perez from his car, their every move done under cover of large screens.

Minutes after the youngster is placed in the ambulance word comes through that he is conscious and talking to the doctors. As his car is returned to the pits on the back of a truck the full horror of the impact is visible.

There remains 2:56 on the clock. It's going to be very, very busy when the session does resume, with Hamilton the man really under pressure - having failed to post a time. Likewise Maldonado.

At 15:27 local time, Race Control announces that the session will resume at 15:35.

The current order is Vettel, Button, Webber, Alonso, Schumacher, Massa, Rosberg, Hamilton, Maldonado and Perez.

Inevitably there is a queue at the end of the pitlane and inevitable Lewis Hamilton is at the head of it. All the time he waits there - at least a couple of minutes - he's losing heat from his tyres.

The lights go green, Hamilton leads the field around Ste Devote and up the hill. All nine remaining drivers are on track.

As he begins this all important flying lap, the pressure on Hamilton is tremendous.

Button slows at the Nouvelle Chicane, allowing Rosberg through. Hamilton can only manage 15.280 which puts him seventh. Indeed, there are no improvements and drivers are told to back off and save their tyres. Maldonado (16.528) takes ninth.

Vettel takes his fifth ole of the season, however, there is no celebrating. Like his rivals, the German's thoughts are elsewhere.

For various reasons the session is as much of an anti-climax as we experienced in China, Turkey and Spain.

So, Sebastian Vettel takes pole for the 2011 Grande Prix de Monaco, ahead of Button, Webber, Alonso, Schumacher, Massa, Hamilton, Rosberg, Maldonado and Sergio Perez.

The beautiful people get ready to party, the yachts bob up and down in the water, but for many the main thing on their minds is Sergio Perez as Monaco reminds us that despite the glitz and glamour it is a racing circuit and a highly dangerous and demanding one at that.

To check out our Monaco qualifying gallery, click here.

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Published: 28/05/2011
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