Lewis Hamilton finally broke his Monaco GP qualifying hoodoo to deny team-mate Nico Rosberg a pole position hat-trick for F1’s most famous race.
Hamilton, who had never previously set the pace in Monaco qualifying and been beaten by the sister Mercedes in each of the last two seasons, looked set to be denied again in 2015 as Rosberg turned the tables from Thursday practice by setting an impressive pace around the twisty street circuit in Q1 and Q2.
Struggling with tyre temperatures on the supersoft compound, Hamilton appeared to give both himself and his mechanics a pep talk over the radio by saying “calm down and reset”. The words seemed to have the desired effect as come Q3 it was Hamilton who was suddenly setting the pace again as he threaded his W06 between the barriers, producing two lap times which would have been good enough for that hitherto elusive Monaco pole.
His final 1:15.098 time beat the ultimately error-strewn Rosberg by over 0.3s and puts him in the perfect place from which to control Sunday’s 78-lap race from the front.
“It has been a long old time and I can’t express to you just how happy I am,” Hamilton said. “It wasn’t the easiest session, I had a lot of things that could throw you off the rhythm and I didn’t have my rhythm until the last two laps. This is incredibly special for me and for my guys who have worked so hard this weekend.”
Rosberg, in contrast, struggled the longer qualifying went on. Although a big lock-up and off-course moment into Sainte Devote on his second run in Q2 ultimately proved harmless, another puff of tyre smoke into the first corner at the end of Q3 was far more costly and meant the German had to abort his final attempt to beat Hamilton.
“Probably a bit the opposite to Lewis where I had a good rhythm to start qualifying, which I didn’t have all weekend and then I just lost touch a little bit towards the end going for it,” Rosberg admitted. “I know Lewis is going to be quick so I needed to go for it and it didn’t work out.”
Despite his late errors, Rosberg remained on the front-row after Ferrari’s challenge to Mercedes didn’t materialise over a single-lap again, despite Sebastian Vettel flying in final practice.
The German driver, who also backed out of his final lap, finished 0.7s down on Hamilton in third and at the start on Sunday will have his former team-mate Daniel Ricciardo for company as Red Bull delivered by far the most competitive performance of their disappointing season so far.
With the Monaco circuit placing more of an emphasis on driveability and handling than outright power, the Renault-engined cars have run around the top six all weekend and the under-pressure Daniil Kvyat backed up Ricciardo’s effort with a fine fifth place.
The Red Bull duo relegated Kimi Raikkonen to sixth place in the second Ferrari, the Finn still unable to find a breakthrough in single-lap pace. He finished just ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez, who produced one of the best performances of the day to qualify seventh.
After starring through practice, Toro Rosso enjoyed a slightly disappointing session to qualify only eighth and 10th, with Carlos Sainz ahead of Monaco debutant Max Verstappen, who crashed in P3. However, Sainz was later demoted to the pitlane for the start of the race after running the red light for the weighbridge in Q1.
Meanwhile, for the first time this year, Pastor Maldonado proved the lead Lotus driver in ninth place, which becomes eighth.
It was another frustrating case of ‘so near and yet so far’ for McLaren, though, as the top-10 form of practice failed to materialise into a first Q3 appearance of the season.
Indeed, Fernando Alonso reckoned he would have been up in sixth place rather than 15th had yet another Honda-related electrical fault not resulted in his car conking out at Ste Devote at the start of Q2. Jenson Button, meanwhile, was still in the hunt for the pole shootout but was one of several drivers slowed by the yellow flag for Rosberg’s off-track moment at the end of the second session.
Button, who missed out on 10th by the narrowest of margins, qualified 12th but will actually start two places higher courtesy of Romain Grosjean’s out-of-sequence gearbox change and Sainz’s own demotion.
As a former Monaco winner himself, Button knows that any position further up the order is particularly invaluable in the principality – and it’s his former team-mate Hamilton who is firmly in the box seat to increase his championship lead in Sunday’s race.
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:15.098
2. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 1:15.440
3. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, 1:15.849
4. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, 1:16.041
5. Daniil Kvyat, Red Bull, 1:16.182
6. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1:16.427
7. Sergio Perez, Force India, 1:16.808
8. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, 1:16.931
9. Pastor Maldonado, Lotus, 1:16.946
10. Max Verstappen, Toro Rosso, 1:16.957
Out in Q2:
11. Romain Grosjean, Lotus, 1:17.007
12. Jenson Button, McLaren, 1:17.093
13. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, 1:17.193
14. Felipe Massa, Williams, 1:17.278
15. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, 1:26.632
Out in Q1:
16. Felipe Nasr, Sauber, 1:18.101
17. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 18:434
18. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, 1:18.513
19. Will Stevens, Manor, 1:20.655
20. Roberto Merhi, Manor, 1:20.904