In an important qualifying session that saw many drivers show their worth by setting fast laps, it was Felipe Massa who eventually got the last laugh with an impressive tour of Monaco that enabled him to pip his team mate and claim the pole for tomorrow’s race. Speaking in the press conference after a stunning qualifying session, the diminuative Brazilian was visibly happy, relaxed and even a little surprised by his own performance. Conversely, Kimi Raikkonen didn’t look to pleased with P2 on the grid, the Finn clearly aiming for the pole all day.
With the front row of the grid locked-out to Ferrari, McLaren will have to work very hard during tomorrow’s race if they are to overcome their third and fourth positions. Lewis Hamilton looked threatening for most of the session, but his middle sector wasn’t quite up to the par of others, Hamilton stating in the press conference that he was loosing time in the Mirabeau and Portier corners as he threaded his McLaren towards the tunnel. Heikki Kovalainen looked good at times as well, the MP4-23 not performing too badly around the streets of Monte Carlo.
Q1 was all about Kovalainen, Massa and Nelson Piquet Jr. The McLaren rider drove well setting a fine early pace and building upon it as the track weathered in. The rain from the morning washed the surface a little which meant the cars were sliding a fair bit in the slower corners. Kovalainen was probably among the smoothest though as the cars ventured out on track and the Finn initially went P2 with the 2-quick-lap run; Heikki going faster on the second lap. Later in the session Kovalainen went fastest with a stuning 1m15.295s, not too far away from the fastest lap set today.
The first run of the afternoon was also about Felipe Massa, the Brazilian showing his first signs of proper form by going fastest at the end of the twenty minutes with a very fast 1m15.190s. The only other driver worth mentioning from Q1 is Nelson Piquet Jr. Alas, it isn’t for good reasons as the second Renault driver did his reputation no favours by struggling around the track. The R28 in Piquet’s hands did not look good and the Brazilian driver, who was raised in Monaco, was sliding about left, right and centre. Piquet Jr. qualified seventeenth, his team mate, in the same car (set up aside) went seventh.
Q2 was all about David Coulthard, Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso for me. In his Williams FW30 and driving for a team that is celebrating 600 race attempts this weekend, Rosberg put in a superb qualifying effort. The German driver did well in Q1 to pop in a fastest lap early on, but in Q2 he out-did my expectations and was able to continue his pace. Rosberg became a contender for the fastest driver when he went second partway through the fifteen minute session. Nico easily made it into Q3, leaving his team mate Kazuki Nakajima back in fourteenth.
While Massa was once again happy being the fastest for most of the middle run, it was David Coulthard who suddenly became Monaco’s most unhappy resident. With both Red Bull’s suddenly improved and looking quite handy, Coulthard slammed the right side of his car into the barrier and ploughed down the escape road at the chicane after the tunnel. The force of his accident was initially quite shocking, his RB3 appearing to violently twitch out from under the Scot and causing serious damage to the front-right.
Coulthard jumped out of the car and ran back the pitlane while marshals swept the track and craned the stricken car onto a flatbed. Once returned to the pitlane it was initially reported that Coulthard had blamed himself for the accident, claiming he leaned on the brakes too much and caused the instability in the car. However, the team are investigating just what did happen because the way the car snapped away from the line was pretty weird.
And while the cameras were on Coulthard, Fernando Alonso, who was pretty much no where all day and was heard complaining to his engineers that he had little grip from the back-end of his Renault, popped in a decent lap to get him into the final qualifying session. Quite where the Spaniard dug to get the lap out is unknown, but it was a pretty special lap simply because of the apparent pace of the R28 around Monaco.
So Q3 would be contest between nine drivers, Coulthard having made it into the last session but being forced to sit out due to not having a car to compete with. Robert Kubica was one of the first drivers to break cover and the Pole went second, made even more impressive when replays showed he locked up at Rascasse and lost a few tenths while he gathered up his BMW F1.08. Unfortunately for BMW, Robert was the only driver representing the marque in the final session, Nick Heidfeld seemingly not getting on top of his qualifying woes yet.
In the last gasp for pole position it all looked like Kimi Raikkonen. The Ferrari driver, although not necessarily the fastest on previous runs, looked menacing and was surely on for the top-spot. The Finn managed a 1m15.815s which put him in the coverted position, and as Heikki Kovalainen crossed the line for second, only two drivers remained who could spoil Kimi’s day. Lewis Hamilton, who has looked good all weekend, didn’t quite manage it and the Briton replaced his team mate in second, demoting Heikki to third. However, further demotions were to come as Massa pulled a lap out of the bag and planted his F2008 on pole, a lap time that even he was surprised at.
The all-red front row means McLaren will have a tough time in tomorrow’s race, overtaking being a premium in Monaco. The Woking-team will need a decent strategy if they are to pass Ferrari in the pits, but as shown, they perhaps aren’t too good at that either at the moment. The weather may also play a big part in the proceedings, today’s earlier rain proving that conditions can very quickly become tricky. As Q3 ended ITV reported light rain falling in the principality. And finally, Felipe Massa is continuing to respond to his critics by performing admirably and Raikkonen will be kicking himself this evening for losing out on P1.
For a further look at the grid, including the penalties given previously, check out the qualifying result post by clicking here.