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The Kingmaker: Monaco Qualifying Review

By Nikki Grubb-Clarke

I LOVE the smell of Monaco in the morning! OK, Afternoon – picky, picky! Qualifying is super important in the beautiful Principality. If you want to finish on the podium, you HAVE to qualify well. So how does the land lay going into the Qualifying? Pull up a chair…

The Practice sessions on Thursday and Saturday followed a now-familiar routine, with Mercedes topping all 3 sessions. There is a real chance they could win here, but they would need to lock out the front row and play the team game. Easy, peasy…she says!

FP3 brought about a game of ‘Who Can Upset Their Mechanics The Most’ with Felipe Massa, Romain Grosjean and Adrian Sutil pummeling the living life out of their cars. 2-hour rebuild job required for each car to be ready by qualifying! On your marks….get set…

Felipe proved the most dedicated to the game, as his rebuild brought about a gearbox change, and as such a 5-place grid penalty.

The cool Finn in his super-cool Monaco-special helmet. Image courtesy Lotus F1 team (for editorial use only)

The Finn in his super-cool Monaco-special. Image courtesy Lotus F1 team (for editorial use only)

As a brief aside, Kimi Raikkonen is wearing a quite-wonderful James Hunt memorial helmet this weekend, as he did last year. However rumour control has it that Bernie isn’t a happy bunny! Why he isn’t happy isn’t clear, but word is, he’s insisting Kimi cover it up. Well, we have to expect brain fart moments if we insist on allowing an octogenarian to run the sport.

Nose job complete and looking good for McLaren through FP1, 2 and 3 – even Jenson Button almost managed to be positive. Maybe the Grinch’s heart has grown 1 of the 3 sizes – we shall see! Predictions are still that McLaren will struggle to get to Q3, but the signs are definitely more encouraging than they have been.

It’s a Saturday in Monaco at the end of May. With the beautiful Mediterranean coast hurtling into Summer, Stone and I took our seats and donned our shades ready for an hour of sunshine. But some 20 years after the King of Monaco last drove here, Monaco wants a new Hero, and something amazing happened. It rained.

Cue the most action-packed qualifying session of the season so far, with almost all the cars on the track almost all the time. If only EVERY qualifying session was like this one!

Qualifying 1

Jules Bianchi who has impressed all year, got caught smoking on his out lap, and was forced to stop with, what turned out to be an airbox fire. A real shame for a young man catching a lot of important eyes this year. If I were Marussia, I’d be tempted to get the Walking Wallet to turn out his pockets just to be sure there aren’t any ‘spare Jules parts’ in there.

As the session progressed, the rain eased, and it became clear that this was going to be about timing. Time your run perfectly, and massively improve your chances of getting into Q2.

Pastor Maldonado made it to Qualifying 2 for a change. Image courtesy Williams F1 team (for editorial use only)

Pastor Maldonado made it to Qualifying 2 for a change. But his luck ended there. Image courtesy Williams F1 team (for editorial use only)

The times began to tumble, and by the end of the session, Pastor Maldonado was topping the times in his Williams. I know. I was gutted too. And just to make it even worse, Valtteri Bottas also got through to Q2. Ugh.

What will happen to poor Massa? Image courtesy Ferrari (for editorial use only)

What will happen to poor Massa? Image courtesy Ferrari (for editorial use only)

Felipe Massa did a very thorough job of totaling his car in FP3 and wasn’t able to do a run. He’ll now have to appeal to be allowed to race and start from the back. Hope for his sake Jean Todt has had a word with the FIA since Barcelona, and reminded them what the ‘F’ stands for.

There were 2 big shocks in Q1. First was a ‘Booo’ moment when Paul Di Resta, driving with completely burned-out inters that his team decided not to change, wound up 17th, failing to get into Q2 for the first time this year. A very muted Paul Di Resta confirmed afterwards that it was a team decision, and that there was something they didn’t do that they should have done. Drive faster maybe?

The 2nd shock was a big old ‘YAY!’ moment for Giedo van der Garde. He timed his run to absolute perfection and drove a Jacobs (cracker…geddit?) to plant his Caterham firmly into Q2 for the first time in his career.

Q1 Exclusions:

17 Di Resta – Force India

18 Pic – Caterham

19 Gutierrez – Sauber

20 Chilton – Marussia

Bianchi (Marussia); Massa (Ferrari) – No time set.

Qualifying 2

As the rain ceased and the track dried, Q2 followed the trend of Q1 and times tumbled faster than Felix Baumgartner.

Guido zzz was the surprise! Image courtesy Caterham F1 (for editorial use only)

Giedo van der Garde was the surprise! Image courtesy Caterham F1 (for editorial use only)

van der Garde showed off his mahoosive cahoonas by being the first to change his tyres from the intermediates onto the super soft slicks, a gamble that on the slippy-slidey streets could have ended with an intimate introduction to at least one of the barriers. It paid off though, and the impressive Dutch man split the Williams to go a stunning 15th

Talking of Williams, normal service was resumed in Q2 and Maldonado went from fastest to slowest. Out-qualified by his teammate again, he ended bottom of the Q2 pile. Is it very wrong that it makes me smile so?

Timing was key, and after a super Q1, the McLarens timed things to perfection again to easily crack the Q3 barrier. Surely that’s the 2nd heart size grown right there for Jenson Grinch?

Fastest time of the session, for the first time all weekend was set by Finger boy. Comment Censored.

Q2 Exclusions

11 Hulkenberg – Sauber

12 Riciiardo – Torro Rosso

13 Grosjean – Lotus

14 Bottas – Williams

15 Van Der Garde – Caterham

16 Maldonado – Williams

Qualifying 3

Now all on the super-soft tyres, the cars were on track right from the word go, with the rain constantly threatening to come on again with mucho gusto. It managed to ‘hold it in’ throughout the 10-minute session, and with the times getting lower and lower all the time, the pole shootout came right down to the wire.

Both of the Red Bulls were putting in some stunning laps to stay consistently 1st and 2nd. Mark Webber, who’s started on Pole here twice, must have fancied his chances as the times continued to tumble. But it was Sebastian Vettel who kept taking the provisional pole. He could smell the chance to brandish that finger, and he liked it!

History repeats itself? Nico Rosberg during Qualifying. Image courtesy Mercedes AMG Petronas (for editorial use only)

History repeats itself? Nico Rosberg during Qualifying. Image courtesy Mercedes AMG Petronas (for editorial use only)

But right at the last, and 30 years after Keke Rosberg won here, Nico put on the magic hair gel and took the pole for Mercedes, with Lovely Lew-Lew taking 2nd, both of them putting in beautiful laps to lock out the front row.

Of Vettel’s sad face when he didn’t get the pole, Simon Lazenby said, “He didn’t like that, did he?” No, Simon, he didn’t. He REALLY didn’t. I did though.

And what of McLaren? Jenson had a problem. After such a strong showing, a problem with power cost him dear, and he ended the session 9th. When asked afterwards he couldn’t explain what the problem had been, although McLaren had known about it since the interval between Qualifying 2 and 3. “He’s quite down isn’t he?” Johnny Herbert was heard to comment. His heart shrank again, Johnny. Grinch mode resumed. And we were SO close to his heart growing 3 sizes!

Lew-Lew took second. But will he have race pace? Image courtesy Mercedes AMG Petronas (for editorial use only)

Lew-Lew took second. But will he have race pace? Image courtesy Mercedes AMG Petronas (for editorial use only)

1 Rosberg – Mercedes

2 Hamilton – Mercedes

3 Vettel – Red Bull Racing

4 Webber – Red Bull Racing

5 Raikkonen – Lotus

6 Alonso – Ferrari

7 Perez – McLaren

8 Sutil – Force India

9 Button – McLaren

10 Vergne – Torro Rosso

So Mercedes have the front-row lockout they needed to be in with a chance of the win. Ross Brawn said that he’s “moderately optimistic for Sunday”, but will it be for a Nico or a Lew-Lew win? Well they do owe Nico one…and given Papa Rosberg won 30 years ago, it would make a lovely story, wouldn’t it?

Nikki is a 30-something life-long motorsports fan who fell in love with Formula 1 when Ayrton Senna stole her young heart, never to be returned.  Feisty by nature, she always tells it how it is and is no respector of reputation – if a driver is having a bad driving day and is making excuses, that’s exactly what she’ll say. Don’t forget to follow her on Twitter!

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