At the 44th time of trying since coming out of retirement in 2010, Michael Schumacher took a magnificent pole position on the streets of Monaco. However, Mercedes’ war-horse has a five-place grid penalty hanging over him from the Spanish Grand Prix as a result of trolleying Bruno Senna. He’ll start from sixth place and P1 instead will go to Mark Webber. The Australian will start alongside Schumacher’s team-mate Nico Rosberg. “I think it’s Michael’s day,” said Mark in the perfect position from which to be magnanimous. “It’s a good lap for him and obviously it was a tight session for us.” The first four were within 0.2s.
Qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix saw a stampede to the track with everybody going out early in the session but four minutes in Sergio Pérez caused proceedings to be halted. The Sauber driver tagged the barriers in the Swimming Pool section and badly damaged the left side of his car. Trying to recover to the pits his left rear wheel fell off and the red flags came out. "I am disappointed as I felt we could fight for a very good grid position here,” said Pérez. We are still analysing everything to see if there was something wrong with the car. I was on my first lap, so was not pushing a lot. I went into the tunnel and had a lot of understeer and then I went into turns 13 and 14. Thirteen was quite fine but in 14 I just went straight and didn't get the car to turn."
With the cars of Caterham, HRT and Marussia most likely to fill the final six grid slots, and with Pérez unable to set a time, Q1 became largely irrelevant. Heikki Kovalainen made it hard for several drivers, in particular Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel who had to make last-minute runs. “It was looking very good this morning, but then I think we took a step in the wrong direction and ended up with a difficult car for qualifying,” said Sebastian after ultimately qualifying 10th. “It’s a bit of a disappointment, as Mark showed what the car can do around here, so we’ll see what we can do tomorrow.” Ultimately eliminated were Kovalainen (18), Petrov (19), Glock (20), de la Rosa (21), Pic (22) and Karthikeyan (23). All were well inside the 107% time. Pérez, having not completed a lap was 24th and last and relies on the Stewards’ discretion to start the race. At the other end of things fastest lap was 1:15.418 set by Nico Hulkenberg.
At the start of Q2 it was yellow flags rather than red as Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne limped back to the pits with a damaged front wing. Vergne had snapped to the right at the tunnel exit and went into the barriers in a manner reminiscent of several accidents last year – this despite the resurfacing work done on that section of track. “I was expecting to do better,” said a rueful Vergne. “I think I braked a bit on the bump at the exit to the tunnel and hit the outside wall, damaging the nose and also the right rear suspension, which is why I could not continue, even though I managed to drive slowly round to the pits. Up until this afternoon’s incident I felt quite good round here so I am still hopeful of having a good race tomorrow, maybe with a bit of rain to create some interesting situations.”
He starts one place behind his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who was also nonplussed after qualifying 16th for 15th on the grid: “I was relatively happy with the way I drove, but I did not manage to put all my best sector times together on one lap,” said Daniel. “I think I was overdriving at times and making a few mistakes.”
The surprise elimination was Jenson Button, down in 13th position, along with Hulkenberg , Kobayashi , Senna , Ricciardo  and Vergne . “I just don’t have the pace. That’s it really,” said Button after the session. “It’s very strange, because it’s there at some points during the weekend. Even this morning I felt the car was good but I didn’t have [the pace] all of qualifying. We did make some set-up changes which I thought would have been better but maybe they’re not.” With the exception of the stricken Vergne, the entire field was lapping within ninth-tenths of the leader.
Nico Rosberg was first out in Q3. He, Grosjean, Hamilton and Webber had all saved a set of supersofts, allowing them to have two runs during the final session. Rosberg soon went to the front but the track was getting faster, and all the action happened in the final minutes. Rosberg was deposed by Webber but with the chequered flag out Michael Schumacher took the top spot. Still out on track Romain Grojean had set a fastest first sector but lost ground in the middle.
Schumacher’s penalty lifts Webber to P1 with Rosberg alongside him. Lewis Hamilton will start third with Romain Grosjean fourth. Fernando Alonso will be fifth and Schumacher sixth. Felipe Massa had his best qualifying performance of the year with seventh, while Kimi Räikkönen finished eighth. Pastor Maldonado qualified ninth but faces a ten-place grid penalty for his collision with Sergio Pérez in FP3. Sebastian Vettel, who didn’t set a time in qualifying, will therefore start ninth.
But this was Schumacher’s day; the first time he’s seen P1 in qualifying since the 2006 French Grand Prix. “Obviously I saw my time on the dashboard and I thought ‘Well, that shouldn’t be too bad,’” he said afterwards. “I was watching all of these monitors around the track and at one point I saw one with a little sign: number one. And that was the moment I started slowly to believe and got confirmation on the radio. Yeah, it was just beautiful.”