F1: Round 6 – Monaco, Monte Carlo – Qualifying

In case you thought that things would be settling down in F1 in 2009 and that the running order getting more predictable, then the first part of qualifying in Monaco put paid to that notion. We’ve had shock Q1 eliminations before, but not an All-Star line-up like this one.

Out went Timo Glock, Jarno Trulli, Robert Kubica, Nick Heidfeld – and Lewis Hamilton. The first four were not entirely a surprise to anyone who had been watching the pratice sessions, with Toyota and especially BMW having completely wretched sessions. Both teams conceded that they were struggling, but seemed baffled and without an explanation as to why – or how to put things right.

But the elimination of Hamilton was really out of the blue for everyone, as he had been tipped by many to be chalenging for the top spot for the first time this season. Instead, it all went wrong at Mirabeau halfway through Q1, when he lost control of the car coming down the hill, slid wide and put the rear left into the tyre wall, completely wrecking the suspension. Even recovering to the pits was impossible, and the red flag came out while the marshals dealt with the aftermath. He ended up classified 16th by virtue of the fastest lap he had set before this.

Felipe Massa was lucky not to be eliminated himself: just two minutes into the session he had lost the back end of the Ferrari into the swimming pool complex and hit the nose hard on the barriers. Fortunately in his case, Massa was able to return to the pits and have the nose seen to, and there was no lasting damage.

Force India did incredibly well, then, to get both cars through to Q2. They couldn’t make it any further than that, and Giancarlo Fisichella didn’t help himself by having two lap times deleted after he straightlined a chicane against the rules. Nelson Piquet also failed to progress into the final part of qualifying, after managing to spin the Renault on the final corner midway through the session and only narrowly keep the rear wing off the barriers.

Jenson Button found himself uncomfortably close to being eliminated in the session, too, after a sluggish first flying lap and then finding it difficult to get a good run in the closing minutes. He finished Q2 in 8th which would have been rather more uncomfortable than he would have been hoping for.

And then out of nowhere, in the final flying lap attempt in Q3, Button not only brushed aside the cobwebs but put himself on pole with the most superb and perfectly timed effort you could ever hope for, bumping Kimi Raikkonen off the top spot after Ferrari were just looking as though they were back on form. It’s the kind of qualifying effort that the truly great world champions (like Schumacher and Hakkinen, for example) have managed in the past, and Button joined their ranks here today at Monaco.

Rubens Barrichello came in 3rd on his 37th birthday, after initially looking to be the man to beat. Sebastian Vettel also did well to join Rubens on the second row, while Felipe Massa never really quite seemed to recover his mindset after that early scare and could only manage 5th. The sole McLaren left in qualifying, Heikki Kovalainen, only managed a rather disappointing 7th in the end.

Both Williams made it to Q3 and ended up 6th and 10th for Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima respectively, as Williams determined to “stop showboating in qualifying” as Patrick Head put it, and convert their potential to real race performance.

The mixed-up grid certainly looks set to make for a fascinating Monaco GP tomorrow.

Qualifying results

Pos  Driver       Team                       Q1        Q2        Q3   
 1.  Button       Brawn-Mercedes          1:15.210  1:15.016  1:14.902
 2.  Raikkonen    Ferrari                 1:15.746  1:14.514  1:14.927
 3.  Barrichello  Brawn-Mercedes          1:15.425  1:14.829  1:15.077
 4.  Vettel       Red Bull-Renault        1:15.915  1:14.879  1:15.271
 5.  Massa        Ferrari                 1:15.340  1:15.001  1:15.437
 6.  Rosberg      Williams-Toyota         1:15.094  1:14.846  1:15.455
 7.  Kovalainen   McLaren-Mercedes        1:15.495  1:14.809  1:15.516
 8.  Webber       Red Bull-Renault        1:15.260  1:14.825  1:15.653
 9.  Alonso       Renault                 1:15.898  1:15.200  1:16.009
10.  Nakajima     Williams-Toyota         1:15.930  1:15.579  1:17.344
11.  Buemi        Toro Rosso-Ferrari      1:15.834  1:15.833
12.  Piquet       Renault                 1:16.013  1:15.837
13.  Fisichella   Force India-Mercedes    1:16.063  1:16.146
14.  Bourdais     Toro Rosso-Ferrari      1:16.120  1:16.281
15.  Sutil        Force India-Mercedes    1:16.248  1:16.545
16.  Hamilton     McLaren-Mercedes        1:16.264
17.  Heidfeld     BMW-Sauber              1:16.264
18.  Kubica       BMW-Sauber              1:16.405
19.  Trulli       Toyota                  1:16.548
20.  Glock        Toyota                  1:16.788
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