Vettel makes it five from five after Perez scare
Sebastian Vettel continued Red Bull’s qualifying supremacy by taking his 20th pole and the team’s fifth pole from five races at Monaco this evening.
Red Bull declined to show their true pace throughout the first two session of qualifying, but Vettel unleashed his car around the Monaco circuit to beat his rivals to pole with a 0.4s over second-placed Jenson Button.
The young German now equals Fernando Alonso’s career total of 20 pole positions, though after entering almost 100 fewer Grands Prix.
His achievement was overshadowed, however, by a frightening incident towards the end of Q3 when Perez made heavy contact with the barrier at the bottom of the hill out of the tunnel.
In an incident similar to that of Rosberg’s during practice earlier in the day, Perez lost control of his car as it bottomed out over the bumps on the way out of the tunnel and hit the right-side armco before sliding through the chicane and colliding with the barrier.
Medical crews rushed to his aid, extricating him from his Sauber and transferring him into an ambulance within eleven minutes of the impact.
Alarmingly, marshals initially surrounded the scene of the accident in white sheets, though reports soon filtered out that the young Mexican had regained consciousness and was talking to the doctors in attendance.
‘The most important thing was to hear that Sergio is okay,’ said pole sitter Vettel. ‘We’re all thinking of him and wishing him all the best.’
‘It’s great that Sergio is talking and okay,’ agreed Button. ‘It’s never nice to see that sort of thing, and I hope he’s okay.’
‘Our thoughts are with him,’ concluded Webber. ‘He’s in great hands obviously – we know he’s talking and conscious, and he’ll bounce back, I’m sure.’
The accident stopped the third qualifying session with 2m 26 seconds remaining on the clock, resulting in the remaining nine drivers to vie for clean air and track position as they each left the pits simultaneously for a final qualifying lap.
It proved ineffectual, however, as the now-cold tyres failed to produce enough grip to produce any competitive times. Only Lewis Hamilton managed to improve his time – from eighth up to seventh.
‘It was very slippery,’ explained Button. ‘We wanted to get out early to push on the out lap, but there wasn’t any tyre temperature.
Button proved that McLaren are capable of mixing with the Red Bull drivers, splitting Vettel and Australian team-mate Mark Webber for P2.
Webber, who won from pole here last season, refused to admit defeat, despite admitting that a front-row grid position is critical.
‘Qualifying here is crucial. Pole is certainly a nice benefit to have,’ he explained. However, when asked if whether he thought he could win from P3, he responded confidently.
‘Absolutely it is,’ believing that Monaco will continue the season’s trend of unpredictable racing, favouring bold strategy and tyre management.
Alonso found his way to fourth after Ferrari showed some promising signs of making a step forward with their 2011 package this weekend.
He was four-tenths ahead of Massa in the sister Ferrari, though the pair had five-times Monaco winner Michael Schumacher between them, who out-qualified compatriot and fellow Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg for the second week in a row.
Maldonado brought his Williams to P9 – the second time Williams has managed a Q3 appearance this season. Monaco will now mark the second consecutive round in which the Venezuelan has out-performed his Rubens Barrichello on Saturday.
Q1 presented the unfamiliar sight of McLaren outperforming Red Bull on the soft, prime tyre. Jenson Button traded fastest times with Sebastian Vettel. Hamilton soon joined the battle for first-session honours, ultimately claiming the relatively meaningless prize.
Mercedes managed to rebuild Nico Rosberg’s car in time for qualifying after a frightening crash during Saturday practice on the way down to the chicane.
Rosberg lost control of the car in the braking zone, sliding through the chicane and narrowly missing the barriers protecting the right-hand side of the next part of the track.
His return to the track meant that one of the established midfield teams would lose a driver to the first session, despite one driver – in the shape of Liuzzi – unable to take part in qualifying after a crash late in FP3.
Alguersuari elected himself as the man to fall before Q2 when he made contact with Karthikeyan in the middle of Rascasse, causing damage to his own front wing.
The Spaniard joined Both Team Lotus, Virgin and HRT drivers in failing to progress beyond the first session of qualifying. Both Kovalinen and Trulli managed to outpace the Toro Rosso, while neither HRT took to the track.
Hispania assessed the repair of Tonio Liuzzi’s car – which found the barrier going into Ste Devote – in the two hours before qualifying too great a task. The Italian will start from the back of the grid tomorrow. A suspected suspension fault also meant that Karthikeyan failed to make an appearance in Q1.
Qualifying’s second session saw each of the teams on the option compound tyre, this round being the first of the season to feature the super-soft rubber. As was the case in Q1, Red Bull failed to show the dominance it illustrated in the first five rounds of the championship thus far.
Renault failed to have the pace they enjoyed during the 2010 Monaco Grand Prix materialise this weekend, with Petrov’s five-round streak of top-ten qualifications coming to an end with a P11.
Heidfeld could only manage16th, less than one-tenth ahead of Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Buemi.
Formula One’s most experienced man again showed that Williams are yet to find their promised pace with Rubens Barrichello set to start from P12 tomorrow, a disappointing showing compared to his younger team-mate’s top-ten qualification.
Kobayashi subsequently led the Force India pair of di Resta and Sutil into 14th, 15th and 16th, with di Resta yet again out-qualifying his senior team-mate. Allegedly.
The 2011 Monaco Grand Prix will begin tomorrow, Sunday 29 May at 10PM AEST.