Kimi Räikkönen has taken his first pole position in 129 races with a sizzling lap in Monte Carlo after Lewis Hamilton was knocked out in Q2.
This weekend will be the Finn’s 258th race start, meaning Räikkönen had gone half his career since his previous pole position, but the Ferrari driver was typically understated in his assessment.
“Bwoah,” he elucidated. “Obviously it’s great.
“It’s been a bit tricky, and it definitely wasn’t easy this weekend, but we managed to fix the car for qualifying.
“It’s tricky to go fast around this circuit, but it’s okay. It’s the best place to race. We’ll try to make the best out of it as possible.”
Räikkönen will line up alongside teammate Sebastian Vettel on the front row, the gap between the pair just 0.043 seconds.
“I think the car was fine,” Vettel said. “It was really nice to drive.
“I think I probably pushed a little bit too hard. But I’m sure if you ask anyone after quali, we all have the feeling: there’s always more.”
Valtteri Bottas was the lone Mercedes in the fight for pole after teammate Hamilton’s shock Q2 elimination due to handling issues caused by set-up problems.
Bottas, however, had no trouble extracting pace from his car, qualifying just 0.002 seconds behind Vettel and 0.045 from pole position.
“I think this weekend has been a bit tricky for us,” said Bottas. “We started well in practice one [but] got a little bit lost with set-up in practice two.
“In qualifying the car was feeling the best so far [but] still a bit tricky in places. It was quite a bit difficult to get a lap together.”
Red Bull Racing qualified close to the front, but not close enough to play a role in the pole fight as predicted.
Max Verstappen surpassed Daniel Ricciardo for fourth at the chequered flag, the Dutchman 0.318 seconds off pole and the Australian a disappointing further half-second back in fifth.
Ricciardo complained of being released into traffic for his one qualifying lap of the session after looking competitive all weekend.
Carlos Sainz impressed for Toro Rosso, suggesting the Red Bull junior team might indeed be the fourth-fastest car after free practice hinted as much.
Sainz’s gap to pole was 0.984 seconds, giving him a 0.2-second gap to Sergio Perez’s Force India in seventh and Romain Grosjean’s Haas in eighth.
Jenson Button acquitted himself well in his one-time-only comeback, qualifying ninth and 1.435 seconds off pole position.
However, the returning Briton will start from the back of the grid after he serves a 15-place grid penalty for power unit component changes made above his car’s maximum allocation.
The second segment of qualifying was defined by Lewis Hamilton’s ongoing struggles to set up his car for.
Hamilton’s difficulties in the cockpit were plain to see, his Mercedes perpetually threatening to snap out of his control, particularly at the top of the hill.
He spent the session outside the top 10, but his final qualifying lap comprised two personal-best sectors — and Stoffel Vandoorne’s crashed McLaren.
Vandoorne binned his car at the exit of the swimming pool after breaking his front-right suspension knocking against a barrier, sending him spearing into the far wall.
It immediately triggered yellow flags, which prevented Hamilton from completing his lap, confining him to P14.
Ironically enough Vandoorne was already P7 and a candidate for Q3 — and, further, his McLaren teammate, Jenson Button, was P10 and the man likely to be usurped by Hamilton.
Vandoorne will also take a three-place grid penalty, too, for causing a collision at the last round in Spain.
Daniil Kvyat qualified his Toro Rosso in P11, ahead of Nico Hülkenberg’s Renault and Kevin Magnussen’s Haas in P12 and P13.
Felipe Massa was the slowest car in Q2 after having to abandon his lap due to traffic.
Qualifying one was typically traffic troubled, particularly given Pirelli’s ultrasoft tyre required any number of warm-up laps to reach their peak operating window.
For the most part the teams judged the situation excellently for their drivers, but inevitably some were caught out — perhaps most of all Esteban Ocon, who had to abandon his final flying lap when he encountered two slower cars in the final sector of the track.
It compounded a miserable day for the young Frenchman, who crashed his car in morning practice, triggering a frenetic rebuilding effort by his team to get him ready for qualifying.
Ocon qualified in P16, pushed into the elimination zone after a last-gasp flyer by Romain Grosjean.
Jolyon Palmer had a messy session, the Renault driver picking up a puncture and complaining of understeer on his way to P17 ahead of Williams’s Lance Stroll in P18.
Both Sauber cars brought up the rear, with Pascal Wehrlein qualifying P19 ahead of teammate Marcus Ericsson, who brushed his rear-left tyre against the barrier at the entrance of the chicane, forcing his session retirement.