Finn heads qualifying for third race in succession
It was a close-run thing, but McLarens Kimi Raikkonen retained his pole position for the Monaco Grand prix after second qualifying this morning, holding off principal challenger, Fernando Alonso.
After the Spaniard had lapped his Renault in 1m 16.218s for a combined time of 2m 30.323s, taking the fastest position away from Williams Mark Webber who in turn had done the same thing to Renault driver Giancarlo Fisichella, Raikkonen was actually slower by a fraction than Alonso with 1m 16.679s.
However, his margin of 0.48s from Saturday was sufficient to keep him in the prime slot after combining his times yielded 2m 30.323s, and it is reasonable to assume that he was running a fair bit more fuel than the Renault driver. Around the streets of the Principality, 10 kg extra weight of fuel adds around 0.35s to the lap time.
Behind them, Webber and Fisichella held station with combined laps of 2m 31.656s and 2m 32.100s respectively. However, 2004 winner Jarno Trulli moved up one position ahead of Nick Heidfeld after lapping his Toyota three-tenths quicker than the German did his Williams. They are thus fifth and sixth on 2m 32.590s and 2m 32.883s.
The fourth row now comprises David Coulthard in the Red Bull and Michael Schumacher, after the German made up two places, on Saubers Jacques Villeneuve and Ferrari team mate Rubens Barrichello. Where Coulthard lapped in 1m 18.538s, Schumacher managed 1m 18.550s, leaving them on 2m 33.867s and 2m 34.736s respectively. Villeneuves combined time was 2m 34.936s, and Barrichellos 2m 34.983s, so things are close in the middle of the pack.
Felipe Massa and Vitantonio Liuzzi will share row six for Sauber and Red Bull, neither doing much this morning as the track was still less than perfect when they made their runs for 2m 35.120s and 2m 37.152s.
To the unconcealed delight of the whole team the two Minardis will start not just ahead of the two Jordans, but three rows from the back rather than on the back row. Patrick Friesacher retained his advantage over team-mate Christijan Albers, 2m 40.810s to 2m 42.206s, and Tiago Monteiro likewise stayed in front of Narain Karthikeyan, 2m 43.078s to 2m 43.442s. In a session largely devoid of drama, they provided the fun. Karthikeyan had a big bounce over the chicane kerb after turning in late with understeer, while Monteiro visited the escape road at Mirabeau after locking his brakes on his out lap.
At the back are Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya. The German did an installation lap just to check that his rebuilt Toyota was okay after yesterdays big shunt. The Colombian, penalised after supposedly brake-testing Schumacher yesterday morning, conserved his car and did not run at all.
So thats the grid. The weather is fine, with warm sun and little breeze and no likelihood of that changing, so settle back and get ready for the fight between the two pretenders to Michael Schumachers championship crown.