Hamilton on pole as home hero Leclerc suffers Q1 knock-out
Lewis Hamilton secured what was only his second-ever pole position around the streets of Monaco on Saturday to qualify ahead of Valtteri Bottas and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
Hamilton’s lap of 1m 10.166s established a new track record around Monte Carlo, although Bottas’ effort was just 0.086s slower, the world champion qualifying ahead of his team mate for the first time since Bahrain and securing Mercedes’ fourth front row lock-out in a row.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was fourth, after clouting the barrier at Tabac on his final effort, finishing ahead of the Red Bull of Pierre Gasly in fifth.
Behind, Kevin Magnussen occupied P6 for Haas after impressing throughout qualifying to finish ahead of Monaco specialist Daniel Ricciardo, seventh in the Renault, with Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and the second Toro Rosso of Alex Albon rounding out the top 10.
One of the biggest shocks of the session occurred in Q1, however, when Charles Leclerc found himself out in the first part of qualifying after Ferrari neglected to put him back on track as others were improving, leaving the home hero – and one of the favourites for pole – down in 16th on the grid. Unsurprisingly, Leclerc was one very unhappy Monegasque as he headed into Saturday evening…
FORMULA 1 GRAND PRIX DE MONACO 2019
|1 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes||1:10.166|
|2 Valtteri Bottas BOT Mercedes||1:10.252|
|3 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||1:10.641|
|4 Sebastian Vettel VET Ferrari||1:10.947|
|5 Pierre Gasly GAS Red Bull Racing||1:11.041|
AS IT HAPPENED
Q1 – Local hero Leclerc knocked out by late Vettel lap
He was the fastest man in Free Practice 3. But Charles Leclerc found himself knocked out in the first part of qualifying at his home race, after Ferrari failed to put him back on track at the tail end of Q1.
The man who knocked him out, ironically, was his team mate Sebastian Vettel, who was forced to make a last-ditch effort to escape the elimination zone after touching the wall on the outside of the Swimming Pool complex and having to go again.
Vettel’s last lap was a good one, though, and as he went top ahead of the two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, and with others improving, an angry Leclerc found himself punted down to P16 and out in Q1, along with the Racing Point pair of Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll – Stroll failing to make it out of Q1 for the 10th race in a row – and the Williams of George Russell and Robert Kubica, Kubica out-qualified by the young Briton for the sixth time in as many races this year.
Q2 – Both Toro Rossos into Q3 as Alfa pair drop out
Alfa Romeo said on Thursday that they were aiming for Q3 after a strong Free Practice 1 and 2. But it wasn’t to be, with the team failing to convert their impressive pace on Saturday to end up P14 and P15, with Kimi Raikkonen ahead of Antonio Giovinazzi.
They were joined in the drop zone by Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg in P11, McLaren’s Lando Norris in P12 and Haas’s Romain Grosjean in P13, all of whom had to watch on as their team mates progressed through to Q3 – Haas’s Kevin Magnussen doing so with a fantastic final effort that was just 0.745s slower than Max Verstappen’s leading time in the segment, putting him fifth.
Grosjean had mitigating circumstances in his defence, however, appearing to be blocked by the Red Bull of Pierre Gasly going down to Mirabeau. It was a serious enough offence for the stewards to investigate it, while an expletive-laden radio message from Grosjean to his Haas team spoke volumes about his feelings on his compatriot’s actions…
Q3 – Hamilton takes 85th pole despite scrappy final effort
So into the final part of qualifying, and it seemed to be a four-way fight between the two Mercedes, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Vettel put himself out of that fight in the final moments of qualifying, with the Ferrari driver hitting the barriers on the outside of Tabac as he pushed hard, meaning that he failed to improve on his 1m 10.947s effort to end up fourth.
With Hamilton on a last-ditch effort to unseat his team mate, Bottas having established a new track record with a 1m 10.252s, the onboard camera appeared to show Hamilton having a nightmare final sector of the lap, nearly hitting the barrier on the exit of the Swimming Pool before locking up and having to take two bites of the cherry to get around Rascasse. It seemed it was all over.
And yet… and yet. Hamilton is the master of carrying speed through corners, even while locking up, and as he crossed the line, he shot to the top of the timing screens to secure pole number 85, and only his second in the Principality, improving the track record to a 1m 10.166s.
Ultimately, the threat of a Red Bull or Ferrari pole failed to appear – and by quite some margin, too, with Verstappen’s third-placed effort a full 0.475s off Hamilton’s pace, while Vettel ended up 0.781s away.
Behind, Magnussen was super impressive to finish within a second of the charging Mercedes, while Ricciardo, King of Monaco last year, has got a good grid spot with which to go after points on Sunday after finishing seventh. Carlos Sainz, meanwhile, extended to a four-race streak of starting in the top 10 in Monaco by going ninth for McLaren.
But the day belonged to Hamilton, who looked delighted to have scored his first pole since the season-opener in Australia – and his first in Monaco since 2015. It was exactly what the Mercedes’s much-missed totem Niki Lauda would have wanted…
The key quote
“This is the race that every driver dreams of as a kid. It doesn’t matter how many times you come here, it’s still a dream. You still give it everything you’ve got.
“What people need to realise, all of us drivers, we take whatever car we have, fast or slow, to the limit. When you hit the limit, it’s like wrestling a bull, or whatever you want to say it is – it’s out of control the whole time, so it’s trying to balance it and react at the right times.
"That lap was hard, I had an oversteer moment at Rascasse and I just managed to pull it off. I lost a bit in the last corner, but still I was coming across the line hoping that one millisecond... makes a difference. I don’t know what the gap is but I’ll take it. It’s perfect.” – Lewis Hamilton
Sunday’s race will start at 1510 local time (that’s 1310 UTC), with the weather set to be partly cloudy and a balmy 20 degrees Celsius. That’s exactly what Mercedes will want too, if they’re to achieve a record-extending sixth one-two finish this year. But don’t forget that Max Verstappen surged a full 11 positions in last year’s race after his FP3 crash – so it isn’t all decided yet!