Nico Rosberg continued his phenomenal Saturday run as he claimed his third successive pole position, this time for the Monaco GP, edging out team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
The duo held off a charge from Sebastian Vettel who was 0.104s down while his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber, last year's Monaco winner, was fourth.
Kimi Raikkonen qualified fifth ahead of Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard was the only Ferrari driver to contest qualifying as the team was unable to get Felipe Massa out on track from his earlier accident. The Brazilian will start Sunday's 78-lap race last on the grid.
The 'glamour' had melted away from Monaco with gray skies over the apartment blocks and drizzly rain falling on the tax evader's principality, making it no different from a dull day in Marseilles harbour. But less fish on the quay.
With a wet track at just 23C and falling, and an ambient temperature of 17C, everyone was keen to get out on track, queueing at the pitlane exit - just in case the rain got heavier. Only thirty seconds into the session an airbox fire in Jules Bianchi's Marussia stopped him in Casino Square and the double waved yellow tyres came out until it could be craned away.
The first realistic lap time was set by the Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo, a 1:42.802, but such was the nature of the drying track that it would be radically reduced as the minutes ticked down.
Still in the garage were cars undergoing repairs from accidents in final practice; Sutil the lightest damage, Grosjean and Massa's Ferrari the most serious. Sutil was soon back in the fray, but it was touch and go whether Massa would get out at all.
Nico Rosberg showed the likely steep curve of the 'top times graph' by reducing Ricciardo's time to 1:40.861, then Hamilton topped it with a 1:39.376, Button with a 1:38.451, Webber with a 1:36.529, Di Resta with a 1:35.705 and Alonso with a 1:34.947.
There were some unfamiliar names putting in great laps throughout the session. Jean-Eric Vergne inspied by his Francois Cevert helmet climbed to the top of the timesheets with a 1:33.863 - but not for long. The remorseless changes continued with Hamilton putting in a 1:32.930, and then Vettel a 1:31.431.
Pastor Maldonado has always gone well in Monaco and took over on top with a 1:30.126 before "Jev" was at it again with a 1:29.819, then Hamilton a 1:29.248. When Paul Di Resta hit the top we still had nine minutes of the session left. Di Resta's 1:28.989 meant that only 12 of the 22 cars were within the 107% mark at that stage.
Another Monaco specialist, Mark Webber, took his turn in P1 with a 1:27.288 as Romain Grosjean anticipated a return to the track by getting in his car. Sebastian Vettel then made it 12 drivers who'd taken a turn on top by claiming it with a 1:25.352, before Rosberg hoiked it back with a 1:24.826.
With five eventful minutes still left the danger positions were 15.Pic, 16.Hulkenberg, 17.Hamilton, 18.Van de Garde, 19.Chilton, 20.Bianchi (no time) 21.Massa (no time), 22. Grosjean (no time). At least Grosjean was heading out to the track now while a frustrated Massa had to sit and wait.
Hamilton re-established himself on top with a 1:23.779 before Button proved that the McLaren is improving with a 1:23.744.
Hulkenberg took himself out of danger to P5, Valtteri Bottas leapt to a magnificent P2 from P17 pushing Daniel Ricciardo into the exit seat. The Aussie then jumped up to P5 putting the Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez in trouble. Charles Pic managed to get his Caterham forward into P15 making it deeper trouble. Grosjean then rewarded his mechanics' hard work by putting his Lotus into an incredible P1.
This left a gaggle of mid-grid cars in danger. 16.Maldonado, 17.Gutierrez, 18.Sutil, 19.Vergne. It was amazing the speed a driver could post a P1 time and then find himself in danger such was the improvement up and down the field and despite the traffic.
Maldonado jumped from P16 to P1 with a 1:23.452 and Vergne secured a place in Q2 with P2. Alonso had dropped to P14 but made himself safe in P3. When Adrian Sutil secured a less-than-convincing P12 that left Raikkonen wobbling in P15 on worn Inters and Paul DiResta on similarly worn Inters in P17.
Van der Garde had stunned all concerned by taking P16 and as the clock ticked down, kept it. Thus out went: 17.Di Resta, 18.Pic, 19.Gutierrez, 20.Chilton, 21.Bianchi, 22.Massa.
Felipe Massa had been unable to get out in time and would start from last on the grid, while Gutierrez was 1.5 seconds slower than team-mate Hulkenberg. Paul Di Resta blamed the Force India team for his poor performance and not giving him fresh Inters: "they failed to bring me in for a new set (of Inters) when we were strong," moaned the Scot.
With more light drizzly rain it was still Inters when the cars came back out for Q2 and a familiar story of tumbling times.
Vettel set the benchmark time at 1:33.144 and by the end of the session the lap time would be 17 seconds quicker. That time was undercut by Mark Webber with a 1:32.132 and then Jenson Button with a 1:30.766.
Sergio Perez is learning more and more about Monaco and took over P1 with a 1:29.537, before Rosberg claimed it with a 1:27.790.
As in Q1, the times fell away sharply:
Van der Garde set a time that was good enough for P5 and then two minutes later he was P12.
Rosberg continued the rapid improvement with a 1:22.119 and with five minutes to go the danger positions were: 8.Hamilton, 9.Perez, 10.Hulkenberg, 11.Raikkonen, 12.Bottas, 13.van der Garde, 14.Alonso, 15.Sutil, 16.Ricciardo.
At this point everyone decided to go to slicks and Mark Webber, along with Giedo van de Garde were on to them earliest. The Caterham driver took P6 while Webber sliced a big chunk off the P1 time with a 1:19.254.
Grosjean took over on top before Webber grabbed the place back next time round with a 1:17.322. Raikkonen grabbed P2, Alonso moved forward to P6, Button took P2 and then a lap of 1:15.900 established Vettel on top of the pile. This left Alonso back in a precarious P11 again but he had a lap left and assuredly put the Ferrari in P5. In the dying seconds Sutil made it into the top 10 with a P6.
So out went: 11.Hulkenberg, 12.Ricciardo, 13.Grosjean, 14.Bottas, 15.Van der Garde, 16. MaldonadoThe big loser of the session was Romain Grosjean who had been in P1 with a minute left on the clock and had slumped to P13. Equally the two Williams, especially Maldonado, would have hoped to have done better. The happiest driver of all was Giedo van der Garde who had scored a P15 ahead of four mid-grid teams.
Qualifying 3With dark clouds but no substantial rain, everyone was still on supersoft tyres at the beginning of Q3.
Raikkonen put in a slow opening lap in a bid to build some heat in the tyres, the provisional pole was set by Lewis Hamilton with a 1:15.790. Mark Webber easily dispensed with it putting in a 1:15.134. Raikkonen slotted into P2 and then Hamilton came round again to reset P1 at 1:14.968.
Nico Rosberg edged him out with a 1:14.919, then Webber posted a 1:14.726. Sebastian Vettel is usually slower than his Red Bull team-mate but not today and he set provisional pole at 1:14.33
As the cars came in to change tyres for a second run the order was: Vettel, Webber, Rosberg, Hamilton, Alonso, Raikkonen, Button, Perez, Vergne, Sutil.
There were signs that the rain might have returned as the cars warmed their tyres on outlaps, Fernando Alonso was having to work his Pirellis very hard to generate heat in his F138.
Across the line they came. Raikkonen launched himself up into P3, Mark Webber took provisional pole with a 1:14.181, then Lewis Hamilton ducked into the 1:13s with a 1:13.967, but Rosberg crossed the line to steal the glory with a 1:13.876.
Sergio Perez grabbed P6 ahead of Alonso, but Alonso took it back, failing to get ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, though. Vettel crossed the line to take P3 and demote his team-mate to P4 right at the close.
It had been one of the most breathtaking qualifying sessions, as most are on a drying track. At the last minute Mercedes had prevailed and taken their expected place on the front row of the grid, but by less of a margin than they'd been expecting.
Mercedes and Red Bull will be happy with their day's work, Lotus optimistic, but Alonso will have wished he could have found the extra 0.003 to take P5 on the grid. Now it is all on the start tomorrow and whether teams can make a one-stop race work.
01. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:13.876s
02. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:13.967s +0.091
03. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:13.980s +0.104
04. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:14.181s +0.305
05. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:14.822s +0.946
06. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:14.824s +0.948
07. Sergio Perez McLaren 1:15.138s +1.262
08. Adrian Sutil Force India 1:15.383s +1.507
09. Jenson Button McLaren 1:15.647s +1.771
10. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:15.703s +1.827
11. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:18.331s +2.343
12. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:18.344s +2.356
13. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:18.603s +2.615
14. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:19.077s +3.089
15. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:19.408s +3.420
16. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:21.688s +5.700
17. Paul di Resta Force India 1:26.322s +2.870
18. Charles Pic Caterham 1:26.633s +3.181
19. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:26.917s +3.465
20. Max Chilton Marussia 1:27.303s +3.851
21. Jules Bianchi Marussia
22. Felipe Massa Ferrari
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