Michael Schumacher turned back the clock on Saturday when he set the pace in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix.
The seven-time World Champ, who had 68 pole positions heading into this weekend's grand prix, posted a 1:14.301 to take the P1 slot in qualifying by 0.08-s ahead of Mark Webber.
However, it's the Aussie who will start Sunday's 78-lap grand prix from pole position as Schumacher has a five-grid slot penalty for his crash with Bruno Senna at the previous race in Spain.
Nico Rosberg will therefore join Webber on the front row of the grid ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean. Fernando Alonso will start P5 alongside Schumacher.
At some stages through the Monaco GP weekend it had been predicted Saturday qualifying could be wet, but the sun beat down on the principality at the start of Q1 with an ambient temperature of 23C and the track up at 39C.
Pedro de la Rosa immediately gave the stewards something to do by impeding Charles Pic as the Marussia driver exited Rascasse on the very first flying lap of the day.
It was Pastor Maldonado who set the first sub 1:19 second lap but the Venezuelan was already facing a 10-place grid penalty following his deliberate bumping of Sergio Perez's Sauber at Portiers in FP3 earlier in the morning.
There were possible reverberations from that incident a few minutes into Q1. Fernando Alonso had just set the P1 time with a 1:17.128, as drivers circulated on the yellow-walled Pirelli soft tyres for multiple laps, in order to get themselves some space in the traffic. Perez exited the Swimming Pool at speed and clattered hard into the barriers on the outside deranging his front suspension and angling the front wheels in different directions.
He managed to limp around to the 'Schumacher Parking Spot', just past Rascasse, but the car would go no further and the session was red-flagged for its recovery. Replays showed that a track rod had probably broken before the impact as Perez was turning the wheel to no effect when he hit the barrier. (This was possibly an undiagnosed result from his bump with Maldonado in FP3)
The accident meant that unless Caterham could get the red-walled super-soft tyres to work well - it would likely be Perez plus the new teams exiting Q1.
Nico Rosberg led the pack out again with 15.10 of the session left to run, but it was team-mate Michael Schumacher who claimed the new P1 with a 1:16.441. Rosberg followed round a lap later and took P1 off him with a 1:15.929. Kamui Kobayashi showed that the Sauber had no fear of Armco bashing his front and rear left on the barrier right by the turn-in to Ste Devote. Kobayashi carried on regardless.
Michael Schumacher proved that there is still life left in the old dog by taking P1 back from Rosberg with a 1:15.873.
Towards the dying minutes of the session Force India decided that neither of their cars was going to be safe from a Caterham on super-softs and armed with the faster tyre, Paul DiResta grabbed P4 and then Nico Hulkenberg took P1 with a 1:15.873.
Kimi Raikkonen had been lingering back in P.23 and had only improved to P.17, and so was forced to put on a set of the super-soft tyres to make himself safe. In the last three minutes of the session the danger positions were: 15.Senna, 16.Vettel, 17.Raikkonen, 18.Kovalainen, 19.Petrov.
Sebastian Vettel also decided safety was the best thing and used up a set of the super-soft tyres. Kimi took P5 and Sebastian P4, demoting Kovalainen from P17 to P18 in the process. Neiter Caterham could improve their place on the final run and so it finished: 18.Kovalainen, 19.Petrov, 20.Glock, 21.De la Rosa, 22.Pic, 23.Karthikeayn, 24.Perez
The real surprise of the session was that a Lotus and a Red Bull had needed to expend a set of the super-softs to make it through to Q2 (Jenson Button was only in P16 but had saved tyres).
Everyone was onto super-softs now and Jean-Eric Vergne set the benchmark time with a 1:16.885. This was put in perspective by Nico Rosberg who clocked a 1:15.022, Michael Schumacher went P2, which Lewis Hamilton then took, which Mark Webber then took.
Jean-Eric Verne managed to have the same accident as Paul DiResta in FP3 hitting the barrier under braking before the chicane and then driving slowly back to the pits with his front wing jammed in front of the car. He was lucky not to be crashed into by Felipe Massa who came round the Swimming Pool at speed to find the slow Toro Rosso (despite the waved white flags) and threaded his way between Vergne and Ricciardo.
Running into the final four minutes the danger positions were: 7.Massa, 8.Button, 9.Vettel, 10.Kobayashi, 11.Hulkenberg, 12.Raikkonen, 13.Grosjean, 14.DiResta, 15.Vergne, 16.Senna, 17.Ricciardo.
Hulkenberg jumped to P8, Kimi Raikkonen could only manage P12 on the first of what would be a two-lap run, while team-mate Grosjean went P10 on his first lap of two.
Felipe Massa was on pole for Ferrari in 2008 and showed that he meant business in 2012 with a new P1 of 1:24.911 (the first sub 1:15 lap). Vettel jumped from 12th to 8th, but a dismal Jenson Button could only manage P11.
Kobayashi managed to move up to P10 while Pastor Maldonado jumped from P5 to P3. On the second of their hot laps Raikkonen moved up from what had become P12 to P10 while Grosjean climbed to P8.
So as the dust settled, out went: 11.Hulkenberg, 12.Kobayashi, 13.Button, 14.Senna, 15.DiResta, 16.Ricciardo, 17.Vergne
The big casualty was Jenson Button, normally blaming the balance, but this time pointing the finger at the 'baseline'. The other surprise was how hard a job Lotus had given themselves as they were thought to be pole contenders. Bruno Senna was a long way short of team-mate Maldonado again.
This was Felipe Massa's first Q3 of 2012 but he only had tyres left for one run.
It was Nico Rosberg who went out first and on his first attempt at pole locked up badly into the Mirabeau corner and aborted the lap. So the first provisional pole set in anger was Pastor Maldonado's 1:15.245 - Lewis Hamilton could only manage P2 (on the first of what would be a two-lap charge).
Romain Grosjean re-set P1 at 1:14.639, Michael Schumacher dropped into P2 behind before Nico Rosberg's second hot lap (despite the tyre) took P1 with a 1:14.572. Second time round Lewis improved to a 1:14.940 for P3 which was then snatched off him by Mark Webber.
So after the first runs it was: Rosberg, Grosjean, Webber, Hamilton, Schumacher, Maldonado and Raikkonen. Messrs Alonso, Massa and Vettel hadn't run and the World Champion yet again opted not to put in a competitive lap in Q3.
Out they came for their second attempts (and Ferrari's first). Felipe Massa looked on a charge but could only manage P8, Kimi Raikkonen improved to P6, Fernando Alonso put his Ferrari up into P5 but looked a long way short of pole-setting pace.
Mark Webber's first sector was very ordinary but his middle and final sectors set the timing screens purple and he took P1 with a 1:14.381. Lewis Hamilton improved his time but not enough and was back into P3 again. Raikkonen could only stay P7, but it was the old stager himself who crossed the line to grab provisional pole with a 1:14.301. Vintage Michael Schumacher.
However Romain Grosjean still had a chance for pole and his first sector of 19.1 was easily the fastest of the day. However Mark Webber had started slow and picked up speed. Grosjean started fast and slowed and at the line he was only P5.
So, a pole for Michael Schumacher except for the fact that he had a five-place grid penalty picked up from Barcelona. A morale boosting 'moral' pole but Schumi will have to start the race tomorrow from P6. Mark Webber will start from the No.1 slot with Nico Rosberg alongside and Lewis Hamilton behind.
Last year the Mercedes team had a nightmare time with the tyres fading fast, so it could turn into a battle between Webber and Hamilton - in which case we could be looking at six winners in six races. Felipe Massa just lost out to Fernando Alonso but it was a great return to form for the Brazilian.
01 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:14.301
02 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:14.381 0.080
03 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:14.448 0.147
04 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1:14.583 0.282
05 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:14.639 0.338
06 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:14.948 0.647
07 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:15.049 0.748
08 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:15.199 0.898
09 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:15.245 0.944
10 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull no time
11 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:15.421 0.510
12 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1:15.508 0.597
13 Jenson Button McLaren 1:15.536 0.625
14 Bruno Senna Williams 1:15.709 0.798
15 Paul di Resta Force India 1:15.718 0.807
16 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:15.878 0.967
17 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:16.885 1.974
18 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1:16.538 1.120
19 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1:17.404 1.986
20 Timo Glock Marussia 1:17.947 2.529
21 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1:18.096 2.678
22 Charles Pic Marussia 1:18.476 3.058
23 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1:19.310 3.892
24 Sergio Perez Sauber
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