MONACO (AP) — Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton clinched his first ever pole at the Monaco Grand Prix after a strong drive Saturday while his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg will start from second as he bids to win the race for the third straight year.
In last year’s race, Rosberg took pole but angered Hamilton when he crashed under no apparent pressure right at the end of the session, bringing it to a halt just as the British driver was poised to beat his time.
There was no repeat of that incident on Saturday but Rosberg had to pit right at the end of qualifying after locking his right tire.
Hamilton, who has taken pole in five of six races, clocked 1 minute, 15.098 seconds, with Rosberg .342 behind and Sebastian Vettel .751 back after being fastest in third and final qualifying.
“Did I get it?” asked Hamilton as he finished his run, but there was no doubt he’d taken his 43rd career pole position.
“I can’t express how happy I am, it wasn’t the easiest session. I didn’t have the rhythm until the last two laps,” Hamilton said. “This track is so hard, it’s like climbing a ladder: sometimes you slide back down, sometimes you go back up. This is not even half the job. There’s so much to do tomorrow, it’s going to be mentally and physically challenging.”
The 30-year-old Hamilton has been on pole here before, however, just not in F1.
“GP2 in 2006 was the last time I was on pole here, so a big ‘Thank you’ to the team, their performance was incredible,” said Hamilton, who had been worried about his tires midway through qualifying.
Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat were fourth and fifth, respectively, ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen as drivers switched to the new and faster Pirelli supersoft tires.
Rosberg, who won the Spanish GP from pole position two weeks ago, pushed too hard as he tried to beat Hamilton’s time and locked his tire — just as he had done right at the end of the Q2 session.
“Probably the opposite to Lewis. I had a good rhythm starting off and then I lost touch at the end,” said Rosberg, who is looking to become the first driver since Ayrton Senna to win the Monaco GP three times in a row. “I had to go for it and it didn’t work out.”
Vettel, meanwhile, is still looking to close the gap on Mercedes in terms of speed.
“I think everyone was struggling a little bit with the tires. It was a shame that the sun was hiding behind the crowds,” Vettel said. “We know it’s Monaco and it’s difficult to pass, so if you start from pole you have a great chance.”
Nine of the past 10 winners at the Monaco GP have been from pole, with the only exception being Hamilton when he won from third place in 2008 — the year he won his first title.
Rosberg was quickest ahead of Hamilton and Vettel in Q2 and fastest ahead of Hamilton and 17-year-old Max Verstappen in Q1.
Meanwhile, the problems continue for McLaren as Fernando Alonso’s session was ended by what looked like a mechanical failure, and teammate Jenson Button just missed out on joining the top 10 in Q3 for the first time this season.
“That’s painful, such a shame,” Button said on race radio.
It was an even worse day for Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas, fifth in the championship standings, as he was caught in heavy traffic during the first part of qualifying and qualified in 17th. He will move up one place because French driver Romain Grosjean was earlier hit with a five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox.
In the morning, Vettel posted the fastest time in the final practice session ahead of Rosberg and Hamilton.
The 3.34-kilometer (2.07-mile) Monaco track is the shortest in F1 and also the slowest, with a succession of tight, sinewy turns and claustrophobic barriers making the street circuit the toughest to overtake on, along with the Spanish GP near Barcelona.
After a rain-hit practice on Thursday, the sun came back out to warm fans crowded around the picturesque principality’s glittering harbor.
More privileged spectators had a free view while drinking champagne on their luxury yachts as they took in the atmosphere at F1’s unique race, which sees drivers go past the famous Monte Carlo casino and some of the most expensive real estate in the world.
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