Nico Rosberg edged out Lewis Hamilton for pole at the Monaco Grand Prix in controversial circumstances as the battle between the Mercedes pair for the world championship heated up at the most prestigious weekend on the Formula One calendar.
Rosberg, who trails his teammate by three points in the drivers’ championship, went 0.059 seconds faster than his teammate in the first run of the final qualifying shoot-out. But when they went out for their final run, the German ran wide at the Mirabeau corner, causing the yellow caution flags to come out and forcing Hamilton to abort his attempt to get onto pole.
Rosberg was called to explain his actions to stewards afterward but was cleared of any wrongdoing.
“I did a really great banker lap at the beginning in Q3 but Lewis was very close, so I gave it another try and pushed a bit more, unfortunately just a bit too much over the limit,” Rosberg said afterward, according to the official Formula One website. “I locked up the rears and then the fronts offline at the bumpy downhill part of the track before turn five but I just managed to get down the escape road. I have apologized to Lewis for having hindered the opportunity for him to improve his lap time.”
Hamilton had a face like thunder sitting next to Rosberg in the post-qualifying press conference, suggesting he was less than convinced with Rosberg’s explanation. Memorably, Michael Schumacher was stripped of pole when having been found guilty of deliberately parking his car to deny Fernando Alonso pole at Monaco in 2006. The disappointment for Hamilton, who has won the last four races, was magnified by the fact that he had just set the fastest time in the first sector before being forced to take his foot off the pace.
“Yeah, it is ironic,” Hamilton responded with a heavy hint of sarcasm when asked about Rosberg’s mistake having benefited him. “But it's OK,” he added. “I was up a couple tenths so it's OK.”
In a continuation of their dominance this season, Sunday’s race again looks to be a straight fight between the two Mercedes teammates. The best of the rest were a little closer this time than previous races, however, with Daniel Ricciardo again out-qualifying his Red Bull teammate and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel to take third. The Australian, though, was disappointed not to have done even better.
“I think I could have been closer to the front today and I don't like it when that's the case,” he explained. “I made a mistake in the last run in Q3; we were up and I thought it was going well, but then I made a mistake and lost the time I had made. I think we have the pace to hang with Mercedes, so hopefully we can at least get one of them off the line and maybe do something with strategy and give ourselves a real chance of taking a win.”
Behind the Red Bulls will be the two Ferraris, with Fernando Alonso continuing to get the better of Kimi Raikkonen. Toro Rosso duo Jean-Eric Vergne and impressive Monaco debutant Daniil Kvyat will start from seventh and ninth, respectively, sandwiching the McLaren of Kevin Magnussen. Force India’s Sergio Perez rounds out the top ten, ahead of teammate Nico Hulkenberg and the second McLaren of Jenson Button.
Where to watch: The Monaco Formula One Grand Prix will get underway at 8 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBC, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.