129 races after his 16th career pole, earned at the Circuit Nevers Magny Cours in 2008, Kimi Raikkonen finally secured number 17, 483 kilometres away around the winding streets of Monte-Carlo, producing a sterling lap to prevent Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel from claiming his second pole of the season.
Red Bull show early pace
As track temperatures exceeded 50° come the start of Qualifying bang on two o'clock local time, an intriguing battle between Ferrari and a resurgent Red Bull raged on under the sun. Raikkonen, Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen all traded fastest lap times, with the Mercedes pair of Bottas and Hamilton trailing by around four and eight-tenths of a second respectively.
The biggest surprise of the opening session came not from the struggles in the Mercedes camp, but the upturn in fortune for McLaren. Stoffel Vandoorne hauled his car within four-tenths of the ultimate pace, with returnee Jenson Button not far behind.
Verstappen ended the first part of Qualifying fastest, with the sessions disrupted by Romain Grosjean's spin and resulting recovery at Mirabeau whilst pushing to make it into Q2. He succeeded in doing so, knocking out fellow Frenchman Esteban Ocon, who saw his afternoon delayed by repairs after his morning meeting with the barriers.
A lack of confidence and a tentative lap sees him start 16th alongside the underfire Jolyon Palmer, who was trumped by his Renault teammate Nico Hulkenberg, again. Lance Stroll saw his afternoon ended by a hydraulic leak, keeping the two Sauber cars company at the back.
Hamilton's afternoon ends is disappointment
The second part of Qualifying threw up even more surprises, with Hamilton's struggles with the balance of his car being seemingly perpetual; almost thrown into the wall at Massenet on his first run. His first lap in anger was over a second away from Raikkonen's benchmark time, and being called into the weigh bridge halfway through the sessions did nothing to appease the situation.
Meanwhile, the sun was still shining on McLaren - both Button and Vandoorne making it into the final part of Qualifying, meaning that for the first time since Hungary 2016, we saw two McLaren cars in the top 10. However, grid penalties for both cars will see them slump down the order.
But, Vandoorne was to go no better than 10th, clipping the inside wall at the swimming pool chicane and assuming the role of a passenger, unable to keep the car out of the outside wall.
His accident brought out the red flag with 14 seconds to go, halting Hamilton's final run when it looked like he would creep into the top 10. It left the Brit 14th, and he was far from happy.
Five-hundredths of a second
That left just one Sliver Arrow to contest for pole, all the attention of Bottas' shoulders. His fellow Finn Raikkonen set the pace again, an astonishing seven-tenths ahead of second-placed Ricciardo after the first runs. Bottas got close, but Raikkonen stretched his legs, improving by a tenth on his last attempt. A poor middle sector from Vettel saw him end up on the front row, less than five-hundredths of a second away, with Bottas lining up third, a further two-thousandths away.
The current setting bodes well for a Ferrari win, but as has been shown so many times before, anything can happen. How Hamilton will be praying for a scenario similar to the one Olivier Panis benefitted from 21 years ago. He remains the last man to win the race from the bottom half of the gird.
|4||Max VERSTAPPEN||Red Bull||1:12.496||+0.318|
|5||Daniel RICCIARDO||Red Bull||1:12.998||+0.820|
|6||Carlos SAINZ||Toro Rosso||1:13.162||+0.984|
|7||Sergio PEREZ||Force India||1:13.329||+1.151|
|10||Stoffel VANDOORNE||McLaren||No Time|
|11||Daniil KVYAT||Toro Rosso||1:13.516||-|
|16||Esteban OCON||Force India||1:14.101||-|