MONTE CARLO // Six hours before the Uefa Champions League final had even kicked off, a German had scored a hat-trick.
Nico Rosberg secured his third successive pole position of the season yesterday as Mercedes-GP locked out the front row during a high-octane, high-drama qualifying session on the sinuous streets of Monte Carlo.
Rosberg’s father, Keke, won the Monaco Grand Prix 30 years ago this month and while Nico is no fan of such statistics and sentiments, he understands the importance of making his own history in his hometown.
The 27 year old has lived in the Principality – and in his father’s shadow – almost all his life and knows these narrow, twisting roads better than anybody.
Fastest in all three practice sessions this weekend, Rosberg had been the man to beat and produced a storming final lap yesterday in capricious conditions to immediately better his teammate Lewis Hamilton's late fastest lap during qualifying by just 0.091 seconds and snare pole position for a third consecutive race weekend.
“It’s a great feeling to be on pole in the city where I grew up and it means so much to me to drive through the streets here in a Silver Arrow [Mercedes],” he said.
“It could have been a lot easier – I mean the conditions were really difficult out there with the rain at the start – but we handled it well.”
It is the second race weekend in a row that Mercedes have locked out the front row and despite the narrow Circuit de Monaco being a notoriously difficult track on which to overtake, the England-based marque are well aware their job is not yet done.
Mercedes’ W04 is proving unbeatable on a single lap, but it chews up tyres with all the enthusiasm Hamilton’s dog does a bone over the course and distance.
Unless the team has improved its degradation performance, both drivers could find themselves suffering strategically.
In Spain earlier this month, Rosberg started first but finished sixth and Hamilton dropped from second to 12th.
“It’s only two weeks since the last race, so for sure we still have large problems in the race and it’s definitely still going to be difficult,” Rosberg said.
“The track is an advantage for us because you can’t overtake so easily and it also eats the tyres less, but we will just have to wait and see.”
Hamilton, a famously fast qualifier around these fabled streets, has been consistently outpaced this year by his teammate and apartment block neighbour.
It is the first time in the Briton’s career he has been in such a position and is intent on rectifying the running order as quickly as possible.
Whether he will get a chance to do so in his new city of residence will depend largely on how the two teammates tackle the race to the first corner.
Ross Brawn, the team principal, will be equally intent on ensuring both drivers negotiate the unforgiving Sainte Devote corner unscathed, knowing that only once in the past nine years has the driver who led through that turn failed to convert.
“We respect each other and we’ll see who gets to the first corner first,” Rosberg said.
“I have the advantage that I’m ahead and on the clean side of the grid, so that will definitely be good. From there we have to see how it goes.”
The team were due to discuss strategy last night, with the looming prospect of Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel in third place likely to have featured prominently in those talks.
“It’s obviously important that we position ourselves in a smart way that we can keep Sebastian behind and then focus on trying to grab that one-two,” Hamilton said.
Three-time world champion Vettel starts alongside his own teammate Mark Webber, last year’s winner, with championship rivals Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in fifth and sixth respectively.
Vettel joked that given Mercedes’ previous problems he can be optimistic about his chances and keep his eyes on the action ahead rather than his rivals in his rear-view mirror.
“I’m not entirely happy with my [qualifying] lap, but quite happy that there isn’t a Ferrari or a Lotus ahead,” said the German.
“There are a lot of laps here, 78, so on track it will be difficult to overtake, we all know that, but if all goes well, hopefully the Mercedes will struggle and we’ll sail past in the pit stop.
“Sitting in third is still a good result and there should be an opportunity to win the race.”