MONTE CARLO // World champion Sebastian Vettel’s first pole position at Circuit de Monaco was overshadowed by a serious accident that resulted in Sergio Perez, Sauber’s Mexican rookie, being taken to hospital.
Vettel will start today’s Monaco Grand Prix at the front of the grid after posting the fastest qualifying lap in the race’s 68-year history.
His time of 1 minute 13.556 seconds was 0.41 seconds quicker than second-placed Jenson Button of McLaren-Mercedes. Mark Webber, Vettel’s teammate at Red Bull Racing, will start from third alongside Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.
With less than three minutes remaining of the final phase of qualifying, Perez, running in ninth position, appeared to lose control on exiting the tunnel that leads into the Nouvelle Chicane.
His car careered into the metal barrier on the right side of the exit, detaching two wheels and obliterating much of the car’s body before spinning 90 degrees and slamming into a safety wall.
With red flags signalling a suspension of the session, medical staff quickly appeared and enclosed the car behind a temporary partition. Perez was taken directly to Hospital Princess Grace, where he was to remain overnight.
Sauber released a statement later in the evening announcing Perez condition was “encouraging” and that the 21-year-old had suffered “concussion and a sprained thigh, but no broken bones”.
Once the safety barrier had been successfully reconstructed, the final phase of qualifying resumed, but with the nine remaining cars having sat idle for 38 minutes and with only two minutes 26 seconds remaining, it was never likely the tyres would have the necessary heat to immediately post a competitive flying lap.
Only one driver – Lewis Hamilton – improved his lap time sufficiently enough to gain a place.
“Pole position is very important here, so we can be happy with qualifying” Vettel said. “My lap in Q3 couldn’t be any better, but surely there has been a shadow cast over qualifying when you see a colleague crash.
“We were sitting and waiting to go out, but we were watching the images on the TV screen as well. It wasn’t easy to sit and wait for such a long time in the garage and not many people improved their time afterwards. It’s difficult to keep your focus.”
The section of the track that Perez crashed is notoriously dangerous. The most serious accident Nouvelle Chicane has produced was in 1994 when Karl Wendlinger steered his Sauber into the wall, resulting in the Austrian falling into a coma.
In 2003, Button crashed there and in yesterday’s morning practice session, Nico Rosberg of Mercedes-GP experienced a similar crash to Perez when he slid into the opposite barrier, but his car stopped sliding before hitting the central safety embankment. Button said more needs to be done to improve the track.
“I think I was the last person to go in there and I know how much it hurts,” Button said. “It’s Monaco and it’s a street circuit, but I still think we need to look further as to what we can do with the run-off there.
“[The problem] is when you first hit the brakes; the rear goes very light. You have no control of the car and it pitches you into the right side barrier and then the problem is that you lose braking capability, because you’ve got two wheels off the car and it’s just a sled sitting on the floor.”
“We can learn from this incident,” he said. “In terms of safety, it’s an area where we need to look at and improve for the future. JB [Button] was lucky, Karl Wendlinger back in the mid-1990s, so I think there are a few places around here we probably need to continue to keep and eye on.”
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:13.556
2. Jenson Button McLaren 1:13.997
3. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:14.019
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:14.483
5. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:14.682
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:14.877
7. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1:15.280
8. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:15.766
9. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:16.528
10. Sergio Perez Sauber
11. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1:15.815
12. Rubens Barrichello Williams 1:15.826
13. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1:15.973
14. Paul Di Resta Force India 1:16.118
15. Adrian Sutil Force India 1:16.121
16. Nick Heidfeld Renault 1:16.214
17. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 1:16.300
18. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1:17.343
19. Jarno Trulli Lotus 1:17.381
20. Jerome d’Ambrosio Virgin 1:17.736
21. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1:17.820
22. Timo Glock Virgin 1:17.914
23. Narain Karthikeyan HRT
24. Vitantonio Liuzzi HRT
11-17: Eliminated in Q2
18-24: Eliminated in Q1
* With agency