A stunning last-gasp lap around the streets of Monte Carlo saw championship leader Jenson Button claim pole position for today's Monaco Grand Prix. The Briton had looked set to start on the third row in his Brawn-Mercedes car until he usurped Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari with a lap of 1min 14.902secs in the dying seconds of the session to put himself in the ideal position to take his fifth win of the season.
Button's teammate Rubens Barrichello lined up third, ahead of Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull, who had been on pole for much of the final session, while the other Ferrari of Felipe Massa starts fifth. It was a miserable day for the world champion Lewis Hamilton as he all but ended his hopes of challenging for victory in Monaco after crashing at Mirabeau in his McLaren-Mercedes during the first part of qualifying, leaving himself only 16th on the grid.
But for Button it was a dream day as he took the seventh pole of his career by just 0.025 seconds from Raikkonen after struggling during practice to find a balance that he was happy with. "It means a lot - they all do," he said. "Today was a really tight fight, all weekend I have been fighting with Rubens and he has definitely had the upper hand. McLaren has been up there, Ferrari up there, the Red Bulls, it has been a fun weekend.
"Qualifying was no different, it was manic, but great to come away with the pole - to snatch pole I am chuffed to bits." Button had only been eighth quickest in the second part of qualifying, and had been down in sixth until his late effort gave him real hope of extending his 14 point lead in the championship in today's 78-lap race. Ferrari were the surprise package of the weekend as Raikkonen and Massa put in the Italian team's most competitive showing of the season, and both will be confident of making up positions off the startline, using the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) which will give them a speed boost.
Barrichello, who had been quicker than Button for much of the weekend until qualifying, said: "I thought I had the upper hand on Jenson. My lap was good, so his lap must have been magnificent. I really congratulate him on that." Vettel was held up by traffic on his final fast lap and had to set for the back of the second row, while his German compatriot Nico Rosberg was sixth fastest in his Williams-Toyota.
Heikki Kovalainen's McLaren was seventh, ahead of Mark Webber's Red Bull, with Fernando Alonso's Renault and Kazuki Nakajima's Williams completing the top 10. Hamilton had, prior to qualifying, hoped to challenge for the front grid and a push for a podium finish, but those hopes evaporated when he out-braked himself at Mirabeau, spinning round and damaging the left rear of the car. "I don't know what I was thinking, I made a mistake," the Briton said.
"It's a shame because the weekend had been going so well. I want to apologise to the team for wasting their time. "It's tough, but you have to learn from these mistakes and I will. I will just have to try and make up for it in the race. But going for a race win is over." The Toyotas of Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock are on the back row of the grid, completing a dramatic transformation in their fortunes.
Two races earlier in Bahrain the Japanese team had locked out the front row, but the team have struggled for speed in Monte Carlo, with Trulli also claiming he was held up on his quickest lap by Alonso's Renault as he could do no better than 19th fastest, one spot ahead of his teammate Glock. Toyota's general manager Pascal Vasselon said: "It has been a very difficult weekend, obviously. There is clearly something wrong on the car which we are looking at; we have to fix this.
"The race will be difficult from where we start but still we will keep on fighting." email@example.com