Slower circuits were once Red Bull's bete noire, but no more: Webber's sensational lap of 1min 13.826sec rammed the point home.
Webber stamps authority in Monaco
MONTE CARLO // Six days after scoring his maiden victory of the Formula One season, Mark Webber annexed pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix - and underlined that Red Bull has a car for all seasons. Slower circuits were once the team's bete noire, but no more: Webber's sensational lap of 1min 13.826sec rammed the point home.
During the build-up to Monaco there was fretful talk about how the first part of qualifying might be lottery, with an increased field of 24 cars on the circuit (the largest number since 1996), but in the end it was a breeze. The quickest drivers found time and space, as they always have and always will. The lone exception was Fernando Alonso, who did not take part at all. Quickest in both free practice sessions on Thursday, the Spaniard crashed at Massenet corner yesterday morning and his Ferrari F10 was too badly damaged for the mechanics to effect a quick fix.
It will be rebuilt overnight and Alonso will start from the pit-lane. The contest eventually came down to a straight fight between Webber and Robert Kubica. In the final part of qualifying, Kubica opted to make two runs on fresh sets of Bridgestone's super-soft tyre, while Webber ventured out just once and put together a decisive four-lap sequence. Each of his final two laps would have been good enough for pole - but the second was a stunner, the only time any driver has dipped below 1min 14sec all weekend.
"It's a nice feeling to get pole at Monaco," said Webber, whose only previous win in the principality came nine years ago, in the FIA Formula 3000 Championship. "I brushed the barriers pretty hard at one point, but after that everything stayed together. I know it's going to be a long race, and track conditions change a lot here during a grand prix, but I'm optimistic I can have a clean afternoon.
"I'll wake up happy in the morning because pole positions don't come around too often." This is the fourth of his F1 career - and a second in the space of seven days. By general consensus, Kubica's Renault is probably the fifth quickest chassis at present, behind Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes GP, but Monaco is a circuit that allows the driver to make a difference. Lewis Hamilton has always cited the 25-year-old Pole as the toughest rival he's ever faced - relentlessly fast, and resistant to errors.
"It's a bit of a disappointment not to get pole after being so close," Kubica said, "but the Red Bull was 1.5sec quicker than us in Barclelona, so there's no reason why we should have been in front of it here. You have to be realistic. Five months ago, remember, we were unsure whether the team would still be competing this year, yet here we are on the front row." Sebastian Vettel was third, despite wasting one of his laps when he locked up his rear tyres and slid across the chicane, and Felipe Massa was fourth in the surviving Ferrari. Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, winners for the past two seasons, were fifth and eighth for McLaren, split by Mercedes duo Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher.
Button later criticised Massa for holding him up. "I don't know what he was thinking," he said, "but I guess he wasn't looking in his mirrors." Webber is bidding to become only the second Australian to win the Monaco GP, a feat last achieved by Jack Brabham in 1959. "This will probably sink in a bit later," he added, "but it was Jack Brabham that first fired my dad's imagination and got him interested in racing, so I probably wouldn't be here without him."