Nico Rosberg rode his luck to take a controversial sixth pole of his career and his second in succession at the Monaco Grand Prix on Saturday as Mercedes swept the front row of the grid for Sunday's 78-laps race.
The 28-year-old German, who lies three points behind his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in the drivers' title race, lost control of his car and ran down the escape road at Mirabeau on his final flying lap.
He had to abort his effort for that lap as yellow flags were waved – a signal that slowed the field behind him and wrecked Hamilton's hopes of clocking an improved lap to steal pole in the final seconds.
Hamilton was visibly upset at the way his hopes of claiming pole were scuppered by his teammate, appearing stony faced in the post-qualifying press conference.
The two Mercedes had dominated the session and will start the race ahead of the two Red Bulls with Australian Daniel Ricciardo qualifying third ahead of his more experienced and illustrious team-mate, four-time defending champion Sebastian Vettel.
Two-time former champion Fernando Alonso was fifth ahead of his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 champion, Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne of Toro Rosso and Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen of McLaren.
Another rookie, Russian Daniil Kvyat in the second Toro Rosso was ninth and Mexican Sergio Perez was 10th for Force India.
Rosberg's best lap of one minute and 15.989 left him just 0.059 seconds ahead of Hamilton as the two Mercedes men demonstrated they are the class of the field following five straight wins this year.
Lewis Hamilton topped the times again in Saturday morning's final free practice session for Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix, the Mercedes driver winding up just ahead of Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the leading Red Bull after a dramatic hour's action.
The championship-leading Briton, who was the fastest man in Thursday's opening practice sessions, clocked a best lap of one minute and 16.758 seconds to set the pace, but only after locking up and missing the chicane on an earlier fast lap as he, and most other drivers, struggled to find perfection on the unforgiving barrier-lined circuit.
Thanks to a stunning lap, Ricciardo was only 0.050 seconds slower than Hamilton in his Red Bull ahead of local hero Nico Rosberg in the second Mercedes who, watched by his father and former champion Keke, pushed hard, but also made a mistake.
Defending four-time drivers champion German Sebastian Vettel was fourth in the second Red Bull ahead of two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari and Mexican Sergio Perez and his Force India team-mate German Nico Hulkenberg.
Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne was eighth fastest for Toro Rosso ahead of his team-mate Russian rookie Daniil Kvyat and Dane Jan Magnussen, also a rookie, in the leading McLaren.
On a circuit where McLaren have been majestic victors in the past, Magnussen's team-mate 2009 champion Briton Jenson Button was only 11th while Finn Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 champion was down in 16th in the second Ferrari.
On a perfect morning of blue skies and warm sunshine, the classic street circuit shimmered as the cars began practice, the two Mercedes men almost immediately stamping their authority on proceedings.
Rosberg, whose relationship with team-mate Hamilton had been analysed and discussed so much during Friday's rest day, was first to set a clear fastest lap time and moved clear with 1:17.736.
Hamilton responded with several laps to close the gap to take second spot to less than two-tenths while the two Red Bull drivers, led by Ricciardo, moved into third and fourth places before Vettel stormed to third place shortly before the midway point in the session.
Only then did the leading men switch from traditional 'soft' tyres to the Monaco-compound 'super specials' for the extra grip required – a move that reshuffled the leaders and led to Hamilton, despite his complaints about the handling of his car, recording the fastest lap ahead of Saturday's critical qualifying session.
Hamilton, who leads the championship ahead of Rosberg by just three points, has never taken pole position in the Mediterranean principality, but is aiming for his fifth pole in six races this year and his second Monaco win.
He won in 2008 on his way to taking the title that year.
Sebastian Vettel celebrates his 100th Grands Prix with Red Bull this weekend and hopes to mark the occasion by being on the most-coveted podium in Formula One on Sunday afternoon.
Vettel’s 99 previous Grands Prix with the Milton Keynes-based marque have so far yielded 38 victories and four world titles.
However, win No39 will perhaps require something special to happen. Certainly Red Bull suggested they are closer to the dominant Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg following the opening practice sessions around the streets of the principality on Thursday.
With power less of a requirement and high downforce instead the key ingredient, Red Bull may yet draw closer to Hamilton and Rosberg.
The duo still lead the way, separated themselves by just 0.032secs, with Vettel’s team-mate Daniel Ricciardo just over two tenths of a second adrift after the opening 90-minute session.
Rain affected second practice, in which Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was quickest, albeit two tenths of a second down on Hamilton’s time from FP1, and Vettel ultimately finished third, just over half a second back.
Although Vettel knows Mercedes remain the team to beat, he has not given up hope of finally ending their run of five successive wins and four consecutive one-twos.
“Mercedes were very quick in morning and we see that usually, come Saturday, they are able to pick up their pace, so we’ll try to do the same,” said Vettel. “Potentially we are a little closer here, but you know at the moment it’s all guessing.
“The big advantage on this track would be that there’s not that many straights, but we have to wait and see.
“We were obviously limited on what we could learn in terms of pace and range. We know it’s quite important to qualify in the front here, so if there is a chance then we have to use it.”