Kimi Raikkonen takes pole for Monaco Grand Prix

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Kimi Raikkonen.

Kimi Raikkonen secured his first pole position for nine years on Saturday when he outpaced his Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel in a dramatic qualifying session for Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix.

The 37-year-old Finn, who had not taken pole position for 128 races stretching back to the French Grand Prix of 2008, dominated the afternoon’s action to clock a fastest lap of one minute and 12.178 seconds.

That left him 0.043 seconds ahead of the world championship leader and three-time champion Vettel who in turn was just two-thousandths of a second faster than third placed Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes.

The Finn’s Mercedes team-mate Briton Lewis Hamilton failed to make progress from Q2 and missed the cut for the top ten shootout, qualifying 14th after a miserable afternoon.

“Obviously, it’s great,” said Raikkonen afterwards, showing little emotion. “We’ll try to make the best of it tomorrow… Yes, of course it is good, but here it is all about the fine details.”

Dutch teenager Max Verstappen took fourth place ahead of his Red Bull team-mate Australian Daniel Ricciardo, Spaniard Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso, Mexican Sergio Perez of Force India and Frenhcman Romain Grosjean of Haas.

Briton Jenson Button, back from retirement to replace two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso who is racing in the Indianapolis 500, was ninth for McLaren Honda ahead of his team-mate Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne.

Button has a 15-place grid penalty for engine replacements and that is expected to lift Hamilton up to 13th.

“I don’t know what was wrong there,” said Vettel of Mercedes’ problems. “But this is one of the highlights of the season – to race at Monaco. It is a difficult one to get right, but if you do, it is great.”

On a perfect azure afternoon, with an air temperature of 27 degrees and a track reading of 53, Q1 delivered few surprises other than the early exit of Frenchman Esteban Ocon of Force India, who had crashed at Casino Square in the closing minutes of the morning’s final practice session.

The Q2 session began with the two Finns Bottas and Raikkonen on track swiftly followed by the title contenders Vettel and Hamilton, who survived a big ‘moment’ at the top of the hill en route to Casino Square.

It proved costly for Hamilton whose first flying lap was more than a second adrift of Raikkonen’s early fastest. “No grip, Bono,” said Hamilton, talking to his engineer before he was stopped at the weighbridge on his way to Mercedes’ pits.

By then, Raikkonen had clocked a 1:12.231 to leap half a second clear of Verstappen at the front until Vettel slotted into second on his second run.

In his haste, Hamilton weaved to heat his tyres and then had a major slide at the exit of Casino Square before he locked up at Mirabeau. “Something wrong with the car,” he reported.

With just seconds remaining, Hamilton’s hopes were ruined when Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne went into the barriers at the Swimming Pool exit, yellow flags flying.

“That’s me out, right?” said Hamilton, deprived of a clean lap and condemned to qualify 14th, one of five men eliminated along with Russian Daniil Kvyat of Toro Rosso, German Nico Hulkenberg of Renault, Dane Kevin Magnussen of Haas and Brazilian Felipe Massa of Williams.

“Yes, toasted,” came the reply for Hamilton as he pulled in to the pits, his chest heaving and hands waving with frustration.”

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Button handed 15-place grid penalty on his return at Monaco GP

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Jenson Button.

Jenson Button is set to start last for what could be his final Formula One race after being hit with a 15-place grid penalty at the Monaco Grand Prix.

Button, 37, is back on the Formula One grid here in Monte Carlo this weekend following Fernando Alonso’s decision to participate at the Indianapolis 500.

McLaren’s season has been derailed by a series of problems with their engine supplier Honda. The British team prop up the constructors’ championship having failed to score a single point this year.

And following a series of changes to the parts on Button’s Honda engine after an issue was detected following second practice at the principality on Thursday, the Englishman is poised to start his one-off race from the back of the pack.

“We have changed Jenson’s MGH-U/TC after detecting an issue with his MGU-H after FP2,” a Honda spokesperson said ahead of final practice.

“The MGU-H/TC will be Jenson’s fifth which means he will receive a 15-place grid penalty for the race.”

Button was 12th-fastest in practice on Thursday ahead of the 306th race of his grand prix career.

Double world champion Alonso will be back in the McLaren cockpit for the next round in Canada. The Spaniard will start from fifth for his rookie appearance at the Indy 500 on Sunday.

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Hamilton rules out mind games in title battle with Vettel

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Lewis Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton has said he will avoid any kind of mind games in his title battle with Sebastian Vettel this year as the two multiple world champions scrap it out for the tiniest of advantages at every race.

Having topped Thursday morning’s opening free practice for this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix and then fallen more than a second adrift in the afternoon, the 32-year-old Briton had every reason to consider engaging in the kind of “phoney war” of previous seasons.

His intra-team battles with 2016 champion Nico Rosberg, during three seasons of raw competition, were characterized by spells of accusations and acrimony that made life difficult for Mercedes’ management.

But this season, the three-time world champion has made it clear he wants a pure championship scrap, without any discord, that will be decided on the track.

“I want him to be his best when he gets in the car so I don’t have any intention of playing psychological wars outside the car,” Hamilton told reporters.

“I want to beat him in the car because, when he’s at his best and I beat him, that says what it needs to say rather than having him on the back foot.”

The Englishman was only six points adrift of the championship leading four-time champion before arriving in the Mediterranean principality for their classic street circuit showdown.

Facing a further 15 races, he made clear he believed his long-term performance this year, his experience and his mental strength will stand him in good stead as the season unfolds.

“I take a lot of pride in the fact I am very strong mentally,” said Hamilton. “I think that’s something you can admire when battling someone else — like Sebastian or Fernando Alonso.”

Much matured since the days when he allowed his frustrations to show in rash comments and actions, Hamilton acknowledged that mental strength was likely to be a key factor as his bid for a fourth title unfolded.

“It’s definitely going to be part of it this year,” he said. “For both of us…  It’s such a long year, just like it is in golf, over 18 holes.

“Whoever is the most consistent generally ends up winning. I am excited about that. It’s an all-round battle, physically, mentally, technically — and I think that’s why it’s a great battle.”

The key alteration in the dynamics of this year’s championship, said Hamilton, is that Mercedes are no longer split by their drivers’ rivalry, but united in a fight to beat Ferrari.

“There’s just so much more excitement now that we are fighting against another team,” he said.

“There is actually more passion and excitement being extracted from within the team. I’ve not seen this team so passionate and excited in the five years that I’ve been with them.

“Being on the podium in the last race, I saw an energy from my team that I’ve been yearning for — that they’ve probably all been yearning for…”

All of which has left Hamilton, and Bottas, working closely within a different kind of rivalry to last year’s Hamilton-Rosberg relationship for the good of the Mercedes squad, particularly as they are still  seeking to optimize their performance with a new breed of ‘fatter and faster’ cars that are harder on tyres.

“I quite like it that the car’s difficult to drive,” Hamilton explained. “It’s like jumping on a bull and trying to tame the bull — or to tame a horse.”

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