MONTE CARLO, Monaco -- Kimi Raikkonen took his first pole position in nine years after hooking up a sensational lap of the streets of Monte-Carlo during qualifying for Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix.
In a dramatic session that saw Lewis Hamilton fail to make the top-ten shootout and the top three cars split by just 0.045s, it was Raikkonen who came out on top for the first time since the 2008 French Grand Prix. None of the top drivers could claim to hook up the perfect lap, but Raikkonen's was as close as anyone with a 1:12.178 -- the fastest ever around the Monaco Grand Prix circuit.
He was just 0.043s quicker than teammate Sebastian Vettel in second, who in turn held a slender margin of 0.002s over Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas. The Ferrari looked like a much easier car to drive around Monaco's tight city streets than the Mercedes, and Hamilton's struggle means he faces an almighty challenge from 13th on tomorrow's grid.
Right from the start of Q1 the three-time champion had looked uncomfortable behind the wheel, but it was in Q2 when he started to look really ragged. On his first run in the second part of qualifying he just about caught a slide through Massenet, which could have ended his session there and then if his lightning-fast reflexes had not kicked in. After failing to up his pace on the following three laps, he dived into to pits for a new set of tyres, only to lose another minute of his session at the FIA weigh bridge.
When he finally rejoined, he took a warm-up lap before another attempt at a flier went awry when his Mercedes snapped sideways on the exit of Casino Square. By that time there was only enough time for one more lap and Hamilton cleared a gap to Stoffel Vandoorne in front in the hope of getting a clear run. Although the first two sectors were quick enough to make Q3, but as he entered the final sector of the lap he was met with yellow flags and Vandoorne's McLaren in the barriers. Hamilton was forced to bail over the inside of the chicane and abort his lap, and with that his qualifying was over -- leaving him 14th fastest in Q2 and 13th on the grid once Jenson Button's grid penalty is factored in.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen was fourth fastest with a lap 0.5s faster than teammate Daniel Ricciardo in fifth. Carlos Sainz impressed with the sixth fastest time in the Toro Rosso, holding off Sergio Perez in the Force India and Romain Grosjean in the Haas, who both completed impressive laps in their respective machinery. The McLarens of Jenson Button and Vandoorne were ninth and tenth, but both drivers face penalties, dropping Button to last on the grid and Vandoorne to 12th. As a result, Daniil Kvyat will move up to ninth, Nico Hulkenberg tenth and Kevin Magnussen 11th. Felipe Massa will start 14th behind Hamilton's Mercedes.
After his mechanics worked throughout lunch to repair his car following an accident in final practice, Esteban Ocon failed to make the cut for Q2 in the Force India. He had looked close to Perez's pace earlier in the weekend, but his FP3 accident appeared to knock his confidence and he set a time 0.5s off his teammate when it mattered in Q1. Jolyon Palmer's disappointing weekend continued as he finished 17th in Q1, 0.9s off Renault teammate Nico Hulkenberg and 0.2s ahead of Williams rookie Lance Stroll in 18th. The two Saubers were 19th and 20th after Marcus Ericsson clipped the barrier on the first apex of the Nouvelle Chicane, ripping his left-rear tyre from its wheel rim and bringing out yellow flags just as teammate Pascal Wehrlein approached on his final hot lap.