Lewis Hamilton puts 'worst' behind him in Monte Carlo

Briton hits a practice low but still completes Mercedes front row for Monaco GP

Monte Carlo

There is much more than personal honour at stake for Lewis Hamilton as he starts this afternoon's Monaco Grand Prix second on the grid behind Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg, to whom he lost out again in a tense and hugely dramatic final practice.

Hamilton was expected to wipe the floor with the son of the 1982 world champion, but lately the young German has had the upper hand. In Spain a fortnight ago, when Hamilton could only finish 12th as Rosberg managed sixth, the Briton admitted that he had been struggling with his car. It was the same story here.

"I definitely didn't think I'd be on the front row after struggling all weekend," he said. "The three practice sessions were a disaster! The set-up of the car was good, but I just couldn't get the best from it and get the heat into the tyres. That meant I couldn't brake late, I had understeer as a result, and after struggling through the first corner I was forever playing catch-up over the rest of the lap.

"I think it's just because I'm still learning a new car. I've always had pace here but this is the worst time I've ever had in Monaco, so to be second on the grid is good. So long as I'm able to extract the maximum from the car, hopefully you'll see the true pace in the next few races."

Rosberg, meanwhile, sat savouring a hard-won third successive pole. "It definitely could have been easier," he smiled, referring to the first and second sessions, which had been run respectively on a wet and then a wet-but-drying track, before the third and crucial run was dry throughout.

"The conditions were all over the place, especially in Q2, but I'm very happy. If there's any place you want pole more than usual, it's here."

His father, Keke, won here for Williams exactly 30 years ago, but Nico just smiled at the "nice statistic" and added: "I finished 70 seconds behind the winner in Spain, where I also started first, so there are some question marks remaining. I'll make the best of it, but who knows what will happen."

The first corner here is one of the narrowest in Formula One, which will ratchet up the tension at the start, with the two Red Bulls lining up behind the two Mercedes on the grid. It is tailor-made for drivers to break team rule No 1: don't collide with your team-mate; and racing rule No 1: get round the first corner.

Another son of an grand prix father, Johnny Cecotto Jnr, failed to observe the latter in Friday's GP2 race, triggering a multi-car pile-up. That led to him being belatedly banned – from yesterday's second GP2 race – after poor stewarding in Malaysia and Spain had let him off far more worrying breaches of driving etiquette.

F1 drivers are more mature than the hot-headed young Venezuelan but, even so, Ferrari's Felipe Massa and Lotus's Romain Grosjean, the villain of Monaco and Spa first-corner shunts in 2012, were reminded in yesterday morning's final free practice session that getting even a few millimetres off-line can make the difference between getting away with risk and succumbing to it. Monaco takes few prisoners.

Grosjean redeemed himself at one stage in the second qualifying session by vaulting from last to first after his car was finally repaired, but Massa's car could not be readied in time to participate at all in qualifying, condemning him to a start from 22nd and last on the grid, with the prospect of a horrible and frustrating slog this afternoon.

Hamilton could sympathise with that after his torture in Spain, but tyre degradation is unlikely to be such a major factor here, where one-stop strategies are possible and tyre wear is much less critical.

Said Hamilton yesterday: "Nico and I will talk about the start tonight and how important it is to position ourselves in the smart way. We'll see who gets into the first corner first and who is quicker in the race, then see how it goes."

Victory here would confirm the wisdom of Hamilton's decision to leave McLaren for Mercedes, though the further modified McLarens of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez both made it through to Q3 to line up seventh and ninth, making them firm contenders for points.

A win for Hamilton would boost ticket sales for the upcoming British Grand Prix. And it would silence the critics who have again been blaming his lifestyle for his failure to best Rosberg.

"I'm not sure what my on-track fortunes have to do with having a dog," he responded, referring to his bulldog, Roscoe, who accompanies him to European races. "And I can't say I'm doing anything different in the car. But if people don't like my lifestyle, that's their problem."

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