Ever wondered how it must feel to gamble and win in Monte Carlo? Or to gamble and lose? Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso had the answers yesterday afternoon. As the former turned it on yet again to take his third pole position of the year, the latter stood glumly in the back of the Ferrari garage. Dressed in his civvies, with no car to drive after he had tanked his Ferrari into the wall in free practice that morning, the Spaniard could only watch as everyone else fought it out on a ribbon of road littered with traps and traffic.
For much of the final, 10-minute session Robert Kubica set the pace for Renault. A Pole chasing the pole. He is at his most dangerous in such situations. He revels in street circuits, and does not make mistakes. Steadily he worked down from 1min 14.714sec to 1:14.284, then 1:14.120. It seemed like enough, until Webber squeezed off 1:14.104. Kubica had no reply to that, but just to settle the issue Webber then banged in the lap everyone else had feared would be within the capability of F1's fastest car: 1:13.826. Game over.
"I had no idea if the previous lap was enough, it was all a bit of a blur to be honest," Webber said. "But I told the team I'd wait for the third and fourth laps to try and murder it, and the lap just came together. The car was again a pleasure to drive, and pole position in Monaco is a nice feeling." He's a master of understatement, this guy from Queanbeyan in Canberra. Pole in Monaco, unless you blow the start or your car falls apart, is like the magic bullet.
Kubica was admirably deadpan if he felt any disappointment, for above all he is a realist. He drove the wheels off his Renault, which uses the same engine as Webber's Red Bull, and knew that fighting the red-and-blue car was always going to be tough, even here, where driving talent can count for so much.
"I think we couldn't do better than this," he said, and again that was an understatement. Few had expected the Renault to be quite so good. "The final lap was not ideal; the first sector was good, but by the second part of the lap the tyres had already gone off. When you get so close it's better to finish first, but I have to be happy."
And you just know that the ice-cool Pole will be doing everything he can to beat Webber into the Ste Devote corner at two o'clock today.
With Sebastian Vettel again overshadowed by Webber in third place after a late improvement, and Felipe Massa upholding Ferrari honour with fourth place, Lewis Hamilton's hopes of pole faded to a fifth-place result despite a superb lap in a McLaren that just wasn't quite there. "I literally got every last drop of performance from the car – there was absolutely nothing left," he said. "I touched all the barriers I could possibly touch and used all the road I could possibly use, so I'm happy with my performance. It's not over till it's over."
The sixth-placed Nico Rosberg was back in front of Michael Schumacher at Mercedes, but not by much – 0.046sec separated them – leaving Jenson Button to take eighth place in the second McLaren, just under two-tenths shy of Hamilton, after being blocked by Massa.
"I don't really know what Felipe was thinking in Q3 – there were only 10 cars out there, so it should have been relatively easy for him to keep out of the way," said Button. "I guess he wasn't looking in his mirrors, and it was annoying, because that lap was compromised."
Alonso had set the pace here on Thursday, and had stalked back to the pits grim-faced after his morning adventure. Typically, he didn't try to shift blame for one of his very rare driving errors.
Jack Brabham was the last Aussie on pole here, back in 1967, and the last to win here, in 1959. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Jack, who was a hero in our household, an absolute legend in the sport who has been very good to me over the years," Webber said. "It'll be the biggest highlight of my career if I join Jack tomorrow," he added. "But I've got two hours of work to do, and I'm under no illusions."