Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc stormed to a home Monaco GP pole position after dominating qualifying, which ended in dramatic fashion as Sergio Perez crashed and Carlos Sainz shunted into him on their last laps.
Trying to match Leclerc’s superb lap at the start of Q3, Perez slid into the barriers at the Portier right-hander before Sainz, in the other Ferrari, then came round the corner and hit the stricken Red Bull.
The blocked track and red flags sealed Leclerc’s pole, although such was the Monegasque’s form it’s unlikely he would have been beaten anyway.
An untouchable and unflappable Leclerc topped Q1 and Q2, was two-tenths faster than his rivals on the first laps of Q3 and was even improving on his final lap before the bizarre stoppage.
Sainz, despite hitting Perez, is set to join his team-mate on the front row. The Spaniard lamented the late yellow flags when coming round the corner at Portier, where he slammed on the brakes but couldn’t avoid the Red Bull.
Perez was still third, with Max Verstappen struggling for pace throughout the all-important qualifying for F1’s showpiece race. He will line up fourth ahead of Lando Norris, who impressively beat both Mercedes.
George Russell seemed to extract the maximum of the W13 in sixth, outqualfiying team-mate Lewis Hamilton by two places and a notable 0.4s.
Hamilton finished over a second off pole.
It was a gripping qualifying as drivers pushed the new-for-2022 cars to the limit around the famous Monte Carlo circuit for the first time, with Sebastian Vettel impressing in ninth and Daniel Ricciardo struggling again in 14th for McLaren.
The other major incident in the session came in Q1, as Yuki Tsunoda clipping the barriers led to a possibly hasty red flag from the stewards. That ultimately resulted in a shock Pierre Gasly exit, as his fast lap was stopped and he then didn’t have enough time to complete another after the resumption.
A cracker of a Monaco GP is in store, with cooler temperatures and the threat of rain for F1’s most famous event. The race is live on Sky Sports F1 at 2pm, with build-up from 12.30pm.
Monaco GP Qualifying Result: Top 10
1) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
2) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
3) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
4) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
5) Lando Norris, McLaren
6) George Russell, Mercedes
7) Fernando Alonso, Alpine
8) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
9) Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin
10) Esteban Ocon, Alpine
Leclerc the star of the show, Perez in strange shunt as Hamilton struggles again
It is the second year in a row that Leclerc’s pole in Monaco has essentially been clinched by red flags, as last year it was he that crashed when leading. But this was different. Not only was the late stoppage nothing to do with him, but his pace all day made it clear he was never really going to be beaten regardless.
"I don’t think that pole was on today," said Red Bull boss Christian Horner. "Charles was mighty."
Leclerc has been on form all weekend in Monaco, topping two out of three practice sessions and every qualifying segment. Not only was his opening Q3 lap terrific and comfortably faster than anyone else, but we were then robbed of what could have been an all-timer last lap from Leclerc.
Remarkably, he was four-tenths up on his final Q3 lap.
Focus for Leclerc now turns to Sunday and ending his Monaco hoodoo; the 24-year-old has never finished a race around the Principality, where he was born and bred.
Perez was Red Bull’s main hope all day and topped final practice, but the Mexican was nowhere near Leclerc in Q3 and also wasn’t on his last lap before sliding off at Portier before the tunnel, where he was definitely pushing too hard.
He says his Red Bull is damaged, although should be fine for the race.
Arguably the bigger Red Bull story was in Verstappen’s garage, with the Dutchman uncharacteristically unable to match his team-mate all day. After taking the championship lead off an unlucky Leclerc last weekend in Spain, Verstappen risks handing it back on Sunday.
Mercedes, meanwhile, were about where they expected to be after struggling for bouncing on Friday and outright pace on Saturday. Russell hooked up what seemed to be a superb lap but was still beaten by the not 100% fit but on-form Norris, with Hamilton beaten again by his team-mate.
Russell, who has finished ahead of Hamilton in the last five races, also now leads the seven-time champion in the Mercedes qualifying head-to-heads.