Nico Rosberg took pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix ahead of his teammate Lewis Hamilton in controversial circumstances on Saturday, with Hamilton visibly irate at how Rosberg's late error cost him a shot at qualifying in first place.
The Mercedes pair went out for one final qualifying lap with less than a minute remaining and Rosberg lost control coming out of the Mirabeau turn, sliding down an escape road. After Rosberg backed out onto the circuit, a yellow flag came up — meaning that Hamilton could not improve on his time.
“I thought it was over once that happened, because I thought the track could ramp up and somebody else could beat the time,” Rosberg said. “Of course that's not great (the yellow flag), but that's the way it is.”
Stewards then summoned Rosberg to a meeting regarding his maneuver on turn 5.
“I just locked up, the outside front (tire), I think it was, or the inside, I'm not sure,” Rosberg said. “I was still trying to make it but in the last moment I had to turn out because I was going to hit the tire wall, but I managed to go into the escape road.”
It's the second pole of the season for Rosberg. Hamilton— who leads Rosberg by just three points overall — has the other four.
Rosberg's leading time was 1 minute, 15.989 seconds, with Hamilton clocking 1:16.048 and Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo was in third at 1:16.384. Four-time defending champion Sebastian Vettel of Germany finished fourth, while Fernando Alonso of Ferrari was fifth.
Tension has been building over the last few days, with Hamilton even publicly questioning whether his teammate has enough desire.
Although reluctant to discuss the incident in the post-qualifying news conference, Hamilton was later asked if the situation within Mercedes now compares to the internal rift between the late Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, who had an extremely tense relationship racing against each other for McLaren in the late 1980s.
Quizzed by British broadcaster BBC if his relationship with Rosberg was heading the same way, Hamilton reportedly responded “essentially” before adding: “I don't know if Senna and Prost sat down and talked it out. I quite like the way Senna dealt with it, so I'm going to take a page out of his book.”
Hamilton, the 2008 F1 champion, recently questioned his teammate's hunger to win at the highest level and referred to what he considered Rosberg's easier upbringing.
“I come from a not-great place in Stevenage and lived on a couch in my dad's apartment, and Nico grew up in Monaco with jets and hotels and boats and all these kind of things,” Hamilton said Thursday. “If I were to come here believing that Nico is hungrier than me then I might as well go home.”
Hamilton has won the past four races while Rosberg won the season opener in Australia, where Hamilton retired with engine failure.
While Rosberg was smiling at the post-qualifying conference, Hamilton looked stern-faced and gave short answers, saying “not really much” and “I was on target, yeah” when asked what he thought about the incident.
Rosberg tried to soothe the situation.
“Of course I'm sorry for Lewis, I didn't know where he was,” Rosberg said. “Of course, yeah it's not great.”
Asked to respond to Rosberg's apology, Hamilton shrugged his shoulders and mumbled: “I don't have an answer to it.”
Told that it was ironic that Rosberg's mistake had led to the yellow flag and stopped the British driver, Hamilton flatly responded “yeah, it's ironic.”
On the track, the German driver looked jubilant as he stepped out of his Mercedes, with Hamilton standing glum-faced close by.
Given that nine out of the past 10 Monaco GP's have all been won from pole position, Rosberg has a great chance to reclaim the lead from Hamilton if the stewards don't punish him. Rosberg won from pole position here last year for his maiden win.
Ricciardo again outperformed Vettel in qualifying, and has now qualified higher than him in four from six races.
“It's nice to fight at the front of the field,” the Australian said, although he felt the times could have been better.