MONACO >> Nico Rosberg took pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix ahead of Lewis Hamilton on Saturday after making a late error that left his Mercedes teammate visibly irate at missing out on a shot at qualifying in first place.
With Rosberg holding the best time, the Mercedes pair went out for one final qualifying lap with less than a minute remaining in the session, but the German 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 the session was over and Hamilton could not improve on his time.
It was an incident that fueled the growing rivalry between the two runaway leaders in the overall standings, with Hamilton insinuating afterward that he would get revenge.
“I have apologized to Lewis for having hindered the opportunity for him to improve his lap time,” Rosberg said. “I locked up the rears (tires) and then the fronts at the bumpy downhill part of the track before turn five.”
Stewards cleared Rosberg of any wrongdoing after studying video and telemetry evidence of his maneuver.
It’s the second pole of the season for Rosberg. Hamilton– who leads Rosberg by just three points in the overall standings — has the other four.
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 overall lead from Hamilton. Rosberg won from pole position here last year for his maiden win.
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 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.”
In 1989 Prost took out Senna late in the Japanese Grand Prix to win the title. At the same circuit a year after, Senna did the same to Prost, then with Ferrari, on the first turn to clinch the championship.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff played down the incident.
“I don’t think anybody does that deliberately. He missed his braking and he took the exit. That’s it,” Wolff said. “There is no difficulty in managing this situation of the drivers. We have spoken to them in the debrief and it was all OK.”
Earlier Saturday, however, Mercedes chairman Dieter Zetsche sounded almost prophetic when he said “fierce fighting for the No. 1 position” between Hamilton and Rosberg can only be good for the sport.
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 as the son of an F1 driver.
“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, a stern-faced Hamilton gave short answers when asked what he thought about the incident, saying “not really much” and “I was on target, yeah.”
Rosberg tried to soothe the situation.
“Of course I’m sorry for Lewis, I didn’t know where he was,” Rosberg said.
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.