Jenson Button reigned supremo around the principality of Monaco as the Brawn GP driver claimed his fourth pole position of the season.
After an intensely tight final practice session in the morning, pole position looked as if it could go to any one of seven drivers. But when it came down to the crunch it was Button who proved to be the Monaco Meister as he put his Brawn BGP001 into the P1 slot with a 1:14.902.
He edged Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen into second place by just 0.025s as the Ferrari driver put in his best qualifying performance of the season so far.
Third place went to Rubens Barrichello with the Brazilian putting an end to Sebastian Vettel's five consecutive top-three grid slots as he relegated the Red Bull racer to fourth place.
Felipe Massa qualified in third place ahead of Nico Rosberg and Heikki Kovalainen.
Meanwhile, it was an afternoon to forget for Kovalainen's McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton as the Brit broke his rear suspension when he thumped the wall during Q1. He will start P16 on the grid.
The sun was beating down in Monte Carlo harbour with an ambient temperature of 24C and the track at 45C as the pitlane exit light turned green.
With the track well rubbered in it was more a question of getting a clear lap than making the tyres last in Monaco. Bridgestone had given teams the soft and the super-soft to work with, the only race on the calendar where the cars would have adjacent grades available as the prime and the option tyre.
Given their terrible form in practice it was no surprise to see the two Toyotas out first. Felipe Massa was also out early and ruined their first timed laps, bringing out the yellow flags with an accident at the swimming pool where he lost control and hit the inside barrier.
Trulli set the first decent P1 time with 1:18.856, Giancarlo Fisichella reduced it to 1:17.907, Buemi took it down to 1:17.225, then Kovalainen set the bar at 1:16.543. Red Bull's championship contender Sebastian Vettel took P1 with a 1:16.499 and on his second hot lap set a 1:16.045.
Unlike any other circuit, almost all of the teams fuelled for two- or three-lap qualifying runs with an opening quick lap, a lap to get space in traffic, and then a third hot lap.
Championship leader took over P1 with a 1:15.817 while his team-mate Rubens Barrichello, despite brushing the barrier at the run up from Rascasse to Nogues, went quicker with a 1:15.660.
This looked likely to fall to the ever-improving Lewis Hamilton who set the fastest first sector time of 19.8 before losing control of his McLaren into the Mirabeau turn and thumping the safety barrier hard with his rear left tyre breaking the suspension.
He was in no position to return to the pits and had to get out of the car which was unceremoniously craned over the barriers. The session was red-flagged with 8.07 left on the clock.
Coming into the last three minutes Hamilton's initial time almost looked like it might carry him through to Q2, not that he would have a car to compete in. The danger positions were: 11.Webber, 12.Piquet, 13.Trulli, 14.Alonso, 15.Glock, 16.Buemi, 17.Kubica, 18.Fisichella, 19.Bourdais, 20.Heidfeld.
Jenson Button re-asserted his authority by claiming P1 as the cars circulated trying to get into Q2, Rosberg went P4 and then grabbed P1 with a 1:15.094, Webber took P5, Piquet jumped to P10, Alonso was safe in P8, but the BMWs of Heidfeld and Kubica could only manage P16 and P17.
At the very last second Sebastien Bourdais got himself into P.15 displacing Lewis Hamilton's time. So out went:
It was possibly the most elite set of drivers ever to be dismissed in Q1; one World Champion, three GP winners, and every one of them a podium finisher in their careers.
Two races ago Toyota had locked out the front row of the Bahrain GP and here they were in Monaco propping up the grid. Jarno Trulli maintained that Alonso had blocked him coming through Rascasse and Nogues and had reported him to the stewards.
Hamilton admitted that he had made a driver error when he lost control going into Mirabeau and was acutely aware that he had thrown away his chance in a race he could have won.
Into the second session and Felipe Massa was out early to set the P1 time at 1:15.586. Team-mate Kimi Raikkonen looked immeasurably more confident and reduced that to 1:15.332.
Sebastian Vettel took P1 with a 1:15.217 which was decimated by Nico Rosberg with a 1:14.846. Mark Webber proved that he is the faster Red Bull driver in Monaco despite his weight disadvantage and took P1 with a 1:14.825. His spell at the top of the timesheets didn't last long as Heikki Kovalainen blasted past him with a 1:14.809.
With seven minutes of the session left Nelson Piquet lost control of his Renault just before the Anthony Nogues turn but managed to keep his car out of the barriers. Stewards noticed that Giancarlo Fisichella had been straight-lining the turn after the swimming pool exit and decided to cancel his first two times.
Coming into the last three minutes the danger positions were: 7.Alonso, 8.Raikkonen, 9.Nakajima, 10.Button, 11.Piquet, 12.Buemi, 13.Sutil, 14.Bourdais, 15.Fisichella.
Kimi improved to P6 on the first of his hot laps, while Button, who had been lingering close to the drop zone, launched himself forward to P6 moving Raikkonen back to P7. Kimi then put in an astonishingly quick lap of 1:14.514 to take P1.
Alonso managed to creep into the top ten in P9, but when the chequered flag fell it was the usual suspects from the Q3 elimination zone that failed to get through. So out went:
In fact if you completely reversed the Q3 and Q2 eliminees that would have looked far more like the natural order.
Unlike almost any other GP track, the amount of rubber that was being put down was increasing the speeds of cars in each session.
Sebastian Vettel did his championship hopes no harm at all by setting P1 with a 1:16.206, and then, after Rosberg had beaten it with a 1:15.602, reduced it to 1:15.395. Rosberg's second hot lap was quick but only good enough for P2.
With Mark Webber and Kazuki Nakajima looking to be running much heavier fuel levels (to cope with the Safety Car lottery) the order of the top 8 after the first runs was: 1.Vettel, 2.Rosberg, 3.Barrichello, 4.Button, 5.Massa, 6.Kovalainen 7.Alonso, 8.Raikkonen.
After a second set of tyres, the Ferraris came out to show that their first runs had been slightly conservative. Raikkonen leapt from P.8 to P2 while Felipe Massa slipped into P3. Fuelled for a second hot lap Raikkonen set the timing screens to purple for sector 1 and blitzed across the line to beat Vettel's time with a 1:14.927 - a Ferrari pole?
Jenson Button meanwhile had set the fastest S1 and when he set the fastest middle sector, pole looked a real possibility - across the line he flashed with a 1:14.902 good enough for P1. Vettel could not improve enough but Rubens Barrichello was in with a shot of making it an all-Brawn front row.
Rubens came up short in P3 with Vettel only reducing his lap time by 0.12 of a second on the decisive second set of tyres to finish 4th. Massa was 5th, Rosberg 6th and Kovalainen 7th.
Though Eddie Jordan was of the belief that the Ferrari of Raikkonen would reach Sainte Devote first thanks to its KERS button, if the system doesn't kick in till the cars are doing 100kph Button (providing he gets away well) will have more than enough time to move over and take the line.
Similarly, Sebastian Vettel will be glad that his usual shadow, Felipe Massa, won't have such a long drag down to Turn 1 to slip from 5th to 4th and ruin his strategy.
In the last 23 years only one driver outside the front three on the grid has won the race - and that was Panis in 1996 when it was wet. Lewis Hamilton will be doing the rain dance tonight.
01 J. Button Brawn GP 1:14.902
02 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:14.927
03 R. Barrichello Brawn GP 1:15.077
04 S. Vettel Red Bull 1:15.271
05 F. Massa Ferrari 1:15.437
06 N. Rosberg Williams 1:15.455
07 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:15.516
08 M. Webber Red Bull 1:15.653
9 F. Alonso Renault 1:16.009
10 K. Nakajima Williams 1:17.344
11 S. Buemi Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:15.833
12 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:15.837
13 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:16.146
14 S. Bourdais Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:16.281
15 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:16.545
16 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:16.264
17 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:16.264
18 R. Kubica BMW 1:16.405
19 J. Trulli Toyota 1:16.548
20 T. Glock Toyota 1:16.788
Source : Planet F1