Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz secured the second Ferrari front row lock-out of the season at the end of qualifying for this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix on the streets of Monte Carlo.
Leclerc had pole safely in his grasp even before a series of accidents ended the session prematurely, with Red Bull's Sergio Perez spinning at Portier and collecting Sainz, while Fernando Alonso hit the barrier at Mirabeau.
Earlier, a red flag late in Q1 led to a flurry of late flying laps which caught out Williams' Alex Albon and AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly, who was furious to find himself stuck in P17 on the grid for the start of tomorrow's race.
In what had proved to be an unusually fiercely-fought FP3, Red Bull's Sergio Perez had succeeded in thwarting a second consecutive weekend of practice clean sweeps for Ferrari's Charles Leclerc - but there had been only 0.041s in it. Also still very much in the running were Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen, while AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly couldn't be ruled out and Lando Norris was looking back in rude health for McLaren after his bout of tonsillitis. Oh, and Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were somewhere in the mix as well in the bouncy Mercedes.
As the sun glittered on the water in one of the world's most fabulous and glamorous marinas, and the humidity noticeably jumped in advance of this evening's expected stormy weather, it was time to find out which of them would come out on top in qualifying and thereby gain the crucial advantage for the Monaco GP.
Q1: Leclerc and Sainz top, Gasly misses out in flurry of late flying laps
First out were the two Haas cars of Mick Schumacher and Kevin Magnussen, with the two Alfa Romeos of Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu close on their heels. Others soon followed, and Schumacher's initial offering was soon swept aside by McLaren's Lando Norris whose time of 1:15.800s moved the goalposts by over a second.
The Red Bulls soon took charge, Verstappen's 1:14.295s proving 0.074s quicker than his team mate Perez, with Hamilton making a decent start in third ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda as Norris found himself bundled back to sixth ahead of Bottas and Aston Martin's Lance Stroll.
The Ferraris had initially held back but now made their appearance on track, although Leclerc's first run was only good enough for third and immediately beaten by both Magnussen and Esteban Ocon. Ocon's Alpine team mate Fernando Alonso soon went to the top, thwarting Norris' second run by 0.044s. The Red Bulls then went again, Perez going top but Verstappen only third fastest as Sainz completed his maiden run in a dead heat with Perez.
Leclerc finally managed to reestablish his hold on the top of the timesheets with a time of 1:12.939s, over a third of a second clear of the deadlocked Perez and Sainz. Verstappen's next run wasn't quite enough to catch the Monegasque who pushed on again with his next run, taking an improved Sainz with him in second place. Alonso remained safely in fifth with Hamilton now climbing to sixth ahead of Gasly, Norris, Russell and Ricciardo.
However things were far from settled, with strong track evolution surprising everyone. From out of the elimination zone, Schumacher leapt into seventh and Magnussen then did even better to jump into fifth. Alex Albon also raised eyebrows by putting the Williams into ninth, which his team mate Nicholas Latifi couldn't come close to replicating. Suddenly the likes of Russell, Ricciardo and Ocon were being backed up into the drop zone and looking vulnerable: a top ten run by Bottas increased the pressure on Russell further, and the Mercedes responded in fine fashion by leaping up to safety in third putting him behind the two Ferraris and ahead of the brace of Bulls.
Before anyone else could respond there was a somewhat over-enthusiastic and unnecessary red flag for a minor incident involving Yuki Tsunoda who had glanced the Nouvelle chicane with his front wing and taken to pit lane. The clock was stopped with just under two and a half minutes on the clock, leaving the two McLarens at extreme risk with Norris and Ricciardo straddling the cut line, and Ocon, Latifi, Tsunoda and Zhou all needing to find more time in their final runs or they would be eliminated.
When the pit lane lights went green it was bedlam as everyone rushed to get back out in time to set a lap. Not all of them made it, and the top five stayed out of it altogether and remained tucked up in the garage. The two McLarens successfully jumped clear of danger - Lando climbing to fifth only to be pipped by an even better time from Ocon - and Tsunoda was also safely into the top ten ahead of Sebastian Vettel. The rush of improved times meant that Albon had been pushed into the bottom five and duly found himself out of qualifying along with a fuming Pierre Gasly, Lance Stroll, Nicholas Latifi and Zhou Guanyu.
Q2: Leclerc stays in charge but Perez pushing hard in second
The remaining 15 cars all stayed on soft tyres for the second round of qualifying. Verstappen was holding nothing back as he wrung the neck of the Red Bull to produce an opening time of 1:12.551s, a huge jump on his previous best but still not enough to keep him ahead of Perez, Sainz and Leclerc who were all nearly half a second quicker than the reigning world champion. As the dust settled on these first runs, Norris was best of the rest ahead of Vettel, Bottas and Tsunoda. Hamilton completed his run to go ahead of the McLaren, while Russell then tucked in immediately behind Norris in seventh.
Norris pushed on with his next effort to put him back in fifth, now ahead of Alonso. Ocon and Vettel also improved to get themselves into the top ten. leaving Magnussen as the first driver in the drop zone. Verstappen built on his initial time but not by enough to improve his position, remaining in fourth place and still half a second off the pace setter which was now Leclerc again who had found more speed to push on to 1:11.864s, nine hundredths better than Perez' latest effort.
There was a lull in proceedings as the cars headed back to pit lane for a new set of tyres, Leclerc among those finding himself held up on the FIA weighbridge before he could head back out for the last drive of Q2. Hamilton briefly had the track to himself but it was a scrappy effort that forced him to back off for now. Norris had a better time and jumped to fourth behind Sainz, while Tsunoda also did better this time to get into the top ten in P7 ahead of Hamilton and Russell who were now getting dangerously close to the cut.
Russell was able to push up to sixth with his next lap, but Ocon did even better and found safety one place ahead; Hamilton also clawed his way out of the drop zone in seventh, which was just as well as Vettel's final push lap was good enough for eighth putting him ahead of Russell and Alonso. That left Tsunoda on the wrong side of things along with Bottas, Magnussen, Ricciardo and Schumacher.
Q3: Leclerc takes pole as qualifying ends in multiple accidents
Now it was time for the top ten shoot-out to decide who would take the accolade of pole position in Monaco, which was still looking too close to call between Leclerc and Perez with Sainz, Verstappen and Norris also looking well placed to pounce if the opportunity presented itself.
Leclerc was at the front of the train of cars on fresh soft tyres, followed by the Mercedes pair on user rubber suggesting they were only conducting slow initial 'banker' runs - leaving Sainz immediately behind worried that his own flying lap might be baulked. Leclerc duly delivered a searing lap of 1:11.376s with Sainz, Perez and Verstappen closely grouped together but all of them over two tenths in arrears of the provisional polesitter. After that it was quite a gap back to Alonso, Norris, Hamilton, Russell, Vettel and Ocon.
Leclerc and Perez both stayed out and flirted with the idea of a second flying lap, only to confirm than the tyres didn't have enough in them to pull it off. A brief hush descended over the circuit as the teams prepared their cars for one last effort, with Mercedes first to make the move. Verstappen was also quick to get out but he was still struggling to match the performance of his team mate or the two Ferraris.
Norris did all he could and successfully moved back ahead of Alonso in fifth, and within two tenths of Verstappen's latest. With just half a minute left on the clock, Perez threw everything he had into his own assault only to lose it and end up crunching into the barriers at Portier, with Sainz left blindsided as he ran into the stricken Red Bull seconds later leaving the track blocked as a result. For good measure there was a separate accident for Alonso at Mirabeau, and a red flag was inevitable meaning that the session would not resume.
As a result, Leclerc and Sainz had succeeded in locking out the front row of the grid for Ferrari with Perez and Verstappen having to settle with sharing the second row. Norris had done well to secure fifth ahead of another good showing from Russell, while Alonso's earlier time was good enough for seventh after Hamilton had been unable to complete his lap and ended in P8 ahead of Vettel and Ocon.