Lewis Hamilton realised one of his greatest dreams Saturday when he claimed his maiden Monaco Grand Prix pole position and, in the process, ended Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg’s ambitions of a top spot hat-trick in the Mediterranean principality.
On the classic street circuit where his hero Brazilian Ayrton Senna inspired him by reeling off six wins in seven years, including five in a row, between 1987 and 1993, the defending world champion was irresistible as he secured the prime starting position for Sundayâ€™s classic race, at the ninth time of asking.
“It has been a long, long time,” said Hamilton, who was almost bewitched, as a boy, by the televised images of Senna.
“I can’t express to you how happy I am. It was not the easiest session. There were a lot of things that throw you off your rhythm and I did not have that rhythm until the last couple of laps.
“But I am very, very happy. This track is so hard. It is difficult to express how difficult it is. In our session we had some problem with tyres and traffic, it was not easy so it makes it even more special. We had some really bad laps, so it was great.”
After struggling for rhythm, Hamilton clocked a final best lap in one minute and 15.090 seconds to wind up three-tenths of a second clear of Rosberg and fellow-German Sebastian Vettel, who was third for Ferrari ahead of the two Red Bulls of Australian Daniel Ricciardo and Russian Daniil Kvyat.
“Coming across the line, just hoping for once that you’ve got it â€¦ It’s incredibly special for me and for my guys who’ve worked incredibly hard this weekend. It’s so important to get a rhythm and itâ€™s really important to continue to improve.
“It’s like climbing a ladder. Every time you’ve got to be taking one step — and if you slide back down it’s sometimes harder to get back up. Nothing was able to get in my way today.”
It was, said the two-time world champion and current series leader, a satisfying achievement, but nothing to celebrate. Not yet.
“This is not even half the job done,” he said. “There is so much to do tomorrow. It will be mentally and physically challenging. I am just sitting here and thinking about previous years and what got away, or what was not good enough, so I am looking forward to tomorrow.
“The last time I was on pole here was in 2006 in GP2, so it will be a very special day.”
Prompted by questions during a post-qualifying news conference, he reflected on Senna’s inspiring Monaco achievements. “This is special for me, but it’s not a milestone. You cannot compare it to what he achieved in Monaco,” he said. “But it is a step.!
Rosberg, who beat Hamilton from pole to win the Spanish Grand Prix two weeks ago and trim his lead in the title race to 20 points, said: “It was the other way round for meâ€¦ I lost my rhythm and I knew Lewis was quick and it didnâ€™t work out for me. I lost touch before the end. I felt confident it would come my way, but it didnâ€™t.”
It was Hamilton’s fifth pole of the season and Mercedes’ fourth front row lockout in six events.
After being fastest in final free practice, Vettel was outpaced. He said: “I was struggling with warming up the tyres. It was too cool. It’s a shame the sun was hiding behind the cloudsâ€¦”
Finn Kimi Raikkonen, who crashed during morning practice, was sixth in the second Ferrari ahead of Mexican Sergio Perez of Force India, Spaniard Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso, Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado of Lotus and Dutch teenager Max Verstappen, who was 10th in the second Toro Rosso.