The Monaco Q1 session had become the most talked about of the year before it even got underway. With concerns that the combination of a short track, 24 cars and some very slow backmarkers could turn the session in to a lottery, and drop a big name driver out in the first session, all eyes were on the opening 20 minutes of qualifying.

But there was huge news before the session even began. There were 23 cars in Q1, with double Monaco winner Fernando Alonso being forced to sit out the session after slamming in to the barriers during third practice. Alonso will start tomorrow’s race from the pitlane with a new chassis, but his hopes of points already look remote.

With Alonso already gone six drivers dropped out in Q1, and despite all the talk of ruined laps and big guns being knocked out, it was the same old story, as the new team’s drivers were eliminated. The two Lotus cars came out best and will line up 18th and 19th, with the Virgins of Glock and di Grassi 20th and 21st respectively. Bruno Senna will start 22nd, with fellow Hispania driver Karun Chandhok 23rd. Felipe Massa was quickest in Q1, ahead of Mark Webber and Robert Kubica, but that’s all forgotten as the drivers head in to Q2.

Eliminated in Q1

18 Heikki Kovalainen – Lotus-Cosworth (1:17.094)

19 Jarno Trulli – Lotus-Cosworth (1:17.134)

20 Timo Glock – Virgin-Cosworth (1:17.377)

21 Lucas di Grassi – Virgin-Cosworth (1:17.864)

22 Bruno Senna – HRT-Cosworth (1:18:509)

23 Karun Chandhok – HRT-Cosworth (1:19.559)

24 Fernando Alonso – Ferrari (no time- starts from pitlane)

Top of the new teams was Kovalainen's Lotus © Sutton/Autosport

Q2 promised to be less hectic than the first session- which wasn’t all that mad itself- with drivers having a bit more space to ensure a quick  lap. However it also promised to be fiercely competitive, with almost all of the drivers capable of making it in to the top 10 shootout.

Again there were no real surprises in terms of drivers dropping out, with the four big teams all getting their guys through- though Ferrari were down to one.

Something of a shock was the elimination of Monaco pro Adrian Sutil. He’ll start 12th, whilst under-pressure teammate Tonio Liuzzi delivered a gem of a lap to get himself in to the top 10. Monaco veteran Rubens Barichello also got himslef through, with teammate Nico Hulkenberg just missing out. Sebastien Buemi starts a strong 13th for Toro Rosso.

Vitaly Petrov stuck it in the wall at Saint Devote- he’ll start 14th- followed by the Saubers of de la Rosa and Kobayashi and Jaime Alguersuari, who’ll start 17th.

Eliminated in Q2

11 Nico Hulkenberg – Williams-Cosworth (1:15.317)

12 Adrian Sutil – Force India-Mercedes (1:15.318)

13 Sebastien Buemi – Toro Rosso-Ferrari (1:15.413)

14 Vitaly Petrov – Renault (1:15.576)

15 Pedro de la Rosa – Sauber-Ferrari (1:15.692)

16 Kamui Kobayashi – Sauber-Ferrari (1:15.992)

17 Jaime Alguersuari – Toro Rosso-Ferrari (1:16.176)

Petrov and the wall got better aquatinted in Q2. © Sutton/Autosport
So on to Q3, where we had a real thriller. For much of the session Robert Kubica looked like giving his Renault team a shock pole position, having reeled off some truly breathtaking laps. But it was the man of the moment who snuck in to spoil Kubica’s day. Mark Webber, supremely confident and quick in his Red Bull, somehow outdid the Renault’s lap to take a brilliant- and very significant- pole position.

Webber’s Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel took 3rd late on, with Felipe Massa 4th and Lewis Hamilton a slightly dispaointing 5th. Next it was the Mercedes cars, with Nico Rosberg pipping Michael Schumacher, and a struggling Jenson Button in 8th. Two very impressive performances round out the top 10, with Rubens Barichello 9th and Tonio Liuzzi 10th. Both of those men did stellar jobs in qualifying today.

So it’s Webber on pole for the third time this season, and after his supreme drive in Spain he’ll be tough to beat tomorrow. But having looked brilliant all weekend Robert Kubica will be plotting his own path to victory tonight. This year’s Monaco Grand Prix could be very exciting.

© LAT/Autosport

Top 10 Shootout

1 Mark Webber – Red Bull-Renault (1:13.826)

2 Robert Kubica – Renault (1:14.120)

3 Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull-Renault (1:14.227)

4 Felipe Massa – Ferrari (1:14.283)

5 Lewis Hamilton – McLaren-Mercedes (1:14.432)

6 Nico Rosberg – Mercedes (1:14.544)

7 Michael Schumacher – Mercedes (1:14.590)

8 Jenson Button – McLaren-Mercedes (1:14.637)

9 Rubens Barrichello – Williams-Cosworth (1:14.901)

10 Tonio Liuzzi – Force India-Mercedes (1:15.170)