Charles Leclerc took a surprise pole position for Ferrari at the Monaco Grand Prix despite crashing on his last run of qualifying.
Lewis Hamilton could manage only seventh on the grid for Mercedes as title rival Max Verstappen took second for Red Bull.
Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas was third, from Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.
Leclerc’s first flying lap in final qualifying was enough for pole but his crash curtailed what had looked set to be a thrilling climax to the session.
It was Ferrari’s first pole since 26 October, 2019, when Leclerc was fastest at the 2019 Mexican Grand Prix.
The Ferraris have been on the pace all weekend and went into qualifying looking set to fight for pole position with Verstappen and the Mercedes drivers.
Leclerc delivered on his team’s potential with a strong performance at his home race. He was fastest in second qualifying and then 0.24 seconds quicker than Verstappen on his first lap of the final session.
The drivers had one last chance to shoot for pole, but while Verstappen was on course to beat Leclerc’s first time by the time the Red Bull had exited the tunnel, Leclerc misjudged the entry to the second chicane around the swimming pool section and hit the wall, bringing the session to an end.
It was the classic accident at that corner – Leclerc clipped the wall with his inside wheel on the first right-hand section, bounced over the kerb on the second, left-handed part, and smashed into the wall on the outside.
Leclerc said: “It is a shame to finish in the wall. It doesn’t feel the same but at the same time I am incredibly happy about my first timed lap. The first sector did not go well but I nailed the second and third sectors.
“It is a big surprise to be on pole and in fourth place.”
However, there is a risk that he could lose the place. If his gearbox is damaged enough to need replacing, he will be given a five-place grid penalty.
Leclerc was asked after the session whether he was worried about this, and replied: “I am, but let’s see.”
Leclerc said he had brushed the wall in the same place on the lap that secured him pole and went too far on his next attempt.
“I was 0.15secs off or something like this (at that point),” he said. “I took too much the inside on my fast lap – if you watch it, I think I touched the wall, too, but not as hard as on the second timed lap. I tried to go for a bit more on the second lap and I basically bounced it off, But it was a misjudgement.”
The crash revived memories of an infamous incident in 2006, when Michael Schumacher pretended to crash and parked his car at Rascasse in an attempt to secure pole, but was later demoted to the back of the grid.
Leclerc said, in reference to the serious risk to his grid position of potential gearbox damage: “If I was doing it on purpose, I would have made sure to hit the wall a bit less hard.”
Verstappen said: “It was unfortunate with the red flag. I felt really comfortable with qualifying.
“(On my final run), I was 0.15secs up and I knew I had made a mistake on the first run on T10 which cost 0.1secs. So pole was on. But that is if, buts, maybes.”
He pointed out that he had made mistakes at the same corner as Leclerc on two previous occasions in Monaco: “There is a difference when a driver makes a mistake or does it intentionally, but he just clipped the wall and ended up where I have ended up twice. I am disappointed not to have a shot at pole but that’s life.”
Bottas said he was “gutted” not to get a final chance to improve on third place.
What happened to Hamilton?
Hamilton never looked quick at any point throughout qualifying, lagging behind his team-mate throughout and struggling with lack of grip, particularly caused by struggles with getting the front tyres up to the right temperature.
He ended the session more than 0.4secs behind Bottas, and behind also McLaren’s Lando Norris and Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly, and faces the real prospect of Verstappen taking a big chunk out of his championship lead.
Hamilton goes into the race 14 points ahead of Verstappen but with overtaking so difficult around Monaco the Dutchman has a great chance to eat significantly into Hamilton’s advantage.
“Today was a question of tyres not working,” said Hamilton. “Just sliding around. It wasn’t feeling bad on Thursday. I think we were closer to the front on Thursday. But we’ve not gone the right direction over the last day and today was the result of that.”
Struggles continue for Alonso and Ricciardo
Further back, struggles in 2021 continued for two giants of F1.
Daniel Ricciardo could qualify only 12th for McLaren, more than 0.5secs off team-mate Norris in second qualifying, and Fernando Alonso did not even make it out of the first session in his Alpine.
The Spanish double world champion, back in F1 this year after two years away, was 17th.
Alonso was 0.465secs slower in Q1 than team-mate Esteban Ocon, who ended up 11th.
George Russell was 15th for Williams as the team celebrate their 750th grand prix.