Fernando Alonso stands poised to clinch Ferrari’s first pole for 10 races following a final practice session for the Monaco Grand Prix that was marred by two heavy shunts.
The session was just eight minutes old when Nico Rosberg was fortunate to avoid serious injury following a heavy impact at the harbour chicane.
Emerging out of the tunnel, the fastest part of the circuit at a speed approaching 180mph, wisps of smoke were seen emerging from the back of Rosberg’s Mercedes.
The team’s engineers later suggested to Schumacher that Rosberg locked the rear tyres on exit out of the tunnel, adding he had low rear pressure at the time, contributing to the accident.
Within a second Rosberg was pitched to his right into a barrier down the hill heading towards the chicane, the impact twisting the car straight, forcing the right rear to collide with the same barrier.
Hurtling onwards out of control, a helpless Rosberg cut straight across the chicane and hit one of the speed bumps, launching his car into the air by a couple of feet.
On landing, and with momentum, Rosberg then missed a head-on impact with a barrier that splits the run-off road from the track.
Finally, as he began to slow, the German then hit another barrier on the left-hand side, this time the car spinning into the middle of the circuit where he eventually came to rest.
Rosberg emerged unharmed from his wrecked car before being collected and taken back to the garage.
It is almost certain the mechanics will not now have enough time to repair Rosberg’s car in time for qualifying.
Crucially, for the rest of the field, 13 minutes of running time were lost as the mangled Mercedes was collected and the track cleared of debris.
But then with six minutes remaining Vitantonio Luizzi caused the second red flag of the session, the Italian sliding the rear of his Hispania into a barrier at Ste Devote.
The impact was severe enough that it destroyed the back end of his car which came to rest heading up the hill, but like Rosberg, Liuzzi also emerged unscathed.
The marshals, arguably the most efficient in the world, took just four minutes to clear the damage, leaving the drivers a mere two minutes of on-track action which virtually proved irrelevant.
In between the two incidents Alonso continued his upward curve as he finished with by far the quickest time, half a second clear of Jenson Button in his Mercedes.
The double world champion, embarrassingly lapped in last Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix, but on a track far more suitable for his car, posted a lap time of 1:14.433, with Button setting a 1:14.966.
To raise Ferrari spirits further, Felipe Massa was third quickest, 0.591secs adrift, with world champion Sebastian Vettel 0.891 down in his Red Bull.
Although the current constructors’ champions have so far proven to be unbeatable in qualifying this year, there appears every chance they will be given a run for their money around the principality.
Michael Schumacher was fifth in his Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton sixth and struggling with his set up with his McLaren, the Briton 0.953secs down.
Last year’s winner Mark Webber, who missed all of Thursday’s first practice session with an electrical problem, is clearly struggling to make up for lost time as the Australian was a second down in seventh.
The Toro Rossos of Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi finished eighth and ninth, with Sauber’s Sergio Perez completing the top 10.
Paul di Resta showed signs of promise as he finally begins to learn the complex track that up until Thursday he had not driven on for six years.
The Scot was 11th on the timesheet in his Force India with a lap of 1:16.990, finishing 2.557secs down on Alonso.
With Rosberg not setting a time and so naturally at the foot of the standings, Narain Karthikeyan in his HRT was the last of those to set a time, the Indian 5.845secs off Alonso.