Michael Schumacher posted the fastest time in qualifying ahead of tomorrow’s Monaco Grand Prix, but will not start from pole.
The seven-times world champion showed flashes of his previous brilliant best to set a lap of one minute 14.301secs for Mercedes right at the death in a pulsating session around the streets of the principality.
However, the 43-year-old will start from sixth on the grid due to a five-place grid penalty incurred after running into the back of Williams’ Bruno Senna during the Spanish Grand Prix 13 days ago.
It means Red Bull’s Mark Webber will start from pole, his first since last year’s German Grand Prix, ahead of Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton who will line up third.
Lotus' Romain Grosjean will be elevated to fourth alongside Hamilton, with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso fifth, then Schumacher.
The German will be ahead of Felipe Massa in his Ferrari and the second Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen.
Pastor Maldonado qualified ninth but will start 19th after the Spanish Grand Prix winner collected a 10-place penalty for causing a collision with Sauber’s Sergio Perez in final practice.
That means Sebastian Vettel will move up to ninth, the reigning champion bizarrely opting to save a set of tyres in the top-10 shoot-out in which he failed to set a time.
An indicator as to how drivers view the importance of qualifying was underlined by Vettel, winner here last year, who had completed 22 laps after the first two sessions.
Raikkonen only just managed to squeeze into the top-10, edging Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg by a tenth of a second, the German starting 10th ahead of Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi.
Qualifying for Jenson Button, however, was again a huge disappointment as the winner of this race in 2009 will start 12th.
Struggling with his tyres, the McLaren star finished out of the top 10 for the second successive race and for the first time since the end of 2008 in his abject Honda days.
Williams’ Bruno Senna and Paul di Resta in his Force India line up 13th and 14th, with the Toro Rosso duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne 15th and 16th.
Vergne’s session finished early as he broke off his nose in a minor shunt into a barrier on the slope down to the port chicane.
Earlier, and less than five minutes into a chaotic opening 20- minute session, the red flags were out after Sergio Perez crashed in qualifying around Monaco for the second successive year.
On this occasion Perez appeared to suffer an issue with his front -left suspension, potentially as a hangover after the incident in practice with Maldonado.
Emerging out of the swimming pool complex the Mexican was unable to straighten up his Sauber, hitting a barrier to his left.
That comprehensively dislodged his front-left wheel, whilst also removing the rear left and forcing him to park up at La Rascasse, leaving him without a time and starting at the back.
Ahead of him are the six you would expect, but it was not without some consternation for Vettel and Raikkonen who were forced to put on the supersoft tyres towards the end to guarantee survival.
The Caterhams of Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov will line up 17th and 18th, followed by Maldonado.
Then come Timo Glock for Marussia and the HRT of Pedro de la Rosa, with team-mates Charles Pic and Narain Karthikeyan 22nd and 23rd respectively.