Sebastian Vettel has started the 2011 Formula One season with a tremendous run of five out of six pole positions, but his Monaco Grand Prix pole Saturday was slightly overshadowed by a hard — and luckily safe — shunt by Sauber’s Sergio Pérez into the tire wall coming out of the Circuit de Monaco tunnel. Still, Vettel’s 1:13.556 was the second-fastest lap time ever in the Principality to Kimi Raikonen’s 1:13.532 in 2006.
Another remarkable pole drive by Sebastian Vettel, which placed him at the front of the grid for the fifth time in six attempts this season, was overshadowed by a serious crash involving Sauber’s young Mexican driver, Sergio Pérez.
The track was closed for almost 40 minutes during qualifying while Pérez was extricated from the ruins of his car and taken to the Princess Grace hospital, with his father, manager and physio, while the remains of the Sauber were winched into the air.
The first indication that Pérez, 21, had escaped serious injury came almost 20 minutes after the accident, when a section of the crowd close to the crash started applauding, having apparently seen some movement.
The next information – unofficial – was passed on by Vettel, Jenson Button and Mark Webber, the top three qualifiers, who all reported that they heard Pérez was conscious and not talking, not enough in itself to confirm his safety.
Worryingly, almost two hours after the incident a Sauber spokesman said: “We haven’t heard anything.” But a short time later the driver’s condition was officially described as “encouraging”, and that he had sustained concussion, a sprained thigh but no fractures . He was detained overnight.
The accident happened less than three minutes before the end of qualifying when Pérez, exiting the tunnel at about 175mph and on the wrong side of the track, veered to the right and hit a barrier. The car then slewed over the chicane before hitting a tyre wall.
Sauber said in a statement: “It is with some relief that Sauber F1 received the news that Sergio Pérez has no serious injuries after his heavy accident. The reason for the accident will be investigated.”
It was the third crash of the day. In the morning practice session for today’s Monaco Grand Prix, Nico Rosberg had a nasty shunt at the same place, after which the speed bumps were taken out. Hispania’s Vitantonio Liuzzi crashed at the exit of Sainte Dévote after losing control, also in practice.
The BBC pundit and former F1 team principal Eddie Jordan said that organisers should look at the bumpy piece of track on the tunnel exit. It was here that David Coulthard crashed in 2008, while Button came to grief in 2003.
Button described the track as “very slippery”. Meanwhile Rosberg said: “I was very fortunate this morning that I completely missed that barrier. That barrier has been there for a long time and a lot of things have happened there. I closed my eyes and prayed: ‘Please, God, don’t let me hit that thing,’ and fortunately I didn’t. Maybe it’s time to reconsider because it should be pretty easy to get it out of the way and move it back 50 metres or something. I think it may be time to do that.”
Referring to the bump at the end of the tunnel, the German said: “Monaco is generally a dangerous track. It’s because you have a very high speed and you jump. As you start braking you jump in the braking zone, and that’s a bit of a concern obviously. I didn’t see Sergio’s crash and I think it’s better if I don’t see it.”
The main loser of the Pérez incident was Lewis Hamilton, who had been quickest in Q1 and Q2 and was in the middle of his Q3 run when the red flags came out. He had time for one lap when qualifying restarted but could come only seventh, which was later downgraded to ninth for cutting a chicane.
This was Vettel’s 20th pole and his first here. Only his Red Bull team-mate Webber – in Spain last week – has denied him a clean sweep this season. With overtaking so notoriously difficult on these tight streets a good grid position is more important than ever. DRS is not expected to be of much help to the passers here and even the tyres – the dominating factor this season – are not expected to degrade as fast as they have in the opening five races.
“It is a long race always here, a bit of a casino,” Vettel said. “Seventy-eight laps is a long race. My laps in Q1 and Q2 were not perfect but in Q3 it was spot on, so I was happy with that. But the most important thing is to hear Sergio is OK.”
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who had looked the man to beat during practice, could manage only fourth in his Ferrari, with Michael Schumacher fifth ahead of the second Ferrari of Felipe Massa.
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