By Alan Baldwin
MONACO (Reuters) – Lewis Hamilton celebrated an emotional pole position for dominant Mercedes at the Monaco Grand Prix on Saturday with team mate Valtteri Bottas joining the Formula One leader in a front row sweep.
The pole, record-extending 85th of the Briton’s stellar career and second of the season, came with the sport mourning the death of triple world champion and Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda.
The team look set to deliver a perfect tribute to the Austrian in Sunday’s race in the shape of a sixth successive one-two finish, with Ferrari out of sorts on a shambolic afternoon.
“This is definitely one of the best poles,” said Hamilton, who denied Bottas a fourth successive top slot with a last lap 0.086 quicker than the Finn’s best effort around the metal-fenced streets.
“This one’s for Niki,” added the five-times world champion, who leads Bottas by seven points in the standings.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen qualified third and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel will line up fourth after narrowly avoiding going out in the opening phase.
A glaring error by Ferrari denied Charles Leclerc the chance to shine at home, with the 21-year-old failing to make it through the first phase and qualifying only 16th after going fastest in final practice.
Verstappen’s team mate Pierre Gasly qualified fifth with Kevin Magnussen sixth for Haas and Daniel Ricciardo, last year’s winner for Red Bull, seventh in a Renault.
Toro Rosso had two cars in the top 10, with Daniil Kvyat eighth and Alexander Albon 10th. McLaren’s Carlos Sainz lines up between them in ninth.
Vettel’s last-ditch effort to lift himself into the second phase saved the German’s skin but plunged Leclerc, whom Ferrari had thought was safe and had not sent out for one final lap, into the bottom group.
“I asked whether they were sure,” the dejected Monegasque told Sky Sports television, adding it was hard to understand or accept the failure.
“They told me we think we are (OK). And I said shouldn’t we get out again? There was no real answer.”
Leclerc said his best hope now was for rain to turn the race, so often a procession in Monaco’s tight streets, into a lottery on Sunday.
“I’ll have to take a lot of risks I think, even risking to crash, but at the end that’s the only thing we need to do now, to try and be extreme in our overtaking because this is a track where it’s basically impossible to overtake,” he said.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)