Raikkonen takes pole for Monaco GP; Hamilton finishes 14th

MONACO (AP)(STL.News) — Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen took pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix on Saturday, and title contender Lewis Hamilton failed to make the top 10 in a significant blow for Mercedes.

Ferrari has been quick all weekend and championship leader Sebastian Vettel starts on the front row alongside teammate Raikkonen. Vettel left it late but pushed Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas back to third. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen starts fourth ahead of teammate Daniel Ricciardo, last year’s pole sitter here.

Raikkonen’s last pole was at the French GP as far back as 2008. The 37-year-old Finnish driver got a leading time of 1 minute, 12.178 seconds — just ahead of Vettel’s 1:12.221.

“It doesn’t guarantee anything for tomorrow. Nevertheless, I’ll happily take it,” Raikkonen said. “I was very happy with the car. It was nice, straightforward qualifying.”

Pole position is even more valuable at Monaco, the hardest track to overtake on in F1.

Given the reliability and speed of Ferrari’s car, 2007 champion Raikkonen has a good chance of securing a 21st race win and his first since driving for Lotus at the season-opening Australian GP in 2013.

Raikkonen is fourth in the championship standings and already 55 points behind Vettel. But he dismissed any talk that he might receive team orders in order to make way for Vettel, who has 44 career wins.

“I don’t know why everyone thinks it will be different tomorrow than the last two years,” Raikkonen said. “Just trying to make a stupid story or something. It’s going to be a long, difficult race.”

Even more so for Hamilton, whose chances of a third win at Monaco and 56th overall now look extremely remote.

The British driver headed into the weekend six points behind Vettel and aiming to move level with Ayrton Senna’s total of 65 pole positions. Instead, the three-time F1 champion could only get the 14th best time.

“Valtteri didn’t have any struggles today, so I’m a bit confused and I can’t pinpoint the problem,” Hamilton said. “I’m feeling pretty deflated right now. We just need to identify why I wasn’t able to be up there too.”

While Vettel and Raikkonen took 1-2 earlier in final practice, Hamilton was only fifth.

His form failed to improve in qualifying, twice wobbling on the track after losing grip on his car.

“This weekend has been a bit tricky for us,” said Bottas, who clocked 1:12.223. “It was quite difficult to get a lap together and Lewis also struggled with that. Ferrari had the upper hand in general.”

Vettel narrowly missed out on a 48th career pole.

“The car was really nice to drive. I was probably a bit too greedy and wanted a bit too much,” Vettel said. “The bottom line is that it’s a great result for the team.”

Qualifying is split into three sections, with five eliminated from Q1 and Q2 to leave 10 fighting it out in Q3.

Verstappen was fastest in Q1 ahead of Vettel and Raikkonen, with Hamilton already an ominous 10th.

Hamilton had a near miss early into Q2 when his car wobbled at the Massenet turn and he complained of a lack of grip. Mercedes took him back into the garage for a tire change but he continued to struggle with the car’s balance.

McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne had crashed near the end of Q2, meaning that a yellow flag ended it about one minute early. But Hamilton was arguably too far behind to make it into the top 10 shootout.

“It was a little bit unfortunate with the yellow flag, but it doesn’t really matter now if I could have gone faster,” Hamilton said. “I would have struggled to make it into the top five with the pace that I had.”

Mercedes had already experienced a problem in Thursday’s second practice, when the team botched a switch into quicker ultra-soft tires and Hamilton placed eighth in P2 with Bottas 10th.

The team sorted out the problem for Bottas, but not for Hamilton.

“Although we tried to retrace our steps, we never got it back on track for him,” head of Motorsport Toto Wolff said. “Tomorrow’s race will clearly be a case of damage limitation for him.”