At the end of a dramatic day, Mercedes had both of its drivers in the top ten places on the grid for the Monaco Grand Prix, with Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg fifth and seventh respectively, but it did not appear that that would be possible just a few hours earlier.
While seven-time world champion Schumacher made it through the day unscathed, his young team-mate suffered a heavy shunt just seven minutes into the morning practice session, veering hard into the barriers exiting the tunnel and then enduring a bumpy sled ride across the chicane and back onto the track on the road towards Tabac.
Rosberg was lucky on two counts, having not hit the barriers dividing track from run-off that later claimed Sauber rookie Sergio Perez and also that no-one else was navigating the chicane as he rejoined the circuit. As a result, he was able to climb unaided from what was left of his car, but the damage suggested that it would be touch-and-go for him to make qualifying just a couple of hours later.
While the HRT team just a few doors down the pit-lane decided against rebuilding Tonio Liuzzi's similarly damaged car [see story here
], the Mercedes crew knuckled down, determined to give its young star every chance of a good grid slot for Sunday's race. The work was eventually completed just under ten minutes into the opening knock-out session, and Rosberg repaid the effort by easily progressing into the pole position shoot-out.
"I have to say a special thank you to the team and the attitude everybody had today after my accident," Rosberg revealed, "This morning, I made a little mistake and lost control of the car, but nobody was angry about that when I came back to the garage. The guys simply came up to me and said 'let's go for it in qualifying!'."
Any hopes of making it onto the first three rows of the grid were dashed, however, when Perez suffered a more serious replica of Rosberg's earlier accident, bringing out the red flag and causing a long interruption to the final qualifying session.
"The circumstances in Q3 were a bit tricky because the red flag came at the worst moment for me," Rosberg confirmed, "When we went back out, it was not possible to do a fast lap because the tyres weren't working properly, but I am still happy to have made it to Q3 after such a tough day."
Originally eighth on the timesheets, Rosberg was duly promoted to seventh when Lewis Hamilton was found to have cut the Swimming Pool chicane on his fastest lap, and the young German will now line up directly behind his more senior colleague, after Schumacher posted his best qualifying effort of the 2011 season.
"I benefited a little from the circumstances and probably P7 on the grid would have been more realistic," Schumacher, who had crashed in Thursday practice, admitted, "Having said that, our car looks better in race trim this weekend so, with another good start, I will try to make the most out of it. Overtaking is more difficult here than at most other circuits, so it will come down to having the right strategy, especially because the tyres should last longer than in recent races and we can expect fewer stops. I think it will be an exciting race."