Ralf Schumacher was fortunate to escape unscathed from a huge accident during the first qualifying session at Monaco.

The German made a simple error by turning in too early at the tight, but very fast, Tabac corner. He touched the inside barrier with his left front wheel, and suffered an instant suspension breakage. That flung him hard into the barrier on the outside, where he missed the tyre wall completely and skated along the barrier before coming to a halt in the middle of the track, leaving behind him a debris trail of oval accident proportions.

The stricken Toyota also created an oil slick that needed cleaning up and made life difficult for the three drivers who followed, most notably team-mate Jarno Trulli, who took a very conservative approach to both Ste Devote and Tabac. Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen appeared less concerned, setting the two fastest times of the day to guarantee themselves provisional front row starts.

Schumacher has a poor record at Monaco and, back in 2000, injured his leg when he crashed at Ste Devote during the race. Already facing a half-second penalty on his aggregate qualifying time, the German is almost certain to be facing a back row start on Sunday.

"First of all, I would like to apologise to the whole team for my mistake today," Schumacher said, "They have done a great job throughout the whole weekend and I'm sorry that they have no result to show for it.

"The car was fine around the lap, but I clipped the inside of the barrier at Tabac with my left front wheel, which sent me into the other side of the barriers. Thankfully, I'm perfectly okay - I got out of the car without any trouble and I have no other problems. But it's been a bad weekend for me and it means that we will be starting from the back tomorrow. Monaco is the hardest race on the calendar to pass, but I will give everything to try and end the weekend on a better note."