Reigning double world champion Fernando Alonso re-asserted his authority over team-mate Lewis Hamilton in qualifying around the streets of Monaco, as the McLaren drivers all-but turned the session into a private battle.

Amazingly, the result marks the maiden pole position of the Spaniard's McLaren career, as the Silver Arrows finally succeeded in breaking Ferrari's stranglehold on the top spot for the first time in 2007. And they did so in some considerable style.

Despite Hamilton's shunt during practice on Thursday, and a further 'off' in the wet on Saturday morning, the young Brit was nevertheless the form man for the majority of the qualifying hour, with Alonso struggling to keep up. If there was uncertainty over which of Woking's two pilots would ultimately seize the pole, though, there was rarely any doubt it would be one of them, with no one else even getting close.

Alonso paced himself and timed his charge to perfection, waiting until the dying minutes of the third and final knock-out session to lay down his marker, and it was one that Hamilton would prove unable to match. The eventual gap between the pair was just under two tenths of a second, and on a disastrous day for Ferrari it has left key rivals McLaren sitting very much in the pound seats ahead of tomorrow's all-important race.

Felipe Massa at least salvaged some pride for the Scuderia, with a late charge hoisting the Brazilian up to third, but team-mate Kimi Raikkonen's challenge came unstuck when he clouted the barriers on the entry to the Swimming Pool during Q2. It was a mistake that has left the beleaguered Finn down in 15th place on the starting grid, and it could not have come either at a worse circuit than Monaco, or at a worse time in the season, with serious question marks starting to be raised about his level of performance in recent races relative to Massa.

Monaco specialist Giancarlo Fisichella will begin the race a superb fourth, less than six tenths of a second off the pace for substantially Renault's most encouraging qualifying performance of the year so far. Team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, though, has struggled throughout the weekend on his maiden outing in a Formula 1 car around the tortuous streets of the Principality, and wound up down in 14th spot, with much work to do during the race.

Nico Rosberg produced a magnificent performance to put his Williams-Cosworth FW29 fifth on the grid - a classic example of a driver being able to overcome the limitations of his car around a track such as this.

Mark Webber will begin the race alongside the German, after sealing Red Bull Racing's highest grid position of the campaign to date, but team-mate David Coulthard - who entered the weekend brimful of confidence for a good result after scoring RBR's debut points of 2007 last time out in Barcelona and having stood on the podium in Monaco last year - will begin outside of the top ten after receiving a penalty for a controversial incident with Kovalainen [see separate story] that potentially cost the Finn a shot at a top ten grid slot.

The BMW-Saubers of Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica will start a low-key seventh and eighth, after failing to maintain the promising form they had displayed throughout the practice sessions. There was joy, however, for Honda, with Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button both making it into the top ten for comfortably the squad's best performance of a thus far highly dispiriting season. The latter initially missed the top ten cut, but was promoted into the shoot-out courtesy of Coulthard's penalty.

Alex Wurz will begin the race eleventh, with Scuderia Toro Rosso's Vitantonio Liuzzi twelfth after setting a staggering fourth-quickest time in Q2. Jarno Trulli was a disappointed 13th in the Toyota - though still some seven spots ahead of team-mate Ralf Schumacher - with the disadvantaged Kovalainen, Raikkonen and Coulthard respectively 14th, 15th and 16th on the grid.

Aside from Schumacher, Anthony Davidson, Scott Speed, Adrian Sutil, Takuma Sato and Christijan Albers were the other drivers to fail to make it beyond the first knock-out stage and will consequently all start the race from the back of the pack.

Should the predicted rain arrive on Sunday, though, and especially at a circuit as unpredictable as this, anything could still yet happen.

 

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