The iconic Monaco street circuit welcomed the return of Formula E this morning, and an exciting qualifying session sets up a fascinating story for this afternoon’s ePrix. Sébastien Buemi will start on pole, with arch-rival Lucas di Grassi next to him on the front row.
Sébastien Buemi came out on top in the first qualifying group, with a clean run around a slippery Monaco track. Loïc Duval placed second, although could well have topped the session had he not been held up by Buemi on his second hot lap. It appeared that the Renault driver was unaware of fast traffic behind him, forcing Duval to swerve round him. The gap between the two men just 0.5 seconds on the final classification.
In the second group, several drivers seemed to be struggling with the lack of grip. Nico Prost used every available inch of the track in a ragged out lap, and failed to make an impact on the top five as a result. Adam Carroll hit the barriers at Tabac and damaged his right-rears, although managed to set a respectable time — ahead of Prost. Jerome D’Ambrosio could only manage a single slow lap before returning to the pits. Not every driver struggled, however: Nick Heidfeld put together a tidy lap, claiming provisional 2nd at the half-way stage.
Group 3 saw championship-challenger Lucas di Grassi out on track. An out lap spent weaving and wobbling to get plenty of heat into his tyres appeared to pay off when he set a time good enough for second place. But moments later, Maro Engel — who lives in Monaco but has never raced professionally there — set the fastest time by two-hundredths of a second. DS Virgin’s Sam Bird also impressed, taking the fifth and final super pole slot with five drivers still to go out.
A fourth session full of strong drivers settled the order in quick succession. First Daniel Abt knocked out Bird, then José Maria Lopez took out Heidfeld. But moments later, their super pole reservations were cancelled by Nelson Piquet Jr and Jean-Éric Vergne — taking 4th and 1st respectively. Feliz Rosenqvist was the last man on track, missing out on a top five place by a whisker.
Di Grassi was first out for the shoot-out, and was only a tenth off the fastest times in sectors one and two, but clattering the barriers in the final stages cost him some time. Piquet Jr also made use of the barriers as a temporary replacement for a steering wheel, but wasn’t able to better Di Grassi’s time.
Buemi was next out, and despite a slightly slower first sector, he found the speed to take provisional pole. Engel’s lap also started with a slow start, but way off the pace he was forced to push much harder and — bumping over the chicane kerbs — lost his line and finished 2 seconds off the pace.
This left only Vergne to go out, but he appeared to be struggling with the front end of the car and could only claim fourth. Buemi therefore will start from the front of the grid for the first time this season.
Image: Monaco © Formula E