MONACO - Nico Rosberg will start Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix from pole after a tense qualifying session on Saturday when he incensed his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton and then survived an inquiry clearing him of any underhand tactics. On an afternoon of ferocious competition on the track and acrimonious commentary off it, the 28-year-old German ended up claiming his second successive pole in the Mediterranean principality and the sixth of his career, but only after considerable controversy.
Rosberg triggered the stewards' probe when he went off the track after making a mistake at Mirabeau and taking the escape road, prompting waved yellow flags to slow following drivers. The incident, on his final flying lap, wrecked not only his hopes of improving on his earlier provisional pole lap, but also those of Hamilton who was on a fractionally faster lap at the time.
Hamilton, who leads the drivers championship by three points after four straight wins in the opening five races, was bidding for his first Monaco pole and his fifth in succession this year. The 29-year-old Englishman, in a sulky and taciturn mood, hinted that he felt his team-mate may have deliberately careered off the track and, in post-session interviews, suggested he was prepared to copy his idol Ayrton Senna's sometimes aggressive driving to gain revenge.
Both Mercedes team chiefs Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda said they did not believe that Rosberg had done anything wrong and stressed that Hamilton's behaviour was manageable. Rosberg said he was sorry for Hamilton's lost opportunity and agreed that it was not a good way for the session to end, but was adamant that he did nothing out of order. Hamilton, however, told the BBC when asked if he had to sit down and sort it out (with Rosberg): "I don't know if Senna and Prost sat down and talked it out. I quite like the way Senna dealt with it, so I'm going to take a page out of his book."
It was not clear what Hamilton was referring to, but Senna deliberately drove Prost off the circuit in an infamous incident at the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix when their relationship had deteriorated beyond repair. Saturday's controversial incident came eight years after seven-time champion German Michael Schumacher was stripped of pole position after race stewards decided that he had stopped deliberately after running wide at the Rascasse corner in his Ferrari.
Schumacher retired, but came back to race again for Mercedes whose non-executive chairman Lauda dismissed all suspicions surrounding Rosberg's actions. Asked if he felt the incident appeared to be deliberate, Lauda said: "No, not at all. If you look at it the way I look at it, he tried to go quicker, braked too late, the right front wheel locked, tried to go into the corner and not to crash he had to go left. So this is very simple to explain....These things can happen. They happen to a lot of other people but there's nothing wrong about it."
He added that the two Mercedes drivers may need to talk things over after 48 hours during which tensions between them have mounted following a series of reports about their rivalry and differences. "I think there might be some more discussions later today or tomorrow morning, I agree this thing is building up over there, but from my point of view here is nothing wrong on Nico's side.
"Lewis was now four or five times quicker than Nico and now Nico's quicker so what is wrong about that." Rosberg said he was 'surprised' that the stewards had launched an investigation. He said: "They'll see in the data it is all very similar to the lap before and I just locked up the front tyre." The stewards supported Rosberg and after investigating said they found no evidence of any offence. Behind the Mercedes-filled front brow come the two Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel.