Jarno Trulli underlined Renault's recent emergence as Ferrari's closest rival with his first career pole position at Monaco. The Italian driver has always been good around the streets of the Principality but hooked a perfect sub-1m14s lap time that ultimately proved unbeatable.
Trulli was the fastest of four Michelin runners that proved quicker than Michael Schumacher's Ferrari. The world champion was slow in the pre-qualifying session which meant he was forced to go early in qualifying proper, and with the track speeding up all the time, he lost out to those running later.
Trulli's 1m13.985s time is the fastest ever recorded around Monaco and was more than four tenths faster than that of the man that will start next to him on the front row - Jenson Button. Ralf Schumacher actually got the closest to Trulli, but the German's run was pre-doomed after his engine change on Thursday handed him a 10-place grid penalty.
"I'm pretty impressed over my lap time because I couldn't believe I lapped under the 14s," said Trulli afterwards. "The car is working pretty well, although I had a lot of understeer this morning. I put in a very impressive lap. In Monaco, being on pole, which is something I have chased for such a long time, I'm so pleased.
"I had to take a lot of risks because I knew it would be close. I knew that my first sector would be my worst one, so I made sure I got that right. For whatever reason, I don't know why because there is nothing special to do there, I am flying in the third sector. I'm two or three tenths quicker through there than anyone else."
Tomorrow will see Jenson Button make his second front row start of the season. The Englishman suffered with understeer in the slow corners all day and his sector two split was evidence of that. But only his team-mate was quicker through sector one and a beautiful run through La Rascasse made up any time he lost mid-lap.
"I'm very pleased with that, although it's obviously disappointing for Ralf," said Jenson afterwards. "Both these guys [Schumacher and Trulli] have been my team-mates, I know how good they are around here. I've been struggling in sector two all day, and had a lot of understeer in the slow corners at Mirabeau, Loews and the two right handers before the tunnel. I think we've cured most of that, so we should be in great shape tomorrow."
The world champion faces a tough challenge in the race. Starting from fourth is bad enough, but to be stuck behind the two fast-starting Renaults of Trulli and third-placed Fernando Alonso as well as his season-long nemesis Button, on a track that doesn't promote overtaking, makes defending his 100 percent record distinctly challenging.
"We will try," he said afterwards, "and I think in Ross we have the master of strategy in our team. So I cross my fingers that he'll do the best job he can. Where we will end up from our situation is the big question. Monaco is a long race, it's not optimum where we start from, we're not very happy about that, but what can you do?"
Kimi Raikkonen did a good job for McLaren to be starting fifth on the grid, his best result of the season, but the Finn lost time through sectors two and three. Rubens Barrichello joins him on row three after suffering a similar fate to his Ferrari team-mate
Takuma Sato could, and perhaps should, have been starting from pole. The Japanese driver was awesome through sector one, but a massive lock-up as he ran over the kerb under braking for the chicane switched him into overdrive mode. Once the time was lost the rest of the lap as made to look like a rally stage. He will start seventh ahead of former Monaco winner David Coulthard.
Juan Pablo Montoya decided to change the ride-height of his WilliamsF1 FW26 between pre-qualifying and qualifying proper in a desperate attempt to improve its characteristics. That didn't work. The Colombian will start ninth ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella.
Sauber's decision to use the super-soft Bridgestone tyre also appears to have been a disastrous wrong turn with Fisichella ending up 10th and team-mate Felipe Massa 16th. In between them will be the demoted Ralf Schumacher, Mark Webber who qualified in the spare Jaguar, Olivier Panis (Toyota), Christian Klien (Jaguar) and Cristiano da Matta (Toyota).
The privateer Cosworth runners unsurprisingly occupy the last two rows with Jordan's Nick Heidfeld heading the foursome from team-mate Giorgio Pantano and Minardi's Zsolt Baumgartner with Gianmaria Bruni bringing up the rear. The Italian's first visit to Monaco has been hampered after getting virtually no set-up time following his crash this morning.