Monte Carlo: Michael Schumacher rolled back the years on Saturday with the fastest lap in qualifying for Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix, although Australian Red Bull driver Mark Webber will start the race from pole position. (Agencies)
In this season of the unexpected and the unpredictable, few could have suggested that the 43-year-old German, a seven-time champion who has been under fire for his poor form, would have produced such a performance ahead of the season's most glamorous race.
But he did it in astonishing fashion with a flying late lap in his Mercedes around the twisting barrier-lined street circuit to outdo the Red Bull of Webber.
It was a great lap, but to little real avail because he brought a five-place grid penalty with him to the Monaco race weekend from the Spanish Grand Prix, following his collision there with Brazilian Bruno Senna of Lotus.
As a result, pole will be taken by Webber, who posted the second fastest lap.
Schumacher's best lap of 1min 14.301secs stunned his team and his rivals and he drove a lap of the circuit with one finger in the air in celebration before blowing kisses to the fans and then kissing his car.
It would have been the 69th pole position of his astonishing career and would have given him a great opportunity -- having made his comeback after a three-year retirement -- to deliver a 92nd win. But, from sixth, it is a different story.
Fellow German, and Mercedes team-mate, Nico Rosberg was third fastest ahead of Briton Lewis Hamilton of McLaren, Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Lotus, two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari and his team-mate Brazilian Felipe Massa.
Finn Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 champion, was eighth for Lotus ahead of Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado of Williams and defending champion German Sebastian Vettel, who qualified 10th for Red Bull.
Mercedes team boss Ross Brawn said of Schumacher's efforts: "I have to confess it took a little tear from my eye. He's been in good shape all weekend.
"It all came together in qualifying. The penalty is frustrating but that's the way it is.
"Making the best of the tyres is going to be the critical thing. That's going to be the next challenge."
Monte Carlo: Michael Schumacher rolled back the years on Saturday with the fastest lap in qualifying for Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix, although Australian Red Bull driver Mark Webber will start the race from pole position.