Despite being in the early stages of the race weekend, it does look like rival teams have closed the gap to the Silver Arrows. However, we will get a better look at the pecking order on Saturday morning, prior to qualifying.
Lewis Hamilton was actually late for first practice, admitting at the end of Thursday’s running that he had overslept. However, he did not miss much of the session and eventually completed 32 laps.
The Brit and his team-mate Nico Rosberg were closely matched in the opening session and were separated by just 0.032 seconds. Daniel Ricciardo was third for Red Bull Racing, just two tenths behind.
Fernando Alonso, in fourth, was six tenths off the lead Mercedes and Sebastian Vettel was just under eight tenths off. So it does seem that the Circuit de Monaco has helped teams close in on the current run-away championship leaders.
Rosberg seems to think so. “It seems that we are looking very quick here again, although our main competitors seems to be a little closer to us than in Barcelona,” he said after Thursday practice.
Ricciardo believes Red Bull has its best chance yet of challenging – or at least closing in – on Mercedes, telling the official Formula 1 website: “If we ever are going to challenge Mercedes then I would say this is the place.
“Horsepower is less important here so it should at least bring the power-units a bit closer. We do have a lot more downforce for this circuit – and of course the driver can always get an extra tenth or two here.”
Christian Horner added: “Its layout, the nature of the circuit, doesn’t put such a premium on straight-line performance which has obviously been our weakness this year,” he said. “So we’re hoping to give these guys [Mercedes] a run for their money this weekend.”
“For sure they’re going to be strong again here, they’ve always been strong in Monaco, but we’ve had a solid day today, the drivers have been feeling their way into the circuit and working on the set-up and it’s been an encouraging start to the weekend.”
We will get a better representation of who is where on Saturday in third practice, following a quiet practice two. The second session is usually spent focusing on race runs, before drivers then take to the track on low fuel and the softest tyre compound for a qualifying simulations.
Rain over the lunch break in Monaco meant we did not get to see that, as it started in wet and slippery conditions. The track dried out enough for some slick tyre runs in the closing stages, but running was very limited.
Hamilton was second fastest, with Rosberg down in 20th after the team opted to complete practice starts and pit stops. It will certainly be a close battle between the two Mercedes drivers for pole position and Red Bull look set to be best of the rest once again.
With overtaking being notoriously difficult around the Monte Carlo streets, qualifying will be crucial. Rosberg is looking to snatch back the championship lead and take his first win since Australia and second consecutive Monaco win, while Hamilton is hoping to make it five wins in a row.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic