Earlier in the week Mercedes Boss Toto Wolff said his team weren’t the favourites to win this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix where straight-line pace isn’t so important. His views may be right as it was Red Bull who dominated Thursday’s first and second practice sessions.
It was a Red Bull 1-2 in the first practice session with Daniel Ricciardo finishing 0.154 seconds faster than team-mate Max Verstappen. Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton, who has a 17-point lead going into this race was third, 0.354 seconds behind. The two Ferrari’s filled fourth and fifth with Sebastian Vettel ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.
It wasn’t a perfect session for Max Verstappen, well to be fair they rarely are. This time he found himself under investigation for coming back onto the track in an unsafe manner after he’d run wide at Sainte Devote causing Raikkonen to go to the escape road to avoid a collision as the Belgian reversed back onto the track. Ferrari have a few problems too with the FIA investigating their hybrid system and they are likely to be making changes to the energy store sometime soon, though no teams have made an official protest yet.
Sixth fastest was the Renault of Carlos Sainz with Valtteri Bottas down in seventh in his Mercedes even though he had been using the hyper-soft tyres for part of the session. Force India’s Sergio Perez was eighth followed by the Haas of Romain Grosjean. He did a lot better than his team-mate Kevin Magnussen whose car suffered engine problems and he finished 20th. Williams had a tough time at the last race but will have been delighted with Sergey Sirotkin finishing tenth fastest.
There were problems for Fernando Alonso on his return to Monte Carlo as his McLaren had problems with its brake-by-wire system, so he spent most of the session off the track. He did finally get ten minutes on the track but finished 17th fastest with team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne in 15th.
With news that there will be female glamour models on show this weekend, Lewis Hamilton responded by saying that “Women are the most beautiful thing in the world.” Perhaps Red Bull would say that honour should go to two 1-2s in practice and that’s just what happened here as Daniel Ricciardo again finished fastest with team-mate Max Verstappen in second.
This time the gap between the two cars was 0.194 seconds but more importantly, Verstappen was 0.378 seconds ahead of third-placed Sebastian Vettel. Lewis Hamilton was in fourth 0.123 seconds behind Vettel but would have been closer, if not ahead of the German but for some errors.
Hamilton wasn’t happy with his Mercedes telling his engineers that something did not feel right with the car while on his race-simulation run. He was only 0.007 seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen who was fifth fastest with Valtteri Bottas sixth 0.119 seconds behind the Ferrari.
The Renault of Nico Hulkenberg was seventh fastest and it was a better session for McLaren. Stoffel Vandoorne finished eighth and Fernando Alonso ninth. Carlos Sainz was tenth and Brendon Hartley, who has had to deny rumours he could be getting the chop soon was 11th fastest.
After the promising first practice session, Sergey Sirotkin was 15th fastest in his Williams with team-mate Lance Stroll 19th. It was a tight session though with 12 cars recording times between 1.13.047 and 1.13.763 which covers seventh to 18th.
A great start to a weekend that seeing it’s in Monaco starts on a Thursday. Red Bull have the upper hand at present but that’s been the case before in practice. I’ll be back on Saturday with a report on the final practice session and qualifying, till then enjoy your racing.
By Steve Ashfield for Pjllow Motor Sport