It’s been a sad week for F1 with the death of former world champion Niki Lauda. I remember back in 1976 when it was the final day of the Montreal Olympics. Any other time that would have dominated the sporting news, but it was overshadowed by Lauda’s near-fatal accident in the German Grand Prix. None of us that day thought he’d be back in his Ferrari in six weeks’ time. I’ll write an obituary to Niki next weekend.
This weekend it’s the Monaco Grand Prix, a race Mercedes last won in 2016. Can their domination of this season’s title races be continued on this legendary street circuit? There will rightfully be plenty of tributes paid this weekend to the Austrian legend. Sebastian Vettel is wearing a helmet that is modelled on the one Lauda wore when winning the world title for Ferrari.
Drivers’ – Lewis Hamilton 112 Valtteri Bottas 105 Max Verstappen 66 Sebastian Vettel 64 Charles Leclerc 57
Constructors – Mercedes 217 Ferrari 121 Red Bull 87
First Practice Session
Mercedes haven’t always had the best of times around the Monaco street circuit, but it was Lewis Hamilton who was fastest in the first practice session. It was a close-run thing though as he was only 0.059 seconds ahead of Max Verstappen in his Red Bull.
Just behind Verstappen was the other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas. He was only 0.072 seconds behind his team-mate.
Ferrari filled fourth and fifth spots with Charles Leclerc 0.356 seconds faster than Sebastian Vettel. However, Leclerc’s time was 0.361 seconds behind that set by Hamilton.
The other Red Bull of Pierre Gasly was sixth fastest (a second behind Verstappen) but had a few problems when ending up sideways exiting the first Swimming Pool chicane. As you’ll soon read, he wasn’t the only driver to have problems during the first practice session. Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg was seventh, just 0.038 seconds behind Gasly. The top ten was completed by Kevin Magnussen in his Haas, Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) and Daniel Ricciardo in the other Renault.
There were a few near crashes during the practice session. Williams had problems in Spain with George Russell, and It was his team-mate Robert Kubica’s turn this time. He lost control coming out of the exit of Casino Square but was able to avoid a full-on smash into the wall. Russell did manage to hit the wall, but no damage was reported to his Williams.
Behind the Ferraris, Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly was sixth quickest, a second slower than Verstappen and just 0.038secs quicker than Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, who pipped Haas driver Kevin Magnussen, Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and the second Renault of Daniel Ricciardo.
It wasn’t a great session for McLaren though. Carlos Sainz could only manage a single ‘installation ‘lap after an electrical problem. Lando Norris finished 15th fastest.
Kimi Raikkonen finished and had trouble getting the room to record a fast lap. He came out with one of the quotes of the season though. After another failure to get a clear run, he commented: “Yeah, I have that Force India or whatever the f*** it’s called!”
Mercedes had a 1-2 (think I’ve written that before this season) in the second practice session Lewis Hamilton finished 0.081 seconds clear of Valtteri Bottas as he chases only his third win in Monaco. Sebastian Vettel was third fastest but won’t be happy at the fact his Ferrari was 0.763 seconds behind Hamilton. That gap widened to over a second when it came to the race-simulation runs.
It could have been worse for him though as he locked a wheel when entering Tun One and nearly hit the barriers. His team mate Charles Leclerc slumped to 10th fastest after his car suffered braking problems.
Pierre Gasly was fourth in his Red Bull but 0.82 seconds behind Mercedes. Team mate Max Verstappen didn’t spend too much time on the track in this session. His Red Bull had a water leak and eventually he could only manage sixth place and moaned about a lack of grip.
It was an impressive session for Alexander Albon. His Toro Rosso was fifth-fastest. He likes the track “a lot” and said it was “really fun out there.”
Kevin Magnussen was seventh for Haas with the two Alfa Romeos driven by Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen in eighth and ninth. Daniel Ricciardo won this race last year but could only finish 17th in this session.
Another day of domination for Mercedes then and the possibility of a sixth-straight 1-2 for them is looking likely. Neither Ferrari or Red Bull seem able to bridge the gap between themselves and Mercedes. I’ll be back tomorrow with a report on the final session and qualifying, till then, enjoy your racing.