Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso shared the top spot as practice for the 2011 Monaco Grand Prix took place.
The former edged out the latter by just over a tenth of a second in the opening session, as the cars sped around the tight and twisty circuit amongst the backdrop of baking sunshine.
Nico Rosberg was third for Mercedes with Felipe Massa (Ferrari) and the two McLarens making up the top six.
As the session progressed the drivers appeared to get faster and faster and the track continued improved. However the session proved to be a disaster for Mark Webber who suffered a gearbox issue which forced him to sit out.
There was also drama on track with Tonio Liuzzi crashing his HRT on the approach to the chicane and Michael Schumacher locking up and hitting the barriers side on at Sainte Devote.
Despite this, the session’s only red flag came when officials stopped to check a water leak which appeared under the flag stand on the start/finish straight.
In the afternoon session Alonso managed to turn the tables of the World Championship leader, with the Ferrari driver making full use of the debuting Pirelli supersoft rubber.
The Spaniard’s time of 1m15.123s edged out Lewis Hamilton by over a tenth with Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button ending the session ahead of Vettel.
Mark Webber once again suffered a troublesome session. Although the Australian managed to complete some running in FP2 he was hindered by KERS issues and had to settle for eighth.
The session wasn’t without drama with Vitaly Petrov damaging the front of his Renault at the chicane and Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari ploughing straight into the barriers at turn one.
The major talking point from the two sessions was the performance of the Pirelli tyres – with the soft rubber appearing to be very durable, even on the low grip surface. As drivers suffered a limited drop off in pace whilst trialling the rubber, it would appear that a two stop strategy is very likely with the possibility of some teams gambling on a single tyre change – with the new super-softs appearing to also last.
Despite his pace, Fernando Alonso says that he is firmly keeping his feet on the ground.
“In Monaco it’s mainly a question of having a good feel for the car: the more the driver has, the harder he can push, lap after lap.” He said. “It seems we are a bit more competitive than elsewhere, although one has to adopt the usual caution linked to the unknown factor of how much fuel the others were running.
“However, the reason is very simple in that here, the aerodynamics count for less and so we are suffering less. On a track with the lowest average speed, some weaknesses are hidden by other factors, such as the mechanical side and the engine. I immediately felt comfortable here, right from the morning, so I was able to push harder and harder, because the car was reacting well and I had confidence in it. I am pleased, but we know this is just the first day and that the Red Bulls could be hiding a bit, before coming out for Saturday’s qualifying.
“Saturday will be a much more stressful day because here, the slightest error carries a heavy penalty. We must try to take some risks, because we need to close the gap to the best. As for the tyres, I think that their performance is reasonably similar to what we saw in winter testing, even though temperatures are now much higher: compared to the other races, there is not such a big difference between the prime and the options, or at least that’s the initial impression.”
Lewis Hamilton is also happy with the balance of his car and believe that McLaren can challenge for victory.
“I’m very happy to be here.” He said after the session. “I’m really pleased with the balance of the car and I kept out of trouble, but it’s going to be close here.
“You quickly get used to DRS and KERS Hybrid, but you’re only really on it for the pit straight and up the hill; you tend not to use it through the slower sections. Maybe I’ll find a few more places to use it for qualifying – but I’ll keep that in my pocket!
“I just love driving the car here – it’s the best thing I’ve ever done! It’s so exciting – you can’t afford to make mistakes, the car feels amazing when you’re jumping from kerb to kerb, and there’s no room for error.
“I want to win this grand prix!”
Team-mate Jenson Button echoed this stating: “I feel more comfortable with the car than I did last year, but there are still a few areas that need tweaking. Our car feels reasonably quick, but there’s an awful lot of competition out there.
“There’s a lot less degradation than I think we all expected. I did a long-run on the Super-Soft, and while there’s some degradation, it’s reasonably good. The same is true of the harder tyre. But it’s still not easy to decide what strategy will work best around here on Sunday afternoon.”
Meanwhile Sebastian Vettel believes that Red Bull is well placed to continue its dominance in this season campaign.
“It’s been positive so far.” He said. “Both tyres are working well and seem to be lasting, which is important. We will see how the conditions are on Sunday, but the super soft tyre seems to be the preferred one for qualifying.
“It seems to be quicker and you can extract more lap time out of it. I had a good feeling straight away in the car; it’s fun driving around here; it’s a different track and it’s quite bumpy and rough. I brushed the wall after three laps, so hopefully that’s that done for the weekend! The car looks competitive, but everyone is very close to each other, so it looks tight.”
Mark Webber also believes that he is still in with a chance of victory, despite his issues.
“I had a gear selection issue this morning, which meant I lost some lap time” said the Australian.
“Otherwise wasn’t too bad. This afternoon was always going to be the case where you’re going out little bit behind, but we still got a lot of good information. It’s easy to get out there and try and get to where you should be and make mistakes, but we got the information and have lot to go through. We should be alright by Saturday. We will get back into the groove Saturday and recover the weekend.”
Meanwhile Nico Rosberg is well placed to upset the form boo, with the German putting in an impressive stint for Mercedes.
“I felt very comfortable from the beginning and we did quite a good job on the set-up.”
“It can be difficult here to find the right settings as you have to put a lot of things together such as brake balance and tyre degradation, but we had a decent day and I’m happy with our start into the weekend.
“The tyres are not as bad as we expected and the degradation will be quite low, so pole position will be a bit more important than I expected before today.”
However Renault’s Nick Heidfeld, who had been tipped as a dark horse for this weekend, failed to find adequate speed in his R31 and eleventh and tenth in the two sessions. Subsequently the German was mystified by his car’s performance, stating: “On the supersoft tyres, the balance was not as good as I would have hoped but we will look into all aspects of both today’s sessions and push on come Saturday”
So with the Pirelli tyres appearing to be standing up to the tests of the Monte Carlo circuit, the onus appears to be placed once again on qualifying. With 24 drivers vying for position it would appear that grid position will be paramount for Sunday’s Grand Prix.
Let the fun begin.
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault
Time: 1m16.619s Laps: 25
2. Alonso Ferrari
Time: 1m16.732s + 0.113 Laps: 24
3. Rosberg Mercedes
Time: 1m17.139s + 0.520 Laps: 20
4. Massa Ferrari
Time: 1m17.316s + 0.697 Laps: 24
5. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
Time: 1m17.350s + 0.731 Laps: 23
6. Button McLaren-Mercedes
Time: 1m17.534s + 0.915 Laps: 24
7. Maldonado Williams-Cosworth
Time: 1m18.527s + 1.908 Laps: 30
8. Sutil Force India-Mercedes
Time: 1m18.578s + 1.959 Laps: 24
9. Petrov Renault
Time: 1m18.733s + 2.114 Laps: 16
10. Schumacher Mercedes
Time: 1m18.805s + 2.186 Laps: 14
11. Heidfeld Renault
Time: 1m18.928s + 2.309 Laps: 19
12. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari
Time: 1m19.234s + 2.615 Laps: 24
13. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth
Time: 1m19.395s + 2.776 Laps: 24
14. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari
Time: 1m19.463s + 2.844 Laps: 25
15. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari
Time: 1m19.768s + 3.149 Laps: 25
16. Perez Sauber-Ferrari
Time: 1m19.792s + 3.173 Laps: 26
17. Kovalainen Lotus-Renault
Time: 1m20.083s + 3.464 Laps: 23
18. Trulli Lotus-Renault
Time: 1m21.116s + 4.497 Laps: 27
19. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes
Time: 1m21.548s + 4.929 Laps: 32
20. D’Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth
Time: 1m21.758s + 5.139 Laps: 31
21. Glock Virgin-Cosworth
Time: 1m21.815s + 5.196 Laps: 17
22. Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth
Time: 1m22.840s + 6.221 Laps: 13
23. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth
Time: 1m23.885s + 7.266 Laps: 37
24. Webber Red Bull-Renault
Time: No time Laps: 0
1. Alonso Ferrari
Time: 1m15.123s Laps: 42
2. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
Time: 1m15.228s + 0.105 Laps: 33
3. Rosberg Mercedes
Time: 1m15.321s + 0.198 Laps: 44
4. Button McLaren-Mercedes
Time: 1m15.448s + 0.325 Laps: 38
5. Vettel Red Bull-Renault
Time: 1m15.667s + 0.544 Laps: 46
6. Massa Ferrari
Time: 1m15.781s + 0.658 Laps: 45
7. Schumacher Mercedes
Time: 1m16.356s + 1.233 Laps: 33
8. Webber Red Bull-Renault
Time: 1m16.642s + 1.519 Laps: 42
9. Sutil Force India-Mercedes
Time: 1m17.101s + 1.978 Laps: 46
10. Heidfeld Renault
Time: 1m17.126s + 2.003 Laps: 38
11. Petrov Renault
Time: 1m17.337s + 2.214 Laps: 35
12. Perez Sauber-Ferrari
Time: 1m17.541s + 2.418 Laps: 47
13. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth
Time: 1m17.570s + 2.447 Laps: 39
14. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari
Time: 1m17.581s + 2.458 Laps: 32
15. Maldonado Williams-Cosworth
Time: 1m17.633s + 2.510 Laps: 49
16. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari
Time: 1m17.706s + 2.583 Laps: 37
17. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari
Time: 1m17.789s + 2.666 Laps: 43
18. Kovalainen Lotus-Renault
Time: 1m18.266s + 3.143 Laps: 50
19. Trulli Lotus-Renault
Time: 1m18.490s + 3.367 Laps: 39
20. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes
Time: 1m19.053s + 3.930 Laps: 15
21. D’Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth
Time: 1m19.185s + 4.062 Laps: 40
22. Glock Virgin-Cosworth
Time: 1m19.338s + 4.215 Laps: 35
23. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth
Time: 1m22.066s + 6.943 Laps: 33