Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel has cemented his credentials as a credible threat to end the team’s 16-year winless streak at the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix after dominating Thursday’s second practice session on the streets of Monte Carlo.
After Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton smashed the 3.7-kilometre circuit’s unofficial lap record in the opening practice session, it was a surprisingly off-the-pace session for the Silver Arrows drivers, as both he and teammate Valtteri Bottas slipped down the timesheets.
Hamilton’s session-topping time in FP1 was lowered by no less than five other drivers with times continuing to tumble as track and grip conditions improved under sunny skies.
The early pace was set by the Toro Rosso duo of Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr, who had their first outing on the Ultra Soft tyres after running FP1 exclusively on the Super Soft rubber. The pair held an early 1-2 in their Renault-powered STR12 machines, which looked composed around the circuit’s narrow confines.
Kvyat’s early lap of 1:13.331 was subsequently bettered by last year’s pole-sitter Daniel Ricciardo, who clocked a 1:13.207 to move to the top of their timesheets.
Their efforts, however, were overshadowed by Vettel. The German’s appearance on track was delayed for the first 20 minutes of the session while his mechanics replaced a faulty sensor on his car, but he quickly moved to the top of the order with a staggering time of 1:12.759 to better Ricciardo to the tune of half a second.
This was despite a major lock-up approaching the Nouvelle Chicane, which flat-spotted his right-front Ultra Soft tyre.
He then went ever quicker with a 1:12.720 and could have arguably gone even faster had he not had an oversteer moment exiting the Anthony Noghes corner.
After a relatively quite opening session, Vettel’s teammate Kimi Räikkönen showed a similar turn of speed in the sister Ferrari and slotted himself between Ricciardo and Kvyat to claim third overall, although the Finn was still over half a second off the championship leader’s pace.
The second Toro Rosso and Red Bull machines of Carlos Sainz Jr and Max Verstappen respectively claimed fifth and sixth, and were the only remaining drivers to lap within one second of Vettel’s superb effort.
There were followed by Force India’s Sergio Pérez, who maintained his impressive record at Monte Carlo with the seventh-fastest time, outpacing both factory Mercedes’.
Lewis Hamilton could manage no better than eighth, while teammate Valtteri Bottas was tenth-fastest in the other F1W08. The pair later blamed a number of set-up changes that ultimately proved to worsen the handling of their cars.
They were split by Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, with the Danish driver lapping consistently in his re-liveried Ferrari-powered VF-17. Magnussen was the recipient of an abusive hand signal from Verstappen late in the session when he appeared to get in the Dutch driver’s way at La Rascasse.
Magnussen’s teammate Romain Grosjean once again appeared to struggle with his car’s brakes and was spotted having a number of clumsy moments during the session while he wrestled with his car. The Frenchman was fourteenth-fastest, less than two-tenths slower.
Their cars’ clear horsepower deficiency seemingly negated by the Monaco circuit’s slow nature, both McLaren drivers Stoffel Vandoorne and Jenson Button had trouble-free sessions and lapped comfortably in the midfield, claiming eleventh and twelfth on the timesheets ahead of Felipe Massa’s Williams.
Monaco rookies Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll both discovered the circuit’s barriers as they explored the limits of their machines. Ocon was the first to come to grief when he clipped the outside wall with his right-rear wheel exiting the lower Mirabeau inside the first ten minutes of the session. The Frenchman was back out after an inspection by his mechanics and finished 15th-quickest.
Stroll – who is under significant pressure to start performing after an underwhelming debut season to-date – found the barriers exiting Massenet with just over half an hour of the session to run. The Canadian teenager swiped the barriers on the right-hand side of his Williams and slid along them towards Casino Square, prompting officials to suspend the session so his damaged car could be safely removed.
Another driver who came to grief was Marcus Ericsson. The Sauber driver had a brief moment of oversteer late in the session and clipped the Casino Square barriers in the final stages of the session. The Swede finished 19th-fastest, four-thousandths of a second quicker than teammate Pascal Wehrlein.
Also lagging at the bottom of the timesheets was Renault, which had another difficult session. After Nico Hülkenberg was forced to miss FP1 while an Energy Store issue was fixed, his teammate Jolyon Palmer struck trouble this time and was forced to stop his smoking Renault at Portier after just eight laps’ running when it developed an apparent power unit issue. Hülkenberg carried the team’s practice program in his repaired car and finished 17th-fastest.
Saturday’s final practice session in Monaco will begin at 11:00 local time (GMT +2).
Image via Scuderia Ferrari