After a three-week break due to the cancellation of last week’s Emilia Romagna GP, Formula 1 cars were back on track this afternoon for a crucial hour as the drivers looked to build up confidence around Monaco’s narrow streets in the first free practice session for the Monte Carlo Grand Prix.
Monaco is without doubt the most glamorous event of the year but it also provides, arguably, the best qualifying of the season. It’s a proper challenge as the drivers get within millimetres of the barriers to gain lap time. Three-time F1 world champion Nelson Piquet famously said Monaco “is like riding a bicycle around your living room”. Don’t try that one at home.
Monaco is not the best track to get true data on the upgrades performance, which is why Scuderia Ferrari decided to postpone the introduction of its upgrade package for the next round of the Formula 1 season, which takes place at the Circuit de Catalunya in Spain. However, this weekend and all eyes will be on Mercedes as they debut their long-awaited upgrades on the W14.
The green light was on at the end of the pit lane and the Monaco GP weekend was go with the start of FP1! Plenty of cars were heading straight out, and leading the way was last year’s winner Sergio Perez.
Carlos Sainz was the first driver to kiss the barriers through the swimming pool chicane. It was a fairly hefty bump for the Ferrari SF-23 car but thankfully no damage done.
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Ferrari president John Elkann was keeping a close eye on the early proceedings and it was a good strart for Scuderia Ferrari so far, with Charles Leclerc topping the early timesheet with a 1:14:562 and Carlos Sainz in second. The Ferrari drivers and Lando Norris were on the medium tyres, while everyone else was using the hards in the first part of the session. Soon after it was Charles Leclerc on top after a quick pit stop to adjust the front wing. Still those same medium tyres on the car and the home driver was looking good early on. For reference, the cars were already nearly as fast as last year’s FP1 time. The Monegasque’s time 12 months ago in first practice was a 1.14.531 and he already did a 1.14.562 after the first ten minutes of the session.
As expected, traffic was a big problem for everyone and it was very difficult to get a clean, flying lap without coming across another car, or two. Fernando Alonso was the latest driver to get stuck through Casino Square. His best lap so far though put him in third, behind the Ferraris.
Valtteri Bottas had to show some quick reactions at Rascasse to avoid running into the back of Sergio Perez’s Red Bull, while Williams’ Logan Sargeant reported an issue and limped back round to the pit lane.
Lewis Hamilton climbed to the top of the timesheets with 30 minutes to go as the drivers who were on the hard tyres earlier switched to the medium rubber. Lando Norris moved up to third for McLaren, while Sargeant did make it back to the garage.
With 20 minutes until the end of FP1, Nico Hulkenberg was limping home in his Haas. The German clouted the barriers on his way into the Nouvelle Chicane which sent him into a spin. He got back to the pits but the Red Flag was thrown out to clear up debris. Debris cleared up we were back under way with 17 minutes remaining in this opening practice session on the streets of Monte Carlo.
Into the 1:13s we went as Fernando Alonso set the fastest time in the Aston Martin with a 1:13.907: the Spaniard had a purple second sector and despite coming across traffic through the final two corners, he went fastest by a tenth and a half. Some on-track jostling between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen: both had cut the Nouvelle Chicane, with Hamilton trying to get out of Verstappen’s way replays suggest. The drivers were gaining confidence with every lap as Carlos Sainz pipped Fernando Alonso by 0.058 seconds. Sergio Perez had a quiet session so far but slotted into fourth, 0.348s behind the Ferrari man.
Max Verstappen was really not enjoying this session: he waved his hand and dropped his head in frustration after the car stepped out through the swimming pool chicane. The Dutchman had to cut the chicane and trundle back round. Charles was on for a very quick time but his SF-23 car stepped out at the Swimming Pool chicane and he had to abort the lap. A few minutes later, Alex Albon smashed the barriers at Turn One and he wrecked the left side of his Williams.
That incident suffered by Alex Albon meant it was the end of the first free practice session in Monte Carlo as race control confirmed we FP1 would not resume.
Here’s the timesheet after that slightly-curtailed opening session.
Practice One Final Standings
1) Carlos Sainz
2) Fernando Alonso
3) Lewis Hamilton
4) Sergio Perez
5) Charles Leclerc
6) Max Verstappen
7) Lando Norris
8) Esteban Ocon
9) Lance Stroll
10) Alex Albon