Daniel Ricciardo lead an Aston Martin Red Bull Racing 1-2 on Thursday morning at the Circuit de Monaco, ahead of Max Verstappen.
Ricciardo’s time of a 1 minute 12.126 seconds was over a tenth faster than Verstappen, with Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport‘s Lewis Hamilton taking third, three-tenths shy of the ultimate pace.
In the first 30 minutes of the session, the two Red Bulls traded top spot with regular frequency on the debuting hyper-soft Pirelli tyres. Verstappen won the mini-battle, with his time of a 1:12.783 four-tenths faster than the Australian, who comes into the Monaco weekend with a noticeably bullish approach, looking to lay the demons of 2016 to rest.
Scuderia Ferrari‘s Sebastian Vettel was the best of the rest in third, a whole second behind Verstappen, and Valtteri Bottas, sporting his idol, compatriot and mentor Mika Häkkinen‘s helmet colours, settled in fourth. Hamilton, meanwhile, languished in seventh on the ultra-soft compound before opting to pit for the pink-walled, softest compound. Moments later, his lowly position turned into a provisional second place, three-tenths adrift of Verstappen.
Finding his rhythm on the ultra-softs and an improving track surface, Hamilton soon improved to knock Verstappen off of the top by two-tenths of a second. Behind the Brit, the order was more volatile. Kimi Räikkonen forced his way into the reckoning going fourth fastest, ahead of team-mate Vettel, before the German retorted by leaping up to third.
After their early charge, the Red Bulls had fallen by the time the halfway mark of the session arrived. Ricciardo sought to change that, taking Vettel’s third and getting within a whisker of Verstappen’s second place. The Dutchman went further, reclaiming first from Hamilton by just over a tenth of a second, before improving further after an interluding cool-down lap.
However, it wasn’t all positive for the 20-year-old, he found himself reversing down the escape road at Sainte Devote after a lock-up resulting in a flatspot on his front left tyre. His re-entry to the track was subject to an investigation by the stewards, as he encountered Räikkönen during the manoeuvre – the Finn forced to take evasive action at the first corner.
Ricciardo was the man to watch in the last third of the session, initially going second, just five-hundredths off of Verstappen, before toppling the Dutchman’s time by a tenth-and-a-half. That put an end to the morning’s fast running, Red Bull sitting pretty heading into the afternoon.
Vettel and Räikkönen could do no better than fourth and fifth respectively. Ferrari have arrived at Monaco with alterations made to their innovative “halo mirror” concept first introduced in Spain.
Carlos Sainz Jr. impressed for the Renault Sport Formula 1 Team, ending the session in sixth just four-tenths behind Räikkönen; however, his team-mate Nico Hülkenberg suffered with a light steering wheel on his way to thirteenth.
Speaking earlier in the week, Sergio Pérez said that Monaco brings a good chance of points for the Sahara Force India F1 Team and he backed up that claim with eighth place. His team-mate Esteban Ocon sat just outside the top ten, around three-tenths away from the Mexican.
The Haas F1 Team endured a contrasting session. The under-fire Romain Grosjean out on a late charge to take ninth, but Kevin Magnussen saw his session cut short by a suspected wiring loom problem – similar to the issue that forced Räikkönen into retirement two weeks’ ago in Spain – managing just seven laps.
Sergey Sirotkin lifted the spirits at Williams Martini Racing with tenth, proving to be one of the early front-runners before forcing his mechanics into work following a touch with the barrier on the start-finish straight, destroying the rim of his right-rear tyre. Lance Stroll spent a lot of his morning on the radio, upset with the balance of his car and the comfort of his seat. With Sirotkin’s complaints in Spain still ringing around the paddock, it may be an issue that Williams investigate further.
Brendon Hartley joined Sirotkin at the front early on, even breaking into the top five before falling away to twelfth. Pierre Gasly, who failed to take points at Monaco in two seasons in the GP2 Series, sat in fourteenth – the Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda pairing separated by Hülkenberg.
In a weekend where they look to prove the strength of the MCL33‘s chassis, the McLaren F1 Team failed to impress. Stoffel Vandoorne called his car “undriveable”, whilst Fernando Alonso spent a lengthy spell in the garage with brake-by-wire issues. They ended the morning fifteenth and seventeenth respectively.
For the first time since Olivier Beretta in 1994, Monaco have a home driver to cheer around the streets of Monte-Carlo; the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team‘s Charles Leclerc stood between the McLaren’s, seven-tenths faster than his nineteenth place team-mate Marcus Ericsson.
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