Friday in Monaco is a day off, but there are still quite a few people wandering around the paddock. There was a summit meeting of team principals with Bernie Ecclestone in his motorhome this morning, while the drivers are on promotional duties and the mechanics are up in the garages, tinkering with the cars.
There’s no doubt which team has the most confident staff: Mercedes.
Thursday’s free practice was everything the team could have wanted; fastest on a green track in FP1, fastest again in the second session with Rosberg and Hamilton ahead of the rest. The Mercedes single lap pace looked impressive, but Fernando Alonso was close to Hamilton’s time, despite setting his lap on used supersofts, compared to new for the Mercedes pair, which provided some encouragement. Romain Grosjean was also looking likely to get close to them, but he crashed on his qualifying simulation.
Nevertheless, Mercedes have tended to find more time in qualifying in recent races and their competitors expect that to happen again this weekend.
The crunch question is what their tyre performance will be like in the race, as there have been some alarming collapses recently when the rear tyres overheat on longer runs.
Thursday’s Free Practice 2 long runs show a more encouraging picture, as expected. The Monaco circuit puts a lot less energy into the tyres than Bahrain or Barcelona.
And the signs are that it is going to be tough for anyone to make the race on one stop, as that requires almost 50 laps on a set of soft tyres. There isn’t enough time in practice to simulate that, the most anyone did was 33 laps.
And that plays into Mercedes’ hands; if they can get the pole and the front row, they should be able to control the start of the race and run in clear air, then phase their two stops to suit the fastest race plan.
Thursday’s long runs showed that Rosberg has better tyre life than Hamilton. His 22 lap run on the supersoft after the qualifying simulation was competitive and ended with a 1m 19.7s lap. But he did cool the tyres half way through, which he would not be able to do in the race without a safety car.
He looks the favourite at the moment, but he’s keeping expectations in check,
“For sure we have made progress in managing the tyres,” Rosberg said. “But I don’t know yet if it will be enough. There are still some question marks. The rear tyres we still use too much.”
There’s an added motivation for Rosberg this weekend; if he wins he will be the first son of a former Monaco winner to take the honours and it would be exactly 30 years since his father Keke won this race.
The rivalry with Hamilton is fascinating too. It is well known that the pair have been good friends for many years, but Hamilton always had the edge in the junior categories. His arrival at Mercedes has not phased Rosberg, quite the reverse. The German has seen his stock rise significantly in the last month after beating Hamilton in qualifying in both Bahrain and Spain. Hamilton knows he needs to rebalance things, starting right here.
Both have excellent qualifying records at Monaco and Hamilton sounded confident after practice, “If I start on pole no-one will pass me,” he said.” And I’m convinced I can get the pole here.”
The pair are likely to take each other to a very high level tomorrow in qualifying in the chase for pole and it will make for a thrilling spectacle, all the more so if any of their rivals can break in on their personal duel.