They have already won once this season, but in what has been touted as one of their best race victory opportunities of the year, Red Bull are looking strong after finishing one-two in both Monaco Grand Prix free practice sessions.
With the high-downforce, low-power demand circuit playing to their strengths, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo set the pace in both practice sessions, with Red Bull showing strong race pace despite an interrupted second free practice session.
Equipped with the new-for-this-weekend Hypersoft tyres, he finished the day with the fastest time of 1:11.841 which was a circuit record and the only sub-1:12 lap time of the day.
Team-mate Max Verstappen set a 1:12.035 to finish two tenths shy of his team-mate but, not for the first time this season, Max Verstappen found himself under investigation from the stewards during free practice.
In the opening 90 minutes, the Dutchman locked up on the approach to Sainte Devote and took to the run-off zone to reduce the chances of making contact with the barrier.
However, the stewards took issue with how he rejoined the circuit.
He selected reverse gear and edged backwards onto the track towards the entry of turn one. Whilst doing this, a Ferrari elected to cut the first corner to avoid the reversing Red Bull. The stewards believed that Verstappen’s reversing manoeuvre warranted further investigation, but eventually decided against any punishment.
No other driver could get within half-a-second of Ricciardo’s time; Sebastian Vettel came closest to disrupting the Red Bulls, posting a 1:12.413, one tenth ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
The second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas completed the top six, whilst Renault-powered cars continued to be well represented in the rest of the top ten.
Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg lead the midfield, but he was closely followed by the two McLaren-Renault’s of Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso, with team-mate Carlos Sainz completing the top ten.
As expected, the tight confines of the Monaco circuit caught out a couple of drivers. Most notably – and bizarrely – Sergey Sirotkin clipped the inside wall on the start-finish straight and he damaged the right-rear suspension of his Williams.
FP2 was interrupted by an issue which has been seen before on the streets of Monaco; a loose drain cover. This is something which has affected other Monaco Grands Prix in fairly recent history, as witnessed by Jenson Button (FP1, 2016) and Rubens Barrichello (Williams, 2010).
With the clock still running down, the session was red-flagged to allowed welding work to be carried out on the offending cover.
Around fifteen minutes of running were lost, hampering the teams’ preparations for the race ahead. However teams were still able to dedicate many laps to the longer runs.
Red Bull certainly appeared to have upper hand in race trim, too. Of the top three teams, they completed the most mileage on the hypersoft tyres, frequently setting lap times in the low-1:15’s and – towards the end of the stints – setting occasional 1:14-second laps.
Ferrari were a couple of tenths further back form Red Bull’s pace, with Mercedes falling slightly further behind that.
Red Bull didn’t even attempt any laps on anything other than the hypersoft, whilst Ferrari and Mercedes dabbled with the ultrasofts, and even the supersofts. Might they have to resort to alternate tactics to beat the Red Bulls this weekend?
MONACO GRAND PRIX, Free Practice
1 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 1m11.841s – 33
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault 1m12.413s 0.194s 41
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m12.413s 0.572s 42
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m12.536s 0.695s 34
5 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m12.543s 0.702s 36
6 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m12.642s 0.801s 38
7 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m13.047s 1.206s 30
8 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren/Renault 1m13.077s 1.236s 40
9 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Renault 1m13.115s 1.274s 42
10 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m13.200s 1.359s 34
11 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso/Honda 1m13.222s 1.381s 47
12 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1m13.370s 1.529s 39
13 Esteban Ocon Force India/Mercedes 1m13.382s 1.541s 47
14 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso/Honda 1m13.410s 1.569s 32
15 Sergey Sirotkin Williams/Mercedes 1m13.547s 1.706s 44
16 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari 1m13.572s 1.731s 41
17 Charles Leclerc Sauber/Ferrari 1m13.575s 1.734s 45
18 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari 1m13.763s 1.922s 37
19 Lance Stroll Williams/Mercedes 1m14.011s 2.170s 34
20 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 1m14.173s 2.332s 46
All images: Motorsport Images
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