Monaco looked dazzling as Friday’s practice kicked off at arguably the most famous racecourse of all. And it delivered a tasty run of lap times, suggesting we have at least three teams – maybe even four – with a pole position shout.
Ferrari maintains a one-lap lead over Red Bull
Ask anyone in the F1 paddock and they’ll tell you that when it comes to preparing the car for Monaco, the emphasis is on pace in qualifying because a good start is very important on a track where overtaking is very, very difficult.
Ferrari have been pretty sharp this year on that metric (their pace has dropped drastically when fuel is poured on race day) and they continued that form in Monaco, with Carlos Sainz the stronger of the two drivers – meaning he crashed at the end of PR2.
The Spaniard looked hooked from the first lap on Friday and seemed to have the upper hand in the last two sectors of the lap. Charles Leclerc wasn’t so happy as the Monegasque had to bail out several times – but he emerged unscathed each time.
Based on our qualifying data, Ferrari is around 0.08 over Red Bull. That’s pretty much nothing around – but if they can keep it up until Saturday, doing a clean lap at top pace makes them very strong contenders for pole position.
Red Bull starts the weekend in Monaco from behind
Red Bull has been class in 2023 so far, with the reigning world champions winning all five races and championship leader Max Verstappen finishing in the top two at every grand prix – but they were not in a league of their own based on Friday’s practice.
Both Verstappen and his teammate Sergio Perez were unhappy with the car’s balance, with ride height being an area they improved during the day but had to work harder on at night.
Even on this bumpy day, the RB19 – the monstrous car that it is – was still second fastest in qualifying and fastest of all on long runs.
According to the numbers we gathered, they were also quicker in the slow and medium corners, so while they were beaten by Ferrari based on our data, they’ll probably be pretty confident they can gain overnight to keep one, if not both, cars. first row.
Aston Martin is battling for pole position
Aston Martin decided to lower their expectations for this weekend, but the quiet confidence in the team was unmissable as they knew this track suited their car, especially with double world champion Fernando Alonso behind the wheel.
And that’s what happened on Friday, when Alonso looked like he was running on rails through the streets of the Principality. The Spaniard said the car was easy to drive and he was so pleased with the day’s events that he couldn’t help but say he thought Aston would be one of the contenders for pole position.
This is another huge step forward for a team that is now making waves in F1. They rank third in our pace ranking, losing about 0.3 seconds to pace.
But Alonso in the zone will be in the mood to eliminate that deficit and grab the best home seat on Sunday.
Mercedes seems to have taken a step forward
Mercedes’ long-awaited update hit the track for the first time on Friday – and Lewis Hamilton’s pace looked so good in FP1 that the seven-time world champion thought ‘wow, maybe we look pretty good’.
They fell in session two, and although they are fourth in the pecking order – about where they have been all season – they are much closer to the rest of the field in terms of lap time, losing 0.44 seconds to pace.
Was there more in the tank? Well, Hamilton thinks it was maybe two-tenths. Find it and they will compete for the first few rows.
Their race pace was strong too, and while it won’t be of much use here, it bodes well for future races on more traditional circuits.
All in all, it was an encouraging day for the team, which they hope is the first step in a recovery that will lead to more competitive days.
FP2 Highlights: Monaco Grand Prix 2023