Friday’s bragging practice ahead of the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix belonged to Max Verstappen, who was driving FP2, while FP1’s top rider Carlos Sainz crashed in the second session.
With a time of 1m12.462s, despite none of his sector times being qualitative enough to grace the purple timing boards, Verstappen stitched together a consistent trio of splits to ensure he made the most of his Red Bull RB19 for the duration of the lap. This gave him an advantage over Sainz’s Ferrari and Charles Leclerc who cut short his session by crashing into the inside wall at the exit of the pool section.
Sainz set the pace in the first session by three-tenths ahead of his compatriot Fernando Alonso and once again found himself in the lead before creating a near-exact copy of Leclerc’s teammate qualifying crash in the Principality in 2021. A red flag delayed the mandatory race simulations in the late session, but a quick cleanup operation ensured 12 minutes of uninterrupted running at the end.
Nevertheless, it affected the level of information the teams could gather, but as is often the case in Monaco, the priority was to get through the qualifying runs.
Here’s everything we learned in Friday’s practice in Monaco.
The story of the day
Rolling in the pool in FP2 did no favors for Sainz
Photo: Mark Sutton / Motorsport images
It may seem trite, but Monaco is one of the most punishable circuits on the F1 calendar due to its proximity to walls and tight corners. That both practice sessions featured red flags was no surprise, given that practice sessions give teams and drivers a chance to test the limits of their cars’ grip on the road.
FP1 featured a series of red flags, the first of which was to clear debris when Nico Hulkenberg crashed into the inner wall at Nouvelle Chicane. The German took the left rear tire off the rim, causing it to spin. He crawled back into the pits with minimal damage, but a short break in proceedings was deemed necessary.
Alex Albon’s crash at the end of the session was more costly as he crashed at Sainte Devote as the session was coming to an end and claimed much of Williams’ left-hand side, also leading to a somewhat premature end to FP1.
Given their fastest laps on the soft tyres, Red Bull’s advantage over Ferrari was largely manifested in corner exits – especially at Casino Square and Portier
Sainz was the culprit of the only red flag in FP2 when he went too close to the inner barrier at the La Piscine exit and tore the right front suspension – leaving him no choice but to hit the wall. This cost him the chance to reprise his role at the top of the roster, and when the session started again, the focus on longer runs cemented Verstappen’s position at the top.
The Spaniard was just displaced from second best time by Leclerc’s teammate, who struggled with “jumping” on board his Ferrari during low-speed cornering, where one wheel lifted on curb hits. Sainz looked the more comfortable of the two in Friday’s sessions, but his accident cost him the chance to make any preparations for the race.
Thus Verstappen’s time at the top withstood any further tests, but the margins between him and the Ferrari duo were wafer thin. The Red Bull team was expected to lose some of their advantage around the low-speed Monegasque circuit; although this did indeed happen, he nevertheless retained his familiar table at the top of the order.
Why qualifying will be even more important than usual in Monaco
Getting the pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix can be unscientifically described as 95% of the work done in the pursuit of victory. Even in the era of smaller, narrower cars, the claustrophobic streets of Monte Carlo are notoriously not conducive to overtaking in Formula 1, but the Pole will add another level of prestige to this year’s event.
This is because the differences between the teams are so close this time due to the characteristics of each car at the start, and using race pace to predict the race will ultimately lead to an unbelievable narrative. The traffic negotiations in Q3 will be of great importance and will be one of the key factors determining the starting lineup for Sunday’s race.
Given their fastest laps on the soft tyres, Red Bull’s advantage over Ferrari was largely manifested in corner exits – particularly at Casino Square and Portier. SF-23 is a match in the acceleration phase and was able to stabilize any losses as the pace increased, but was unable to compensate for this disadvantage in these specific areas.
Verstappen overtook Leclerc for first place in FP2, proving stronger on corner exits
Photo: Sam Bagnall / Motorsport images
As with the season so far, Ferrari is particularly strong under braking, and both Leclerc and Sainz have been imbued with the confidence to come off the gas later than their rivals, but that seems to hinder them a bit on the road. But these are good margins and Ferrari has an advantage in the first section of the track and from Mirabeau to Portier.
Burdened by hopes of a surprise victory for Fernando Alonso in Monaco, Aston Martin fell short of its rivals on the slowest two sections of the track – namely the Loews hairpin and the Nouvelle Chicane. The AMR23 also has strengths in terms of grip, but the drivers seem to lack confidence in the slowest parts of the track. Throttle marks show a little boost in the Nouvelle Chicane as Alonso tries to get the car to behave appropriately.
Mercedes is slightly behind the top three, although there is cautious optimism in the camp about the new improvements. While the Monaco will naturally overshadow many of the finer details of the new updates, riders have reported greater brake stability thanks to tweaks to the front suspension. There were understeer issues at Mirabeau, Hairpin and Portier, and a lack of confidence in Turn 1 left Lewis Hamilton and George Russell a bit behind the Red Bulls and Ferraris from the start, but overnight tweaks could offer opportunities to alleviate these symptoms.
Ferrari has a very real chance of spilling first blood by the end of Saturday’s sessions if drivers avoid smearing barriers with red paint
The racing miles on the medium tire were short, and Mercedes was able to shine more in this context. Hamilton’s laps were within two-tenths of Verstappen’s, but with such a small sample there is no way to compare them beyond that. Alonso has done his longer stints on a set of soft tires and therefore does not appear to be comparable to the medium tyre, which is expected to be the tire of choice for most of the grand prix.
Alpine was surprisingly strong during his fleeting longer middle runs, with Esteban Ocon’s times outclassing Verstappen’s, while Gasly was on a similar pitch at times. Again, the movement seemed to be a differentiator, and the propensity to form trains during the race will largely make long-distance pace very dependent on circumstances.
Should it come to qualifying, which is likely to avert any threat of inclement weather over the weekend, Ferrari has a very real chance of spilling first blood by the end of Saturday’s sessions if the drivers avoid smearing the barriers with red paint. Verstappen may spoil the party, but Ferrari’s fortune is largely in his hands. Perhaps this is something that even the most ardent tifoso fears…
What the drivers say
Can Leclerc fight for the pole?
Photo: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport images
Verstappen: “I think FP1 was quite difficult, I wasn’t happy with the car over curbs and potholes. FP2 was already much better, the car felt more competitive. Especially compared to the Ferrari, we still miss the car’s overall driving, how it handles curbs, potholes. drops in the camber. We still need to work on that for tomorrow as you can see that they are very, very close and knowing that you will push the limit in qualifying we need a bit more to overtake them.
Hamilton: “Overall I had an amazing day, I really enjoyed the ride today. And I think we have a lot of data. I mean, it’s not the place for final testing and tweaking, but overall the car performed well. I think of course it’s a bit of a shame, we weren’t as close as I had hoped at the end of the session, but I definitely felt an improvement. And we just have to keep chipping away to see if we can squeeze more juice out of the car.”
Russell: “Qualifying is part of a weekend where we generally struggle. We always do better on Sunday when we look at the last 18 months so we have to try and figure things out day by day, there are definitely some positive signals to take from the session, definitely improved from FP1. It’s never easy here.
Russell took heart from Mercedes’ upgrades with an upgraded W14 between sessions
Photo: Simon Galloway / Motorsport images