Monaco: The Thursday debrief

By on Thursday, May 24, 2012

Romain Grosjean is the early favourite. Photo Credit: XPB

Much of Great Britain has emerged from its Spring slumber to bask in glorious conditions nearing thirty degrees. Meanwhile, practice in Monaco was disrupted by showers, causing more headaches for a paddock that is already perplexed by F1’s most open season since 1983.

Tradition dictates that free practice takes place on Thursday in the principality and it was Jean Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo who traded fastest times early on. Both drivers are getting their first taste of F1 action around the narrow streets, although the STR7 looks difficult to drive. Even at this early stage, it looks like points will be difficult for the duo on Sunday.

One man who was on it was Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman excelled in 2011 when he stormed from the back of the grid to fourth place. That was in GP2, but he’s wasted no time in demonstrating his abilities behind the wheel of a Formula One car. High on confidence following a string of good results, Grosjean was playing dare with the barriers, including a satisfying slide exiting Anthony Nogues. He ended up second in first practice and repeated the feat in the afternoon session. The chances of a first win for France in sixteen years are increasing. Team mate Kimi Raikkonen – sporting a James Hunt tribute helmet – had a fairly disastrous day. After his installation lap in the morning, the Finn decided that the steering was not to his liking and sat out the remainder of the session. He managed twenty five laps in the afternoon, but most of them came in wet conditions. It was hardly the ideal start for the 2007 world champion in what is Lotus’s 500th race.

Ferrari showed good pace as their season continues to improve. Photo Credit: LAT

Nico Rosberg exuded confidence in the Mercedes W03, although Michael Schumacher had a problem with the front wing in the morning session. Red Bull has yet to show the kind of speed that took them to victory in 2010 and 2011, with Sebastian Vettel complaining of high tyre wear on the Intermediates.

It was a better day for Ferrari. Fernando Alonso – in his white and gold helmet – set the best time in the morning and was the fastest runner on prime tyres in the afternoon. Team mate Felipe Massa kissed the wall on the entry to Tabac but ended up not far behind Alonso. Despite that, Massa was visibly fighting the F2012 throughout the session, meaning that the Brazilian could be in for a tiring race on Sunday.

Jenson Button last took pole position three years ago – since which he’s won a title and finished runner-up in another season – and took advantage of the incoming precipitation to set a lap on the option tyres. He may take the headlines for his lap time, but any benefit from running the option tyre is likely to be minimal thanks to the evolution of the track, plus the lack of option running from his competitors. Lewis Hamilton was fourth in the opening session.

Pastor Maldonado showed why he’s a Monaco specialist with fifth in the morning running but made a mistake in the afternoon and had to take to the run-off at Mirabeau. Team mate Bruno Senna, 17th in FP1, made a similar error.

Heikki Kovalainen endured a difficult day. Photo Credit: XPB

Sauber could be in the hunt for a podium as Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi were well inside the top ten when the track was dry although Perez was another victim of the slippery conditions at Mirabeau. Force India looks set for another midfield battle, while Marussia and HRT will be trying to avoid getting in everyone’s way in Q1.

Heikki Kovalainen was the only driver to come to serious grief. The Caterham driver suffered a spectacular engine failure in the morning, bringing a premature end to FP1, and ran wide in FP2 and had to abandon his machine. Unusually, no drivers suffered session-ending crashes on what was a fairly tame day in Monte Carlo.

So, could Grosjean make it six from six? Possibly. But there's still a long way to go yet. Lewis Hamilton has yet to show his hand, ditto Sebastian Vettel. What of Kimi Raikkonen and 2010 winner Mark Webber? It's all part of the Monaco magic.

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