Monaco, 23 May – It’s part of the nature of Formula 1 and sport in general in the modern era, that what happens off the court, pitch or track can sometimes take on even more importance than the sport itself, with gossip, rumour and controversy dominating the headlines. However, on a beautiful day with clear skies and warm sunshine, the first time 22 Formula 1 dance around the track on the streets of the Principality of Monte Carlo provides a glorious reminder of what a fantastic sporting spectacle lies ahead over the rest of the weekend at this unique venue.
If this Thursday provided an interesting start to the sixth round of the World Championship, it was also a positive beginning for Scuderia Ferrari, with Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa lining up in third and fourth places on this afternoon’s time sheet. In the morning session, the Spaniard was second and the Brazilian fourth and over the course of the three hours, the Ferrari duo completed a total of 127 laps, 65 for the Spaniard, three more than his team-mate. The two drivers had a trouble free day, both in terms of the F138s running reliably and because neither driver made contact with the barriers.
After qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix, two weeks ago, Fernando said he wasn’t worried by the fact that Mercedes monopolised the front row of the grid, with their third straight pole position. The Ferrari man’s logic was that the silver cars’ race pace was not a match for several other cars including the F138s and he was more concerned with his direct title rivals, Vettel and Raikkonen. Fernando’s Catalunyan victory proved him right. However, if we have a repeat performance here on Saturday, dealing with the Mercedes on Sunday could be much trickier than in Barcelona, as overtaking is so difficult here. Today, Nico Rosberg sent out a warning shot, being quickest in both free practice sessions, the only man to dip below the 1m 15s barrier. And Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton was second quickest.
Along with Fernando, Mark Webber is the only current driver to have won here twice – in 2010 and last year – and the Australian steered his Red Bull to fifth place on today’s last time sheet, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus. Now, the engineers face the usual task, the one undertaken on Fridays at all other races, of analysing the data and that work can continue tomorrow, as track action does not re-start until Free Practice 3 on Saturday morning. Traditionalists still refer to tomorrow here in Monaco as the “day off:” that stopped being the case several years ago, with every available moment spent trying to get the very most out of the cars in preparation for Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session.