Round 6 of this year’s Formula One World Championship kicked off with a Thursday opening free practice, topped by Lewis Hamilton.
Around the streets of the principality, the sun decided not to make an appearance straight away and instead left the famous roads damp and slippery for the first session of the week. Nevertheless, Lewis Hamilton weaved his way around the circuit to top the opening practice session from Max Verstappen by 0.149 seconds.
This year’s race around the Monte Carlo harbour comes two weeks after Nico Rosberg claimed his first win of the year in Spain. But the bigger news going into the weekend comes from the other side of the Mercedes garage following his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, signing a new three-year contract with the team. He will now be contracted to Mercedes until 2018 and will be earning an estimated colossus sum of £27million a year.
Other changes this weekend come in the form of the Monaco track which has been slightly changed from previous years between turns 12 and 14. As a result of the changes, the track distance has been reduced by three metres and certain barriers have been pushed further away from the apex’s.
Nevertheless when the track went green, Formula One was roaring into life in the narrow garages. Except for Jenson Button who once again had been struck with an issue with the hybrid system onboard his McLaren. Elsewhere, drivers hit the damp track on intermediate tyres before the softs came out to play moments later.
Over the opening thirty minutes, drivers became accustomed to the track conditions while Hamilton set the early pace with a 1:21.622. For some of the field, the conditions were a little harder to get used to and they found themselves using one of the few run off areas around the circuit, at Ste Devote. One regular visitor to the run off was Daniel Ricciardo who ventured onto the brick path a few times over the morning.
As for Rosberg, he had managed to set the early pace alongside Hamilton before Lewis moved ahead. But as Nico attacked the track he found himself a little too close to the barrier on the exit of Tabac but luckily avoided taking damage to his front wing.
Yet despite not taking any damage to his front wing, Nico did return to the pits while the opening 30 minutes cruised to an end. But the German returned to action just as the clock hit the hour mark, running brand new soft tyres. With the fresh boots bolted on, Nico moved to the top of the order once again. But was displaced by Hamilton after the Brit returned to the streets.
After another thirty minutes of running, the order at the top had begun to stretch. Hamilton now led by just under half a second to Sebastian Vettel after the Ferrari pipped in between the two Silver Arrows, pushing Nico down to third. But Nico found himself falling another slot down the order as Kimi moved into P3.
Now Nico sat in P4, one second behind his team-mate while a further second separated him and fifth place Sergio Perez. For the lead, Hamilton had also reduced the benchmark time to 1:18.750 before the final thirty minutes of running engaged.
Come the closing stages of the session, the top four order remained the same as high fuel running was carried out by Raikkonen and Hamilton. Just behind the top four, Massa and Alonso crept behind Rosberg to reduce the gap between fourth and sixth to just two hundredths of a second.
Most of the rest field had remained in the pits for a large proportion of the final thirty minutes, but towards the end of the session the entire grid returned to the track. Although having all 20 cars on track caused a bit of traffic to slow drivers down slightly, Verstappen managed to get his Toro Rosso right up the order and take P3 with eight minutes to go. However, Ricciardo nudged the youngster out of the top three by four hundredths of a second before displacing Vettel for second.
But as the chequered flag fell, the young Russian who has never raced around Monaco moved to within 1 tenths of a second to the current World Champion to take P2 in the opening free practice session. Ricciardo also improved at the flag but finished the session two tenths back.