The first man to top a session around the streets of Monte Carlo in 2016 is Lewis Hamilton.
A Thursday morning blast around the Monaco harbour ended with Lewis Hamilton topping the time sheet, ahead of Nico Rosberg The pair were split by just one tenth of a second as Formula One dipped its toe into the sea of ultrasoft tyres Pirelli has brought to the race around the Principality of Monaco. However the session was brought to a slightly premature end as a manhole cover flicked up to cause extensive damage to Button’s front wing.
With the grippier rubber, a partly resurfaced road and a marginally shorter track layout, the ultrasoft tyres allowed for the pace-setting Hamilton to blast last year’s best opening practice time. The 1:18.750 set by Lewis last year was left in his own wake as he set a 1:16.588 after just 20 minutes.
Hamilton, along with Rosberg, were out on track from the off to rack up laps with Pirelli’s new rubber. Mercedes were utilising the quiet early track conditions to allow their drivers to gain knowledge on the new tyres after the team chose not to run the ultrasofts in winter testing or at the post-Spanish Grand Prix in-season test.
Hamilton and Rosberg were not alone in running the ultrasoft tyres early on, as Kevin Magnussen joined the action from the green flag with the purple branded rubber. However all running was briefly interrupted as Felipe Massa found the barrier at Ste Devote.
As Felipe attacked the first corner, the rear of his Williams stepped out causing him to lose control mid-corner and clout the barriers. The heavy impact snapped both his front and rear suspension, ending his session early.
Another driver nearly joined Massa in clouting the Monaco barriers at speed shortly after the Virtual Safety Car was disabled, with Esteban Gutierrez losing the rear on exit of the tunnel. The Mexican was forced into flicking his Haas away from the barrier as he came down the hill, missing the barrier by the slimmest margin.
With a clear track, Daniel Ricciardo was able to edge within one tenth of Hamilton’s early benchmark. Max Verstappen too soon joined his Red Bull team-mate in the top four of the standings. Although Rosberg and Hamilton rejoined the track to lower the benchmark again, with Nico this time acting as the initial pace setter.
After spending a long part of the session sat in the middle of the timesheet, Vettel rocketed into the top three as the final half hour engaged. Sebastian’s time though remained seven tenths off Rosberg’s P2 time, and just three hundredths up on Max Verstappen.
Force India showed pace with Hulkenberg and Perez running sixth and seventh, just over a second off Hamilton’s benchmark. Likewise Toro Rosso ran in order for eight and ninth, with Kvyat leading Sainz by four tenths as Esteban Gutierrez came to a stop at Portier after an apparent engine issue.
As Vettel continued his move towards the times set by the Mercedes drivers, the German lapped the streets of Monaco in 1:15.956 to go within three tenths of Rosberg. Similarly Ricciardo had edged closer to the front as he overtook Verstappen in the standings while Palmer found himself in the barrier.
Jolyon was pushing in his Renault when the 2014 GP2 Champion hit the wall at Tabac after losing the rear, leaving his car with damage to the right-hand side and ending his session with twenty minutes to go. After his retirement and Massa’s from earlier on, the pair sat in 20th and 19th place respectively after improvements saw Felipe’s early lap time plummet.
Over the course of the session, other drivers found themselves running deep into corners or missing apex’s as they settled into one of the more challenging tracks on the calendar. Hamilton and Rosberg both, on more than one occasion, found themselves running deep. While a heavy lock up for Nasr late into the session saw the Brazilian sail into the Ste Devote run off as he jinked left to avoid a big impact with the barrier.
Bottas too was avoiding a late impact with a barrier, as the rear of his Williams stepped out through the tunnel. One of the fastest parts of the track.
Valtteri though avoided any impact, although the session was soon brought to an early end with a red flag as a drain cover flew up and caused extensive damage to the front wing of Jenson Button. The Briton had been following Rosberg late into the session as a manhole cover flicked up, leaving Nico with a rear tyre puncture and Jenson with only half a front wing. As the McLaren wing shattered and left debris across the road, the session was red flagged – leaving Hamilton fastest overall in Monaco.