Monaco GP | Hamilton tops FP1 as Button makes F1 return

First free practice at the Monaco Grand Prix topped by Lewis Hamilton, as the Briton edges Vettel and Verstappen.

The famous streets of Monte Carlo once again played home to Formula One as the paddock descended on the Principality for the Monaco Grand Prix. The crown jewel in the calendar and the return of Jenson Button, with Fernando Alonso opting out in favour of the Indy500.

Jenson’s return to Formula One was far from expected at the start of the year, as the Briton set into the post-Grand Prix but yet-retired lifestyle. Focusing on triathlon training, which thankfully would have kept him fit ahead of Alonso’s shock announcement that he would be missing Monaco.

Alonso has won the Monaco Grand Prix before, in 2006 and 2007, and has always been a driver keen to prove he’s the best in the world. Something that has led to his desire to clinch the ‘Triple Crown of Motorsport’ – winning the Monaco GP, Indianapolis 500 and the Le Mans 24.

The ‘Triple Crown’, although an unofficial title, is something held in high regards in motorsport as it accounts for winning three of the most challenging races on the planet. It has also only been achieved by one driver in history, Graham Hill, although multiple drivers have claimed two of the three elements – one more than Alonso has thus far in his career.

One challenge of completing the ‘Triple Crown’ also comes outside the challenge of the races alone. For while Le Mans has often fallen on a weekend where Formula One does not race – something that allowed Nico Hulkenberg to race and win for Porsche in 2015 – the Indy 500 has clashed with Monaco every year since 1987 when the F1 race was moved.

Before that, drivers could compete in both Indy and Monaco during the same year. As did drivers racing in the F1 World Championship during the first 11-years of the championship, when both races featured on the calendar.

Fernando Alonso - Indy 500 2017 - McLaren Honda Andretti

Fernando Alonso practising at The Brickyard for the 2017 Indy500. Photo credit: McLaren Honda Andretti.

With Fernando Stateside competing at Indy, McLaren picked up the phone to call on their 2016 racer – Jenson Button. A man who effectively retired at the end of the season, but remained contracted to the team as an ambassador and driver should he be required.

Regardless of any contractual obligations, though, Button gladly agreed to come back for a one-off race around the streets that he calls home. Hopping back into a McLaren cockpit for the first time when Formula One arrived in Monaco – having passed up on a test day in Bahrain feeling the vastly different track would be of no benefit to him.

Having not raced in Formula One for nearly six months, Jenson did at least carry out simulator work at McLaren’s Technology Centre. Getting marginally to grips with F1’s larger cars, and only rolling the car into the harbour twice – once from the top of the hill where the track enters Casino Square.

Come Thursday morning in Monaco, Button’s opening lap was not trouble free either. With the 2009 Formula One World Drivers Champion locking up into Tabac during his first familiarisation lap.

Following that, Button’s lap times remained heavily off the pace as he continued not to post a flying lap while other drivers set a string of fast lap times. One of his later laps also featured a brush with the barrier through the second part of the Swimming Pool sector.

Jenson’s Swimming Pool contact was, however, a “pretty gentle” brush as he put it over the radio.

Button locking up in FP1 - McLaren

Jenson Button locking up on his way into Tabac during FP1 for the Monaco Grand Prix. Photo credit: McLaren.

Away from McLaren, Max Verstappen was the first man of the day to post a flying lap time. Kicking off the leaderboard with a 1:19.424 with the ultrasoft Pirelli’s fitted onto his car.

On supersoft tyres, meanwhile, both Mercedes drivers were out early posting a string of lap times. With Hamilton initially running over three seconds off Verstappen’s pace via his first lap. Bottas, however, continued to push with every lap rather than backing out after each flyer like Hamilton.

With his consistent string of flying laps, Bottas began to post purple times in every sector as he continued to lower and lower his own benchmark. Going top on a 1:16.852 before bringing his time down a further 1.7 seconds to create a nine-tenths margin to his team-mate in second.

Valtteri’s run of consistent flying laps was also good news for the Mercedes pitwall. Who radioed to Bottas that his run was doing good work for rear tyre temperatures.

As for Hamilton, his times were also gradually improving over his initial tentative lap time. But despite posting a purple middle sector, the Briton could not better his team-mate across the lap.

Bottas - FP1 - Mercedes

Valtteri Bottas exiting the Mercedes garage during FP1 at the Monaco GP. Photo credit: Mercedes AMG F1 Team.

After Mercedes set the pace on supersoft tyres, both Red Bull’s were back out on ultrasofts and going faster with their fresh tyres. Initially seeing Verstappen split the Mercedes and take second by two-tenths before backing out of a following flyer as he narrowly avoided clouting the barrier at the chicane.

Ricciardo, meanwhile, was taking the top as the first driver inside the 1:14s. Although once the Ferrari’s began pushing on ultrasoft tyres, Vettel lowered the benchmark further to create a six-tenth margin over the Red Bull.

Hamilton then followed up by lowering the benchmark even more and dip into the 1:13s. Only to be beaten by Bottas immediately after as the Finn skimmed the barrier.

Lewis again came home soon after with another flying lap. Going fastest of all through sectors one and two as he regained P1 on a 1:13.429. Which, too, was followed by another improved lap time as he found a further 4-thousandths of a second.

After Verstappen set the pace early on, the Red Bull’s position on the leaderboard had fallen to behind both the Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s. Regardless, though, Verstappen was able to move up to third late into the session with a new purple first sector while the track continued to improve.

Red Bull was not without issues in FP1, however. For nearly an hour into the opening practice session, Daniel Ricciardo reported that he “felt like we had a bit of a loss of power in charge mode”.

While Verstappen, too, had issues as the team noted a possible right-rear puncture that turned out to be a bigger problem. Leaving the car in the garage with a lot of work being carried out to the rear of the car.

Sauber, too, saw issues early on in FP1. With Marcus Ericsson reporting a loss of fourth gear just half an hour into the session. Which later brought his session to an early end.

Nico Hulkenberg’s session also lasted just three laps with an ERS issue keeping his Renault in the garage throughout the session.

Ericsson - FP1 - Sauber

Marcus Ericsson exiting the Monaco pitlane. Photo credit: Sauber F1 Team.

Pos Driver Team Laps Time Gap
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 40 1’13.425
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 34 1’13.621 0.196
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull 32 1’13.771 0.346
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 40 1’13.791 0.366
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 45 1’13.854 0.429
6 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 42 1’14.111 0.686
7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 37 1’14.164 0.739
8 Sergio Perez Force India 32 1’14.201 0.776
9 Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso 39 1’14.333 0.908
10 Esteban Ocon Force India 39 1’14.425 1
11 Felipe Massa Williams 37 1’14.617 1.192
12 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 38 1’14.813 1.388
13 Kevin Magnussen Haas 34 1’14.870 1.445
14 Jenson Button McLaren 35 1’14.954 1.529
15 Romain Grosjean Haas 33 1’15.321 1.896
16 Lance Stroll Williams 44 1’15.595 2.17
17 Jolyon Palmer Renault 42 1’15.949 2.524
18 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber 33 1’16.258 2.833
19 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 3 No time set
20 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 3 No time set