Lewis Hamilton has everything to play for in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix tomorrow after practice times demonstrated how his McLaren team is running neck and neck with Ferrari.
The race, with its famous lack of overtaking opportunities, is even more likely than usual to be won by whoever can take pole position – and the threat of rain during both qualifying and the race itself may make things considerably more interesting.
In the first session Kimi Raikkonen put in a fastest lap of 1:15.948 with Hamilton less than three-tenths of a second behind him on 1:16.216. Third was team-mate Heikki Kovalainen while Felipe Massa’s Ferrari was fourth.
Behind the front-runners were Nico Rosberg for Williams in fifth, BMW’s Robert Kubica in sixth and Fernando Alonso for Renault seventh. Jenson Button was 12th for Honda and David Coulthard failed to set a time after an engine failure.
However in the second session Hamilton topped the timesheet with a fastest lap of 1:15.140. Williams’ Nico Rosberg was a surprise second less than two tenths of a second behind him, and Kimi Raikkonen was third, nearly half a second behind the leader.
Massa, Kovalainen and Kubica were next with Jenson Button eighth and David Coulthard 14th.
Hamilton’s time was more than half a second quicker than last year’s pole time set by Fernando Alonso for McLaren despite an incident-packed session that saw the Spaniard put his Renault into the barrier at Sainte Devote, Jarno Trulli hit the wall on his way into the tunnel, breaking his rear suspension, and Nelson Piquet lose a rear wing also at Sainte Devote, littering the track with debris.
Following the session Lewis Hamilton said: “I simply love Monaco and enjoy every single moment I get to spend on the track. The car felt great almost immediately and I was able to show a good pace from the very beginning.
“As the circuit evolved throughout both practice sessions we made some good progress with both the set-up and tyre evaluation. I spent the first session on the same set of tyres.
“There is a long way to go, but I enjoy this so much and we will work hard to continue making progress.”
McLaren team principal Ron Dennis added: “Two uneventful practice sessions which is always the best start to a Monaco Grand Prix weekend.
“We made good progress with both cars and evaluated the tyre options. There is still some work to do but we are looking forward to the weekend and will continue to work hard to add another victory to our 14 Monaco race wins.
“However it’s not going to be easy as our competition is strong, and the weather might make things more unpredictable.”
For Honda Jenson Button said: “We have a lot of useful information from the two sessions today, however, as always, there is still work to do.
“We are not quite where we would like to be yet, and as qualifying does not take place until Saturday, I have plenty of time to work with the engineers.
“I’m confident that we will be in a good position for qualifying and also well prepared for any changes in the weather conditions.”
Steve Clark, head of race and test engineering, added: “It is never wise to be over-confident at Monaco as there are so many variables affecting the race outcome.
“From a performance point of view we are hopeful of getting into the points on merit. There is a chance of rain on Saturday and Sunday which at this track amounts to a big roll of the dice.
“We will be looking to take advantage of any opportunity to move further up the field.”
For Red Bull David Coulthard said: “I lost some track time this morning with a throttle actuator problem and it’s never good to miss out on any track time, especially here in Monaco.
“It meant we had to adjust our programme for this afternoon, to make sure I got more laps in and got myself back up to speed. I think I’ve recovered reasonably well, but in Monaco, the time you have the most knowledge of the track is on the last of the 78 laps on Sunday afternoon.
“So, not the best of starts, but I think we are now in good shape for the rest of the weekend.”
Practice 2 times:
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 1:15.140 (40 laps)
- Nico Rosberg, Williams: 1:15.533 (39 laps)
- Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: 1:15.572 (42 laps)
- Felipe Massa, Ferrari: 1:15.869 (37 laps)
- Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren: 1:15.881 (39 laps)
- Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber: 1:16.296 (34 laps)
- Fernando Alonso, Renault: 1:16.310 (27 laps)
- Jenson Button, Honda: 1:16.351 (45 laps)
- Kazuki Nakajima, Williams: 1:16.372 (40 laps)
- Rubens Barrichello, Honda: 1:16.418 (32 laps)
- Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber: 1:16.426 (44 laps)
- Timo Glock, Toyota: 1:16.688 (46 laps)
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: 1:17.094 (39 laps)
- David Coulthard, Red Bull: 1:17.131 (39 laps)
- Nelson A Piquet, Renault: 1:17.246 (35 laps)
- Giancarlo Fisichella, Force India: 1:17.251 (33 laps)
- Jarno Trulli, Toyota: 1:17.379 (28 laps)
- Sebastien Bourdais, Toro Rosso: 1:17.581 (38 laps)
- Adrian Sutil, Force India: 1:18.176 (31 laps)
- Sebastian Vettel, Toro Rosso: 1:18.225 (38 laps)
Practice 1 times:
- Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: 1:15.948 (26 laps)
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 1:16.216 (27 laps)
- Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren: 1:16.248 (28 laps)
- Felipe Massa, Ferrari: 1:16.292 (26 laps)
- Nico Rosberg, Williams: 1:16.653 (27 laps)
- Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber: 1:16.834 (23 laps)
- Fernando Alonso, Renault: 1:17.498 (25 laps)
- Rubens Barrichello, Honda: 1:17.511 (26 laps)
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: 1:17.798 (23 laps)
- Giancarlo Fisichella, Force India: 1:17.835 (26 laps)
- Timo Glock, Toyota: 1:17.942 (26 laps)
- Jenson Button, Honda: 1:18.153 (26 laps)
- Sebastien Bourdais, Toro Rosso: 1:18.245 (30 laps)
- Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber: 1:18.263 (13 laps)
- Kazuki Nakajima, Williams: 1:18.274 (28 laps)
- Jarno Trulli, Toyota: 1:18.360 (16 laps)
- Adrian Sutil, Force India: 1:18.360 (25 laps)
- Nelson A Piquet, Renault: 1:18.955 (32 laps)
- Sebastian Vettel, Toro Rosso: 1:19.176 (35 laps)
- David Coulthard, Red Bull: No time (3 laps)