McLaren's Fernando Alonso ruled the roost on Thursday at Monte Carlo, setting the best time of the day with a 1:15.940 in the afternoon practice for the Monaco Grand Prix. The world champion was fractionally over a second quicker than his own top...
McLaren's Fernando Alonso ruled the roost on Thursday at Monte Carlo, setting the best time of the day with a 1:15.940 in the afternoon practice for the Monaco Grand Prix. The world champion was fractionally over a second quicker than his own top time in the morning. There were several incidents in the afternoon which bought out yellow flags, and one red, but no more serious than bruised egos and dented cars.
One such incident was Alonso's teammate Lewis Hamilton. Nearly an hour into the session Hamilton hit the barriers at Ste Devote in a fairly heavy impact but he was unharmed. Up until then McLaren held a one-two at the top of the times but ultimately Hamilton's pace was good enough that he only dropped to third at the end, despite playing no further part in the proceedings.
"We made good progress and the car feels good," said Alonso. "Monaco is a unique circuit with the close barriers and also traffic -- it's very easy to get a flying lap ruined, but that is the challenge for everybody. I think we are in good shape, and with some more fine tuning during Saturday morning practice we are definitely looking forward to a competitive weekend."
Hamilton was contrite about his error. "I'm obviously sorry as there will be a bit of work for the guys but until then everything had been going smoothly, and we were able to set some competitive lap times. I had a very small braking error coming into St. Devote, and the tyres hadn't built up enough grip so I made a tiny mistake, and the back of the car slipped a little and that was it - there is just no room for error in Monaco."
In between the two Silver Arrows was the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, two and three quarter tenths off Alonso. Felipe Massa was sixth but, as in the morning session, had been closer to the top until late improvements by other dropped him down a bit. Neither Ferrari driver made the top of the times in this session but, despite McLaren's dominance, we're not likely to see the Scuderia's true pace until tomorrow.
"We have found a good balance on the car right from the morning session and we have completed all the programme we had planned for the day," said Raikkonen. "As usual, it is too early to draw conclusions as to how the rest of the weekend will go, because we don't know what our closest rivals have done and also because the track conditions change a lot from Thursday to Saturday. All in all, a good start to the weekend."
Toyota's Jarno Trulli put in a quick lap late on that put him up to fourth but teammate Ralf Schumacher was down in 20th. Right at the end Schumacher bought out the yellow flags when he hit the barrier at the exit of the swimming pool but it was pretty much session over by then anyway. Giancarlo Fisichella had a good afternoon to finish fifth but, like Toyota, it was mixed results for Renault as Heikki Kovalainen was 17th.
BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica had been arguing over the top spot with Hamilton early on and he finally finished seventh. The second BMW of Nick Heidfeld reportedly suffered fuel pressure problems and his end result was 14th. Nico Rosberg put his Williams in the top 10 again, eighth, while Alex Wurz was quite a few places behind in 15th.
Both Red Bulls made the top half of the field, Mark Webber ninth and David Coulthard 10th. The Scot had an off at the hairpin late in the first hour but managed to get it back to the pits. The Hondas followed on in formation, Rubens Barrichello 11th and Jenson Button 12th, all of them more or less around one and a half seconds off the lead pace and very little between them.
Super Aguri's Takuma Sato was also in the same group, 13th and just two thousandths off Button's time. Anthony Davidson, 19th, was one of the retirees when his Super Aguri went into the barrier at Ste Devote just minutes before Hamilton did. The Toro Rossos slipped down the order a little from the morning session and ended with Tonio Liuzzi 16th and Scott Speed 18th, about three tenths between them.
Spyker, as usual, was at the back, Christijan Albers 21st and Adrian Sutil 22nd. Albers was the culprit who bought out the red flag in the morning when his car stopped on track at Tabac, and this time around it was Sutil's turn to see red. His Spyker hit the barrier at Portier in the last half hour and caused the session to be stopped for a few minutes while it was cleared. As with the rest, Sutil was unhurt.
Monaco is often described as a lottery but even with only 22 players it's hard to see who has the winning ticket. McLaren, certainly so far, looks to have the edge over its rivals but Ferrari won't be far behind. If you think back to Spain it was the same story there; McLaren was dominant in practice then Massa nipped in and snatched pole from Alonso in qualifying, albeit by a very narrow margin.
Red Bull looked pretty handy -- don't forget Coulthard was on the podium here last year -- but the rest didn't have very consistent results. There's no track action on Friday so we're going to have to wait until Saturday to see if McLaren can keep the top spot right through to pole position. Final top eight classification: Alonso, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Trulli, Fisichella, Massa, Kubica, Rosberg.