The first free practice session of the 80th Formula 1 Grand Prix de Monaco lived up to all its promises, with a great battle at the top of the timesheets, in front of a large and delighted audience.
Ferrari got the ball rolling with the two fastest times at the start of the session, thanks to Carlos Sainz and local hero Charles Leclerc. The relay was then taken, temporarily, by two multiple world champions, Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) and Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes). In the end, Sainz Jr regained the lead and held on to it, much to the delight of the numerous tifosi, under the benevolent gaze of his father, a two-time world rally champion.
Red Bull Racing, which has just racked up five wins and four 1-2s in five races (Verstappen 3 – Pérez 2), remained in the background, probably hiding its game in anticipation of Saturday’s eagerly-awaited qualifying session. Two-time reigning world champion Max Verstappen finished 6th in this first of three free practice sessions, behind team-mate Sergio Pérez (4th). The session was brought to a premature end five minutes too early following Alex Albon’s heavy touch at the exit of Sainte-Dévote.
The Thai driver lost the rear end of his Williams and tore off the entire left-hand side of his blue car, while in possession of the 10th provisional time – a very encouraging performance for the English team. The ACM stewards, as efficient as ever, evacuated the car within minutes. The team’s mechanics now had their work cut out before the next session, scheduled for 5:00 pm.
Both Ferrari drivers in the Top 5, Sainz and Leclerc (5th), and both F1 legends, Alonso (2nd) and Hamilton (3rd), showed that they were happy to be back on one of their favourite playing fields. We may have to reckon with them in qualifying on Saturday, especially if the Aston Martin performs as well as it has on previous circuits this season (4 podiums in 5 races) and if the Mercedes is more efficient with its brand new sidepods. Next F1 free practice session is scheduled from 5:00 pm.