Mercedes still surprised by advantage
Mercedes are going into this weekend set to dominate qualifying, following the strong performance in Thursday’s practice. The German manufacturer set the pace, with Lewis Hamilton being within three tenths of a second of Monaco’s fastest-ever lap of 1:10.810.
In the ninety year history of the race no driver has got below the seventy second mark. Mercedes has already broken the track record which was set by Daniel Ricciardo last year, and going faster than they managed last year. Hamilton told Sky Sport, “Every year we come back here, it gets faster and you really notice it when you’re going past the barriers.
“Coming into Turn 12, you carry so much speed into that corner, and then there’s just the wall in front of you; going up the hill to Casino it’s the same thing. It’s incredibly intense out there and you have to be so focused.”
Although Mercedes have dominated and finished first and second in every race so far this season, Hamilton admitted he was still “surprised” to see a margin of seven-tenths of a second over Ferrari and Red Bull in second practice.
He said he wasn’t sure where the time was coming from, but believed wherever the time was coming from it was giving them a performance advantage was coming from. But, qualifying is going to be the craziest and most important of the year.
Mercedes trackside engineering director, Andrew Shovlin admits the tyres are the biggest concern. He added “Getting the soft tyre to work on the first lap; our headline times were good today but it took us a lot of laps to get there and qualifying is so important at this track”
Looking to follow Chiron
Charles Leclerc heads into the weekend looking to follow in the footsteps of Louis Chiron and become the first Monegasque to win his home Grand Prix since 1931 and the first since F1 began in 1950.
Although Chiron stood on the podium in 1950, no Monacan has taken higher than third. This weekend, the twenty-one year old who has made a terrific start Ferrari career will achieve his dream of racing for Ferrari at the most prestigious race of the season.
Leclerc reminded the media, “My first memory of the Grand Prix, I was probably about four, something like this. I always kept this image in my head: I was at a friend’s apartment, out of turn one, playing with the small (toy) cars, watching the Grand Prix at the same time. I think Michael (Schumacher) was at Ferrari.”
“(I was) obviously watching the red cars more than the others and yeah, just enjoying and dreaming of being there one day.” Leclerc was robbed arguably of the win from pole in Bahrain when being hampered by an engine issue in a commanding victory.
However, the last two Grand Prix weekends in Monte Carlo have been cruel, forced to retire while leading the F2 race and crashing out of his first F1 race in Monaco last year.
Boyhood hero Ayrton Senna, holds the record with six wins, including five in a row between 1989 and 1993.
As a boy, Leclerc travelled to school on those same streets where he now stares out from posters advertising the race. The principality is still very much home rather than just a place for millionaires to live.
Leclerc was not wealthy, born in Monaco but his family are natives. A win for him would mean a lot after his fathers death in June 2017 and his god father Jules Bianchi, who died from injuries at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.
Asked how fame had impacted his life, he said “To be honest, I think there are drivers more famous than me living in Monaco. It’s great to have a weekend at home. It’s a city that I’ve been growing up in and it’s a huge honour for me to be driving in these streets.”
Ninety years since the first Grand Prix in Monte Carlo, can Leclerc become the first Monegasque to win in eighty eight years?
Ferrari admits it needs fixes soon
Ferrari’s team principal Mattia Binotto says that the team must address the short comings “very soon” to avoid its 2020 car suffering the same performance shortfall as this year’s.
After a promising start to pre-season, Ferrari’s challenge faltered immediately in the season opener, and it has yet to score a victory after five races. While Mercedes are now nearly a hundred points ahead, Ferrari are still searching for consistent performance to allow it to challenge for wins.
Binotto told Motorsport.com, “The  project has been started for many weeks and months. We’re already developing for next year. By summertime the project is normally quite ahead already.”
“I think if there is anything that needs to be addressed for next year it needs to be done very soon as well. We are working in parallel on this year’s project because we need to improve and there is much to learn.” He says what ever they do will benefit next years car.
The goal remains the same the team is looking to develop the car and optimising it race by race. Binotto says they need to show they are developing and improving the concept.
The extent of Ferrari’s problems was exposed by the previous race in Spain, where Mercedes dominated and Ferrari was well adrift, particularly in slower corners.
Binotto believes Ferrari can improve by a similar challenge arrives at the French Grand Prix in late June but suggested it may need patience for bigger gains.
Albon fears rivals have more to come
Toro Rosso’s Alex Albon was one of the star performers in Thursdays practice when he managed to split the Red Bull’s with fifth place. While he admits that it was a good feeling, Albon admitted that he fears that the team’s rivals may have more to come.
Albon showed strong pace in last years F2 practice and took pole, however crashed out of the races. Yesterday, the British-Thai driver showed great pace getting within a second of the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, and was ahead of sister team’s Max Verstappen by two hundredths.
Speaking to F1.com, Albon said “It’s really fun out there and I like the track a lot. I think we got the car in the right window, now we just need to study what we’ve learnt from today, so we can fine-tune the car and get ready for Saturday.”
“We made a couple of adjustments for the afternoon session and I like how the car feels. We’re cautious that other teams will improve for Saturday but finishing in the top five is a nice feeling.”
Albon’s teammate Daniil Kvyat also appeared positive, despite not showing the same pace as his less experience rookie. However, today he is keen to find performance ahead of qualifying to try and catch his teammate.
He added “I think from my side today was quite good. We completed everything we had planned for the day, but I think there’s still something missing and there’s quite a bit of time left to find. We will work hard to understand what we can do to improve so we’re in the fight for Saturday.”
Chief race engineer Jonathan Eddolls believes that the care looks “competitive” for this weekend, while explaining that Kyvat struggled with the balance of the car and aborted his second run. However, the changes didn’t appear to work.
Eddolls said “The car is looking competitive here, as demonstrated by Alex, but there is work to do by the engineers tonight and tomorrow to give Daniil a car that suits him on Saturday. We are confident we will be able to make improvements and challenge in qualifying.”
Toro Rosso has good memories from last year, when Pierre Gasly drove his STR13 to seventh in the race. Another strong result here this year would be extremely welcome for the team, who currently ninth in the Constructors’ with only six points
Tomorrow the question going into qualifying is whether Mercedes can be beaten, they have had the edge throughout the season and the question is can Ferrari or Red Bull be able to fight for pole. This is, of course, the most important sessions of the year.
Teams need to be on the ball, as any mistake can catch teams and drivers out. Accidents can lead to yellow and red flags, that means all the teams will take a slightly different method using the banker. But this is a street circuit which means that it will get faster and faster throughout the session.
As ever, the midfield will again be tight and as teams push it could see some more surprises as we have seen all season. But the question is who can unlock the car!