Mercedes remain in form
Mercedes have made a good start in Thursday practice for this weekends race, topping both of the practice sessions. We know that the team has had the pace this season and we expected that this would be a difficult one as they have struggled to hock it up in recent years.
In FP1 they had half a second over Max Verstappen in second and in FP2 the gap to Ferrari grew to seven tenths. Mercedes has performed well all season, and we knew it was likely at the top end but we expected that the low-speed high downforce circuits would bring Ferrari and Red Bull closer.
But watching the sessions, it appeared as if the car had good downforce and that the handling of the car it looks to be giving them the grip and performance they need this weekend. We knew Mercedes has been quick in the corners and that’s where the speed is coming from, as there are no real straights in Monaco.
Hamilton’s gap to Bottas decreased from hundredths to thousandths in FP2, and Red Bull are looking as if they will be a big challenger to Mercedes this weekend. This is, of course, a race which is about grip and downforce, where Red Bull has the edge over Ferrari.
However, the team admitted that tyre warm-up will be a “concern”
Speaking to the media, chief race engineer Andrew Shovlin said after Thursday practice that the W10 was taking too long to get the tyres in an optimal state for a flying lap.
He said, “We still seemed to have problems getting lap one out of the soft, despite the hotter track temperatures in the afternoon. Our number one concern is 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.”
This weekend was again billed as the race where Ferrari could come back, however again Ferrari struggled to get close and went backwards. In FP2 they were over half a second off and as Red Bull went backwards, it should again be a race on paper were Ferrari are fighting Mercedes.
Ferrari has been a huge underperformer, we were hoping that this was the weekend where Mercedes was under pressure. But again they haven’t come out the box fighting, the team I believe unless there is a major failure at Mercedes are unlikely to challenge this weekend.
You need to ask, how much more can the team take before heads start to roll? I think that unless they find something soon this whole championship is dead if there isn’t something in Paul Ricard.
Verstappen loses track time
Max Verstappen spent most of FP2 in the garage after suffering a radiator leak after hitting debris early in the session. The Dutchman lost track time while the damaged item was replaced, and having been second-fastest to Lewis Hamilton in the morning session.
He appeared to be Hamilton’s closest challenger, but despite the loss of time, Verstappen remains upbeat about his prospects. He said “It was OK, I think we’re still quick. In the second practice when everybody, of course, went onto their second set we had a radiator leak, some debris flew into the airbox and damaged one of the radiators, so we had to replace it. But in general, it’s alright.”
Verstappen managed to return to the track late in the session, having taken advantage of the enforced break to try a set-up change, which he flagged in a radio message as having cost him grip. He admitted that the setup changes will not be enough to challenge Mercedes.
He added “I don’t think we can really put the pressure on. I think if we can be third in qualifying, then we’re doing good. Of course, Mercedes is a bit too quick. We should definitely fill up the gap between second and third.”
Verstappen’s teammate Pierre Gasly had a good afternoon, splitting both the Ferrari’s with third place. He added “We can see that Ferrari, we’re in the fight with them, Mercedes is quite a long way ahead of us but we’ll have to work and see what we can extract on Saturday.”
“But think overall was a positive day, just a shame we could not get more running with Max, but I think we still have more performance to get out of the package we have on Saturday.”
Haas blacked radio
Both Haas drivers were at a centre of a black flag incident as the team found itself unable to communicate with drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen.
Twenty minutes into FP1, both drivers were black flagged which usually is only used in the race when drivers have been disqualified. There was no official explanation from the governing body about why the drivers had been summoned to the garage, it later emerged that the move came after the team lost contact with the duo.
Haas then asked the FIA to black flag the drivers after they were wanted back in the pits, after they failed to spot pit board messages, it approached the FIA for help.
A Haas spokesman said: “We can’t communicate with drivers. The FIA stepped in so we could get cars back to pits as pit boards weren’t doing the business.”
More Williams problems – Kubica
Robert Kubica says that practice has highlighted ”even more” problems making it tougher to push harder. The Polish driver was four seconds off the outright pace, while he was less than a tenth slower than teammate George Russell.
The grand prix winner, and two Monaco Grand Prix podium finisher, said the main positive was that his “opening laps were not too bad” despite not driving the circuit for nine years.
He added, “With the lack of grip we have and struggling with general downforce and general grip of the car, Monaco is not the easiest place to drive. Unfortunately, the feeling is not great, which was predicted. You hope for a good surprise, but there are no miracles.”
“When you lack general grip, in Monaco it highlights it even more, and this makes it even more difficult to push the car and to have enough confidence to be able to squeeze something from driving.”
Teammate Russell added that Williams was “probably slower than we wanted, and maybe what we expected” after appearing to make a step closer to the rest of the field at the previous race in Spain.
“Not a bad day, not a perfect day, not a Friday, but a day. We need to find a bit more to be at the front of the midfield #MonacoGP” Lando Norris, McLaren.
“I felt relatively comfortable in the morning and I was pleased that we got up to speed quite quickly. However, we didn’t make the step we needed in the afternoon.” Daniel Ricciardo, Renault.
“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.” Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso.
We will have plenty more news and analysis in a special F1 Today tomorrow evening ahead of qualifying.