Lewis Hamilton was the quickest man as he pipped team-mate Nico Rosberg in the opening practice session for the Monaco Grand Prix.
The Mercedes drivers lead for much of the 90-minutes as the Silver Arrows looked to assert their control at a circuit some believe could see their dominance end.
Hamilton’s best of 1:18.271 was just .032 quicker than Rosberg with Daniel Ricciardo, who was again the fastest Red Bull, was less than a quarter of a second behind the two Mercedes in third as Fernando Alonso took fourth for Ferrari.
Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen were fifth and sixth respectively, both around half a second off their team-mates.
Valtteri Bottas was again easily quicker than Felipe Massa in the Williams as the two Force India’s and Kevin Magnussen’s McLaren also made the top ten.
Under overcast skies and quite cool temperatures the opening half an hour saw plenty of running as driver adjusted to the unique challenge of the Monaco street circuit, a new road surface in the middle sector has also caused a stir with drivers struggling to get the heat into the soft compound which is the harder tyre Pirelli have brought.
Certainly the new power units, with increased torque, allied to the drop in overall downforce made for a much increased challenge for the drivers compared to recent years, however, as more rubber is laid down the level of grip should quickly increase.
Indeed such was the level of track development that the drivers times dropped by six seconds from the first initial times to those set with fresher tyres around halfway through the session.
A common theme throughout the session was lock-ups at the big braking zones, the new brake-by-wire systems have caused some teams headaches in the first five races and slight inconsistencies were apparent again as some drivers struggled to slow down into Ste Devote, the Nouvelle Chicane and into the Rasscasse.
It appeared the session may go off without a driver hitting the barriers, however, those hopes were dashed as Adrian Sutil lost the rear under braking and crashed on the exit of Mirebeau, Max Chilton and Fernando Alonso also had moments at the same corner though avoided contact. Sutil’s Sauber team-mate Esteban Gutierrez completed a poor session for the Swiss team with an excursion into the escape road at Ste Devote.
As the session wore on some drivers opted to do longer runs on the soft tyres as there is an increasing threat of rain in the afternoon, indeed as the session was ending darker clouds were already seen approaching over the surrounding hills.
With that possibility and the likelihood of a dry weekend then the morning practice could be the most meaningful running of the day and in that case it seems Mercedes remain the team to beat, but as predicted Ferrari and Red Bull cannot be rules out.
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