This being Monaco, Friday practice wasn’t really much about the long runs.
These narrow streets offer such limited overtaking opportunities for Formula 1 cars that most of the crucial work will be done in qualifying.
So preparation for that was what everyone devoted most of their time to in the afternoon.
Ferrari, relative to Red Bull, is always at its best over a single lap – as suggested by its five poles from seven so far this year – but around the tight twists of Monaco that advantage was magnified.
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The 0.379s advantage of Charles Leclerc over the faster of the Red Bulls (Sergio Perez’s on this occasion) was absolutely representative. Carlos Sainz was nip and tick as fast as Leclerc.
Mercedes was relatively nowhere, suffering extreme bouncing which the team insists is purely a mechanical issue and unrelated to the aerodynamically-induced porpoising which was largely cured at the last race.
In fact it was Lando Norris’s McLaren which sneaked in behind the Ferraris and Red Bulls. The other McLaren was crashed by Daniel Ricciardo before he completed a lap, making his weekend a whole lot more difficult.
The tyre picture is quite clear in that the soft is handily faster over the lap but George Russell and Fernando Alonso did 21 and 22 laps respectively on a single set each, which with a set of mediums to get you to the end makes it an optimum one-stop.
Max Verstappen showed that it’s easy to over-cook the soft by pushing hard too early. He destroyed his set after four laps that were set at too hard an initial pace.
But the Monaco Grand Prix is never run at an aggressive early pace, so running the soft as the starting tyre shouldn’t necessarily be too much of a problem. In fact, it may even push teams further towards that, as using the more delicate soft as the second stint tyre would limit how hard you could push in trying to make any undercut attempt work.
Just why is the Ferrari advantage so apparently big around here? A look at the GPS traces between Leclerc and Verstappen shows much the same traits we talked about in the first race of the season, in Bahrain: namely that the Ferrari punches out of the slow corners harder.
It punches hard enough that going up the hill out of Ste Devote Leclerc gets into seventh gear, with the Red Bull still in sixth.
Even when they use the same gears, Leclerc is always able to upchange significantly earlier, even though the Red Bull is often slightly quicker at the apex of the corner.
Although this would be consistent with lower gearing in the Ferrari, it has also been speculated that its power unit has a smaller turbo than that of the Honda, helping it to better response for a given amount of electrical deployment.
If true, the power would then tail off more after an initially stronger burst and the harder compensating electrical deployment would then see it clipping earlier. Which would be consistent with the patterns of performance we have seen from the two cars this year. In Monaco the cars are not running at high speed for long enough to allow the Red Bull as much clawing back of the Ferrari’s initial punch.
Out of every significant acceleration zone, the Ferrari jumps a little further ahead of the Red Bull here. In addition to that, the Ferrari clearly has its tyres straight up to temperature by Turn 1, Ste Devote.
This is in contrast to Verstappen who was complaining of lack of grip into this turn to begin the lap. Like Ferrari, he experimented with a preparation lap before the flyer. He even tried two prep laps. The latter solved the Turn 1 problem but with a greater loss of time in the final sector. He reverted to a single prep lap before the flyer and had to live with Ste Devote not being ideal.
Through the super-twisty middle of the lap, from Mirabeau, through the hairpin and down to Portier, the Red Bull is faster. It has more low speed grip and there is not enough distance between the turns for the Ferrari’s better acceleration to overcome that.
But that isn’t enough for the Red Bull to overcome its deficit to the Ferrari incurred from the start of the lap up to Mirabeau. Through the tunnel and into the chicane the overall gap remains stable but in the short sector three from the exit of the swimming pool to the start/finish line, the Red Bull begins to lose significant time and it would seem that it has overheated its rear tyres by this point.
If it all plays out to such form in qualifying, a Ferrari front row from a Red Bull second row is strongly suggested. Then it’s all about track position.
Sainz’s pace looks strong enough that he might contend for pole – and things might get quite complicated on the Ferrari pitwall on Sunday if that is the case. Similarly, Perez – at a track at which he has always been fast – looks much more closely-matched to Verstappen than usual.
Mercedes? The belief is that the bouncing can be reduced enough by being less ambitious with ride height tomorrow and in such a case, it looks from the corner speeds in between the bumping that the car is capable of distancing itself from the mid pack.
“The stiffness of the car is extreme,” said Russell. “Around a bumpy street track not it’s not easy to put it on the limit.
“The Ferrari is really good over the kerbs – we saw that at Imola and it really helps them here. Our car is just smashing against the floor. But I think we can tame it. It’s not the same as the aero bouncing we had earlier in the season.
“I think best of the rest would be a fair result for this weekend – but we need to stop cheeky little Lando sneaking in there.”
Worth mentioning too, that Alfa Romeo was seriously under-represented by the limited running Valtteri Bottas got thanks to a broken MGU-k. A replacement of that and a precautionary gearbox change kept him in the garage for a frustrating amount of time at a track at which the car’s slow corner performance – and that Ferrari power unit – might be expected to make him fly.
There were a few token ‘long-runs’ at the end, but typically only for around three or four laps. That gave the picture in the table, for what it’s worth. For once, the low-fuel times carry far greater significance.
Practice 2 Results
|Pos||Name||Car||Best Time||Gap Leader|
|3||Sergio Pérez||Red Bull||1m13.035s||+0.379s|
|4||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1m13.103s||+0.447s|
|7||Pierre Gasly||AlphaTauri-Red Bull||1m13.636s||+0.98s|
|9||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin-Mercedes||1m14.059s||+1.403s|
|10||Yuki Tsunoda||AlphaTauri-Red Bull||1m14.134s||+1.478s|
|13||Valtteri Bottas||Alfa Romeo-Ferrari||1m14.468s||+1.812s|
|15||Guanyu Zhou||Alfa Romeo-Ferrari||1m14.525s||+1.869s|
|16||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin-Mercedes||1m14.623s||+1.967s|