Leclerc tops second Monaco GP practice as Verstappen struggles

24 May 2024 - 19:34
By Reuters
Leclerc showed an impressive pace with a best time of 1:11.278 on the soft tyres.
Image: Hasan Bratic/Anadolu via Getty Images Leclerc showed an impressive pace with a best time of 1:11.278 on the soft tyres.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc raised hopes of a first home podium appearance after setting the fastest lap in practice for Formula One's showcase Monaco Grand Prix on Friday.

The local favourite, who has twice been on pole position in Monaco without securing a top three finish, showed an impressive pace with a best time of 1:11.278 on the soft tyres.

Mercedes' seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, a three-time winner in the principality that is now also his home, was surprisingly quickest in practice one with a time of 1:12.169 and second in the later session, 0.188 slower.

Monaco has not had a home-grown race winner since Louis Chiron, whose bust now gazes out over the swimming pool section of the harbourside circuit, drove his Bugatti to victory in 1931.

The race, steeped in history and glamour but the slowest on the calendar with little overtaking, is often processional and Saturday's qualifying session will be of crucial importance.

Mercedes had a strong first session, with McLaren's Oscar Piastri sandwiched between Hamilton and George Russell.

Hamilton, Formula One's most successful driver but without a win since 2021, had sounded gloomy earlier about his podium prospects.

Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso, another past Monaco winner, was third fastest in the later session ahead of Red Bull's runaway championship leader Max Verstappen and McLaren's Lando Norris with Ferrari's Carlos Sainz sixth.

Verstappen, winner of five of the seven races so far and on pole in all of them, had several scrapes and brushes with the barriers and was only 11th in practice one.

“The car is so loose on the bumps. Any interaction with engine braking or brake bias, it's just making it all worse,” he said over the radio then.

He grazed the wall again at Portier in second practice and his comments suggested he was still having a hard time wrestling the car around.

“I'm jumping like a kangaroo, man! I'm getting headaches. It's crazy,” he said.

Team mate Sergio Perez suffered a puncture and was 12th fastest in practice one and also struggling later on, finishing eighth fastest.

“The ride is horrendous,” said the Mexican.

RB's Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo lapped eighth and ninth fastest respectively in practice one but dropped back in the second, with Williams' Alex Albon ninth and Russell only 10th.

Red flags were waved with 15 minutes remaining in the first session when Sauber's Guanyu Zhou clipped the tyre wall and scattered debris on the track, with Leclerc running over some of it and damaging his Ferrari.

Verstappen leads Leclerc by 48 points after winning five of seven races this year.

The Dutch driver won in Monaco last year and has qualified on pole for a record-equalling eight races in a row.