Leclerc edges Hamilton in Monaco practice, Verstappen fourth

The Ferrari driver was fast throughout the day clocking best lap in one minute and 11.278 seconds

AFP May 25, 2024
UNSTOPPABLE: Charles Leclerc was quickest in practice at his home Grand Prix. Photo: AFP


Home hero Charles Leclerc topped the times for Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton declared his Mercedes gave him his best day in two years after the pair dominated Friday's opening practice for this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix.

The 26-year-old Monegasque driver was fast throughout the day as he clocked a best lap in one minute and 11.278 seconds to finish 0.188 seconds clear of Hamilton, who was fastest in the opening session earlier in the day.

"All in all, we've had a good day and I am feeling confident in the car which is important here for tomorrow and for qualifying," said Leclerc.

"I pushed hard and I think more risk paid off, but in qualifying we will all be on the limit.

"Till now, we have done a good job, but we have to keep working, stay focused... it's been a positive first day."

He added that the form of Hamilton, who will join him at Ferrari next year, was strong.

"Lewis has been on it all day today so we have to maximise here and take pole," he said.

"I have had two poles in the past, but without converting them into a result."

Hamilton looked equally satisfied with his opening efforts on a day when Monaco's capricious micro-climate had threatened rain.

"It's been a good day," beamed Hamilton. "Definitely the best we've had on track and the car feels really positive.

"I'm enjoying driving the car and the track is amazing.

"The grip is quite good and though we have some challenges with the balance to fix overnight, it's looking strong. It's the best it's been here for more than two years."

Fernando Alonso was third for Aston Martin, like Hamilton showing his experience with a rejuvenated performance around the merciless barrier-lined Mediterranean street circuit.

Championship leader Verstappen was only fourth, half a second adrift of Leclerc, who has yet to claim a podium finish on the roads he knows so well, proving his fears that Red Bull might struggle.

"I'm jumping like a kangaroo and getting headaches," complained the Dutchman.

"It's not easy to see a solution. I don't think we can improve much for tomorrow."

Lando Norris, winner of his maiden F1 race in Miami three weeks ago, was fifth for McLaren ahead of Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari, Lance Stroll in the second Aston Martin and Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull.

A lively Alex Albon was ninth for the improving Williams team and George Russell 10th in the second Mercedes, ending the session complaining of steering problems, but buoyed like Hamilton by his car's performance with their latest upgrades.

"We know how quickly everything changes, but definitely today's been one of our best Fridays," he said.

"No doubt. That car's feeling the best I've ever felt around Monaco. So, lots of positives."

Earlier in the day Hamilton had joked that it would be easier for him to learn Italian, ahead of his switch to Ferrari next year, than to claim a podium finish in Monaco, where he has won three times and is regarded as an expert.

By the end, he was grinning with anticipation and filled with hope.


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