until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

Leclerc the early Monaco GP favourite after practice

by Jack Cozens
3 min read

Charles Leclerc marked himself out as the Monaco Grand Prix weekend's early favourite with the fastest time in second practice.

Only a late effort from Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton came close to what Leclerc produced on the qualifying simulation runs in FP2, the Ferrari driver ending the session fastest by 0.188 seconds with a best time of 1m11.278s that is already faster than last year's pole position time.

But even that gap looked deceptive, not only because Hamilton set his time considerably later on in the session but also because Leclerc had gone faster in the first sector on a subsequent effort, only to bail out of that lap when he squirmed wide at Portier, having come across an Aston Martin out of the second part of Mirabeau.

Leclerc set the tone early on with an 11-lap run on mediums on which he set a best time of 1m11.573s that, at that point, put him almost a second clear of Hamilton.

Once the field had switched to softs, Fernando Alonso was the only other driver to initially get within half a second of the Ferrari - with Max Verstappen and Lando Norris fourth and fifth, 0.535s and 0.675s off Leclerc's pace respectively for the Red Bull and McLaren teams that pre-weekend were also being considered among the favourites alongside Ferrari.

Though the long runs were conducted in the final 20 minutes of the session and produced little in the way of conclusive results, Leclerc, Verstappen, Norris, his McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri and the second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz appeared a step ahead of the rest.

Hamilton's single-lap pace did not transfer as well to the long-run simulations but his Mercedes, which is not running the upgraded front wing that is on the sister car of George Russell this weekend, did appear comfortably faster than Alonso's Aston Martin.

Long-run pace is also far less indicative of the order in Monaco though, given qualifying largely dictates the race order, such is the lack of overtaking opportunities around the street circuit's tight confines.

Sainz was adrift of his team-mate Leclerc on single-lap pace, while Verstappen - who complained early in the session that his car was "jumping like a kangaroo" and was one of several drivers to graze the street circuit's barriers - appeared to have a similar edge on his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez.

He was eighth in FP2, behind Sainz and the second Aston Martin of Lance Stroll, reporting the ride of his RB20 was "horrendous" and that he could not see the apex of Massenet as he turned in to the left-hander at the top of the hill.

The top 10 was completed by Alex Albon (Williams) and Russell's Mercedes.

There was no repeat of the eye-catching single-lap pace Yuki Tsunoda displayed in practice at Imola one week ago, but the RB still looks in decent shape considering he was the fastest of five drivers who did no laps on softs.

Tsunoda was 11th, ahead of Piastri, and appeared competitive on long-run pace, too.

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