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Formula 1

Mark Hughes: Is Ferrari already untouchable in Monaco?

by Mark Hughes
5 min read

A competitive picture as uncertain as the weather emerged on Monaco Friday.

The inevitable heavy traffic of Monaco muddied the long-run waters, but over a single lap Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari was in scintillating form as Red Bull apparently struggled with its set-up again, just as at Friday Imola.

But Leclerc was despondent about his long run pace on the slow-down lap at the end of his eight-lap run.

However, he was taking his reading of that from the times team-mate Carlos Sainz was logging.

Sainz was the pace-setter in the long runs but seemed surprised at the news, as he feels there’s still much work to do in finessing the Ferrari.

The difference between the two Ferraris was probably no more than Leclerc having suffered some graining of the front tyres. This is very much the standard limitation here and it caught out both McLaren drivers on their long runs as well as Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. George Russell abandoned his long run because of a steering vibration which was steadily worsening.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, F1

Both Red Bull drivers were complaining about the car’s behaviour over the bumps and kerbs and although some of the single-lap deficit Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez suffered appeared to be down to lower engine modes than the Ferrari and Mercedes units, the RB20 was visibly something of a handful, Verstappen complaining at one point that it was, “bouncing like a kangaroo" and giving him "a headache".

Perez experimented with softer roll stiffness but remained unhappy with the car’s ride.

Later Verstappen summarised the problems as follows: “It's just very difficult.

"It's not something that I didn't expect, but it's definitely at, I'd say, the higher end of the worst-possible outcome of the weekend so far. There are a lot of bumps and kerbs and camber changes as well on the track, and for us that is basically impossible to take.

"Every time we go over it, we lose a lot of laptime just because the car doesn't ride it well and that's definitely hampering us at the moment to go faster.”

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, F1

“I think it’s going to be tough,” said Checo. “Our limitations are hard to get away from at the moment. We’ll see what we’re able to come up with tonight.

"We ran with the two cars slightly different, I don’t know what the issues for Max were, but there are plenty of things. The long-run pace seems to be better [than the single lap] but…

“I think Ferrari, at the moment, are just not reachable, they look really, really strong. Whenever they need the lap, they just put it on really easy, really quick and that’s something that is quite a benefit around this place.”

Verstappen concurred, describing Ferrari as being "miles ahead".

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari, F1

A standard one-stopping Monaco, starting on the medium, switching to the hard, is what is in store (weather permitting, as always at Monaco). As such, almost everyone conducted their long runs on the medium. It’s expected to be the quicker tyre even over a race stint - and, as such, the longer you can stay on it before it becomes lifeless, the better your potential race strategy.

The exception to the long-run pattern was Verstappen who conducted his on the hard. His stint average was almost identical to that of Perez on the medium at around 0.5s adrift of Sainz. But with the McLarens and Mercs also suffering their problems, they had the third- and fourth-fastest long-run times behind the Ferraris.

Doubtless Liam Lawson back at Milton Keynes will be busy tonight on the Red Bull simulator, as Sebastien Buemi and Jake Dennis are on Formula E duty in Shanghai. Verstappen is not optimistic that there is a solution to the car’s limitations here but with a likely more compliant set-up and the power unit turned up it would be a major surprise of Verstappen is not way more competitive tomorrow.

Yet, as things stood on Friday the Ferrari was a much more compliant and agile performer arounds the tight, bumpy track.

Oscar Piastri, McLaren, F1

The McLarens ran a single set of softs each over the two practice sessions. So Lando Norris’ fifth-fastest time – which was made on a used set – and Oscar Piastri’s P12 (on a set of mediums) are not in any way representative. Whether they have Ferrari-threatening pace within them is going to be intriguing.

McLaren’s low-key practice approach may be flattering the position of Hamilton in P2 over the single lap in FP2 (having gone fastest in FP1).

Both Hamilton and George Russell were reporting that the car’s balance is pretty good, way better than last year, and that its ride is not bad. But putting that FP1-heading time into perspective, it came in a session in which neither Ferrari driver ran the soft tyre. On both the hard and the medium tyre, the Ferraris were 1-2, with Leclerc’s advantage over the non-Ferraris 0.8s on the hard and 0.6s on the medium.

Although he was only 0.2s clear of Hamilton on the softs in FP2, Hamilton did his lap later in the session when the track was significantly quicker. This also flattered the time of Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin, third-fastest, but nowhere in the long runs.

Long-run averages

1. Sainz - 1m15.38s (6 laps)
2. Leclerc - 1m 15.74s (8 laps)
3. Perez - 1m15.81s (6 laps)
4. Verstappen - 1m15.87s (9 laps)*
5. Piastri - 1m15.87s (11 laps)
6. Norris - 1m16.24s (12 laps)
7. Tsunoda - 1m16.37s (8 laps)
8. Russell - 1m16.51s (4 laps)
9. Hamilton - 1m16.80s (10 laps)
10. Alonso - 1m16.94s (9 laps)

* Verstappen on hards, everyone else on mediums

Single-lap pace

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