Can Red Bull secure their first pole of the season in Monaco? The early signs are certainly positive, with Daniel Ricciardo edging team mate Max Verstappen in the opening practice session on Thursday, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was three tenths behind the pace-setter.
FP1: Ricciardo leads Red Bull one-two in Monaco
It was an impressive early showing from Red Bull in Monte Carlo, with their two drivers mastering this tricky street circuit on Pirelli's new hypersoft tyres. Sebastian Vettel was the quickest Ferrari in fourth, just ahead of team mate Kimi Raikkonen, and it was another strong performance from Renault’s Carlos Sainz, who came home sixth.
The other Silver Arrow of Valtteri Bottas had to settle for seventh, with Force India’s Sergio Perez winning the battle for eighth ahead of Romain Grosjean in the Haas. Sergey Sirotkin - rock bottom of the drivers' standings with no points - has had a difficult start to his maiden Formula 1 season, but will be boosted by his P10 for struggling Williams.
The teams didn’t waste any time to get going at the iconic Circuit de Monaco, with the drivers heading out on all three different tyre types, including for the first time at a race weekend, the pink-marked hypersoft compound.
It was on those tyres that Red Bull and Ferrari started the session, while Mercedes – winners of the last two races in Spain and Azerbaijan – opted for the ultrasofts, and it was Bottas who set the first timed lap of FP1.
There is no margin for error at this tight and twisty track, and Williams’ Sirotkin found that out the hard way. The Russian kissed the wall on the home straight and limped back to the pits with a flat tyre - and Grosjean later had a similar impact with a barrier, but escaped without any damage.
Red Bull were the team on top during the opening 40 minutes, before Mercedes showed their hand after bolting the hypersofts – which in testing have been around a second a lap quicker than the ultrasofts – on both cars.
And it was Hamilton who was first to give a glimpse of their potential pace on the softest tyres this weekend, the Briton just three-tenths slower than last year’s pole time of 1m 12.178s. So what about Ferrari? They were going about their business quietly at this stage.
It certainly wasn’t a quiet session for Verstappen. The Dutchman later regained top spot and then suffered a huge lock-up heading into Turn 1. He escaped down the run-off area and avoided any damage to his Red Bull, but is under investigation by the stewards after reversing back on to the circuit.
With the hypersofts getting their first run-out here, the times are expected to tumble all weekend and Ricciardo eventually went quickest with a superb 1m 12.126s - faster than Raikkonen’s pole here in 2017.
The rest of the session was without major incident. Renault, currently fourth in the constructors’ standings, were once again ahead of their middle-order rivals, with Sainz leading that charge. Kevin Magnussen, meanwhile, struggled with a connector issue on his Haas and finished bottom of the pile with just seven laps on the board.
Little can be taken from FP1, with teams adjusting their set-ups throughout the session, but the early signs are certainly positive for Red Bull. Their title rivals Mercedes and Ferrari both predicted Verstappen and Ricciardo would be quick here in Monaco, and they didn’t disappoint.
Can they come up with the goods again in FP2? We’ll soon find out…