RACE DEBRIEF

    Daniel Ricciardo is in the mood to impress in Monaco this weekend, with the Red Bull star setting a new track record in the afternoon's practice session to top the timesheet for the second time on Thursday. His team mate Max Verstappen was two-tenths back, while the nearest challenger in a rival car, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, was over half a second off the pace.

    Lewis Hamilton, who was the leading Mercedes in fourth, spoke of Red Bull’s race-winning potential during Wednesday’s press conference, and they certainly demonstrated their pace in Monte Carlo by following up on their one-two in FP1 with another hugely confident-looking 90 minutes of running.

    Raikkonen came home fifth for Ferrari - 0.702s behind Ricciardo - closely followed by his fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes. Renault were the fourth quickest team in the day’s first session and they repeated those exploits in FP2, although it was Nico Hulkenberg - and not Carlos Sainz – who came home seventh.

    Sainz had to settle for tenth, trailing the McLaren pair of Stoffel Vandoorne and ninth-placed Fernando Alonso, who was able to get in a healthy 42 laps after his MCL33 suffered a brake-by-wire issue in FP1 - restricting him to just 16 laps.

    As in FP1, there was a mixture of tactics on show in the early stages of this session. Mercedes split their strategy, sending Hamilton out on the supersoft tyres and Bottas on the purple-marked ultrasoft compound, which the two Ferraris also started on, while the Red Bull pair were on the hypersofts.

    Red Bull were in charge in the opening session, and they set out to stamp their authority on FP2 with the Prancing Horse of Vettel splitting early pace-setter Verstappen and Ricciardo. The drivers were looking to build momentum but were temporarily forced back to the pits when the red flag was brought out to allow for repair work to be carried out on a drain cover between Turn 4 and Turn 5.

    When the action resumed, traffic was proving to be a problem on this tight and twisty circuit. Ferrari’s Raikkonen was among the drivers to improve on his first two sectors, but a slow-moving rival stopped him in his path – with Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin not proving popular with the Finn.

    At this stage, Verstappen was keeping his nose clean. That was, however, until he slowed right down on his approach to the hairpin in order to let Grosjean past, and despite the best efforts of both drivers, they had a very minor coming together.

    Despite Verstappen’s wing making contact with Grosjean’s rear tyre, there was no damage to either car, and the Dutchman was able to jump back to the top of the leaderboard after Vettel, only fourth fastest in FP1, temporarily set the quickest time.

    With all the top three teams running on the new hypersoft tyres, could Mercedes or Ferrari better Red Bull’s pace? They were trying, but then Ricciardo popped up with a superb 1m 11.841s to move into the lead. And neither rival could get ahead of the charging Red Bull pair, with the Australian pipping his team mate for the second time on Thursday.

    This time it was Ferrari who were Red Bull’s closest challengers, but a 0.572s gap between Vettel and Ricciardo suggests they have some catching up to do in FP3, as do Mercedes.

    In the middle of the field, Renault had an impressive afternoon and McLaren enjoyed a better 90 minutes - but Haas endured an underwhelming session, with their drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean coming home in 16th and 18th respectively.

    Where does it leave us heading into Saturday? Red Bull seem on track for their first pole position of the season – but expect Mercedes and Ferrari to have something to say...

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