RACE DEBRIEF

    It’s been a long wait, but Formula 1 is back in Monaco – and Ferrari are back at the top of the timesheets. The Scuderia’s one-two in FP2 on Thursday, and their improvement since Spain, surprised world championship leader Lewis Hamilton, though the Briton said he was delighted to welcome more competition to the sharp end of the grid.

    Hamilton, a Monaco resident and three-time winner of the race, clearly enjoyed his return to this revered street circuit, finishing fifth in FP1 and third in FP2 – a session in which he was eclipsed by some familiar rivals in red, as Ferrari topped the latter session with Charles Leclerc ahead of team mate Carlos Sainz.

    FP2: Home hero Leclerc heads shock Ferrari 1-2 in Monaco as Hamilton takes third

    The reigning champion said afterwards he was keeping an eye on Ferrari’s pace, but began by expressing his adoration for Monaco.

    “Everyone loves to drive here. Great day, I mean weather’s been great, feels really cool to be back on track,” began Hamilton. "It’s rapid, this track, it’s absolutely mesmerising every time you get the opportunity to drive, so I generally enjoyed today.

    "It’s a challenge, naturally – Ferraris look really strong – surprising to see them improve so much but that’s great. It means more competition.”

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    Ferrari topped FP2 and Sainz finished second in FP1 after Leclerc suffered a gearbox failure on Thursday morning

    Asked whether Ferrari are genuine contenders to crash the Mercedes-Red Bull party everyone is expecting in the Principality, Hamilton replied: “My guess is: I’m seeing what you’re seeing. I’m generally just focused on my job. It looks like it, so we’ll see.”

    As for his W12, Hamilton said he has work to do tonight and tomorrow to get the car's balance where he wants it, though he’s “generally really happy” with the Silver Arrow’s pace.

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    “Firstly, the car’s never, no matter where you go, wherever you are, the car never goes, or gives you everything you want. You’ve got to acclimatise,” he said.

    “There’s things that even from a driver’s point of view, you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do. You’re experimenting, you’re trying to dial your driving style in, knowing where you’ve got to push, where you’ve got to give a little bit to get some, and then you’ve got to work with the car.

    “The car is good, I think we’ve made some decent steps with the balance of the car and I’m generally really happy. I’ve got some changes I need to make this evening as we analyse today and it’s going to be close tomorrow.”

    Lewis Hamilton surprised 'to see Ferrari improve so much'

    Yet attention turned back to Ferrari as he pinpointed the Scuderia’s forte, in getting the softest Pirelli compounds up to temperature quickly.

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    “Ferrari particularly have in the past for whatever reason been very quick at getting temperatures in, same as Red Bull… so we’ve got some work to do,” said Hamilton. “The first two tyre compounds are quite close… in terms of, the hard tyre can go longer, it’s harder, but the soft tyre is quite a big step softer and it comes in a lot faster,” he explained.

    Mercedes may be leading the championship going into Monaco but the Principality throws up surprises every year, and it seems that this year, Ferrari are one of those surprises.