Sebastian Vettel was all smiles this afternoon when he became the first – and so far the only – man to drive a new-generation F1 car around the streets of Monte Carlo in fewer than 73 seconds. And the fact that he and Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen were first and third, and the Mercedes of the morning’s fastest man Lewis Hamilton and his team-mate Valtteri Bottas were only eighth and tenth was an indication that some things were awry in the second session of practice for the Monaco Grand Prix.
A red flag triggered after Canadian rookie Lance Stroll had crashed his Williams going into Casino Square as the one-hour mark neared, was in some measure a factor in Mercedes’ unhappy afternoon.
Up to that point Vettel had set the pace, first with a lap of 1m 12.759s, which displaced 2016 polesitter Daniel Ricciardo who had taken his Red Bull round in m 13.280s, then with 1m 12.720s.
Mercedes had elected to run the supersoft Pirelli tyres initially, as their rivals went for the faster ultrasofts. They had changed over just before the stoppage, and been unable to go faster, and when the session resumed there was so much traffic as others had gone in the opposite direction and were running on the supersofts in race simulations, that neither Hamilton nor Bottas got a chance to improve. It’s debatable, however, whether they could have even with that rarest of Monegasque occurrences – a clear track.
“I don’t understand it,” Hamilton admitted, having been 0.196s faster than Vettel in the morning’s cooler conditions. As the ambient and track temperatures rose in the afternoon, it seems they stole some of the Mercedes’ grip.
“P1 was really good, the car was feeling great,” Hamilton continued. “Then there was a night and day difference, black and white, in P2. We couldn’t work the tyres for some reason, there was a lot of sliding about.
“Now we have a lot of studying to do to find out where we went wrong, but I’m confident in my guys. I…