Monaco GP: Mercedes on for record pace, but can Max Verstappen figure?
The story so far in the Principality ahead of Saturday's return to F1 action; Qualifying at 2pm with build-up at 1pm on Sky Sports F1
By James Galloway in Monaco
Last Updated: 25/05/19 12:35pm
Mercedes are set to lead the charge for record lap times at the Monaco GP - but the world champions are not without their concerns despite dominating the opening day.
Thursday pacesetter Lewis Hamilton's quickest time of 1:11.118 was already within three tenths of a second of Monaco's fastest-ever lap of 1:10.810, set by Daniel Ricciardo in winning pole position last year.
The lap time improvement from P2 to the end of qualifying last year was one second.
No lap has ever broken the 70-second barrier in Monaco's F1 history.
"It would be great to see them go under 1:10 - the cars look amazingly fast," Sky F1's Anthony Davidson said. "And don't forget, these cars are around 250kg heavier than Ayrton Senna's car would have been back in the day and Senna had more engine power.
"It's really incredible. Yes, the track has changed - the Swimming Pool is faster, Rascasse is faster - but sector one is pretty much exactly the same."
Mercedes are already faster than they went in qualifying last year, when they were outpaced by both Red Bull and Ferrari.
"Every year we come back here, it gets faster and you really notice it when you're going past the barriers," Hamilton said. "Coming into Turn 12, you carry so much speed into that corner, and then there's just the wall in front of you; going up the hill to Casino it's the same thing.
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"It's incredibly intense out there and you have to be so focused."
He added: "You look at Tabac and the speed you're coming into that corner, there's just a wall in front of you, Going up the hill to Casino [Square], the same thing.
"It's no joke. It's so intense."
The F1 action resumes on Saturday with Practice Three from 11am ahead of Qualifying at 2pm, with build-up from 1pm. The Qualifying session is live only on Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event.
Mercedes favourites, but work still to do
Although Mercedes have finished first and second in every race so far this season, Hamilton admitted he was still "surprised" to see a margin of seven tenths of a second over Ferrari and Red Bull in second practice.
"I don't know where all the time is coming from but we're constantly improving this car and understanding it and understanding the tyres," the world championship leader said.
"Those things are coming together and I guess that's why you're seeing the performance advantage we have."
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But, in a potential concern for Saturday qualifying - always one of the most intense and frenzied of the whole season - the team's stellar pace wasn't necessarily arriving immediately on F1's fastest tyre.
"Our number one concern is getting the soft tyre to work on the first lap; our headline times were good today but it took us a lot of laps to get there and qualifying is so important at this track," Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes' trackside engineering director, said.
"We've got Esteban [Ocon] in the simulator so hopefully he can help with some of that learning."
Is Max going to be a factor?
Whether or not it amounts to wishful thinking for those outside the Silver Arrows camp, there certainly was a feeling on Thursday evening that hopes of a multi-team fight at the front into the weekend rest squarely on Max Verstappen's shoulders.
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel finished closest to Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, but the Scuderia were struggling with tyre performance.
"Surprised to see the delta we had in P2, maybe Max didn't get his time or something like that," Hamilton said.
A small water leak on his Red Bull sidelined Verstappen for P2 qualifying runs and so his sixth-placed finish was certainly not representative of his potential.
"He was really, really quick in the morning, splitting the Mercedes' cars, so expect him in amongst it when we get to qualifying," Karun Chandhok predicted.
For his part, Verstappen was happy with his mileage and the RB15's handling, but suspects it's Ferrari rather than Mercedes that Red Bull can target.
"I got enough laps in to feel confident with the car, we tried lots of set-up changes in both sessions and I'm happy with what we have," the Dutchman said. "Mercedes is still very strong and I don't think we can fight them for pole, but there is a big gap between second and third which we should be able to fill in qualifying tomorrow."
Albon leading tight midfield
The unexpected star of Thursday's running was undoubtedly Alex Albon, who took his Toro Rosso into the top five - and within striking distance of Ferrari and Red Bull.
"It was a good day for us," the F1 rookie said. "The car felt really good, especially in P2 when we made some changes to the car and I got a lot more confidence from the first push [lap] basically.
"So it's been a good day and we know everyone is going to catch up come Saturday, so we need to keep working."
As the P2 timesheet underlines, Toro Rosso's rivals do not have much time to find. Just 0.4s separated fifth-placed Albon to McLaren's Carlos Sainz in 13th.
The scramble for the leading midfield slots come qualifying is going to be quite the spectacle.
Sky F1's Monaco GP schedule
Saturday, May 25
10.45am: Monaco GP Practice Three build-up
11am: Monaco GP Practice Three Live!
12.10pm: Paddock Walkabout Live!
1pm: Monaco GP Qualifying build-up
2pm: MONACO GP QUALIFYING LIVE! (simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event)
3.30pm: The F1 Show Live!
4pm: F2 Race Two Live!
Sunday, May 26
12.30pm: Monaco GP Pit Lane Live! (simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event)
1.30pm: Monaco GP On The Grid Live! (simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event)
2.10pm: THE MONACO GRAND PRIX LIVE! (simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event)
4pm: Monaco GP Paddock Live!
4pm: Indy 500 build-up (Red Button)
5pm: Indy 500 LIVE! (Race starts at 5.45pm)
9pm: Monaco GP highlights
10pm: Monaco GP best bits
10.30pm: Monaco GP race replay
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