Leclerc 'miles ahead' in Monaco - Verstappen

Charles Leclerc
The Monaco Grand Prix is live on 5 Live and the BBC Sport website [Getty Images]

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc is “miles ahead” of the field at the Monaco Grand Prix, world champion Max Verstappen said after Friday practice.

Leclerc, at his home race, set the pace in second practice ahead of Lewis Hamilton.

He was fast throughout both sessions and ended the day 0.188 seconds clear of the Mercedes.

Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell echoed Verstappen’s assessment, saying Leclerc was “well out in front”.

Hamilton added that it had been the “best day we’ve had on track” as Mercedes seemed more competitive than usual.

Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso was third fastest, 0.475secs off the pace, while Verstappen was an unhappy fourth.

The world champion, who complained his car was “bouncing like a kangaroo”, was 0.535secs off the pace and even hit the barriers lightly at Portier.

The incident did not damage his car, but for the second race in a row Red Bull appeared to be struggling for pace.

McLaren’s Lando Norris, who pushed Verstappen hard for victory in Imola last weekend and won in Miami the race before that, was fifth fastest, 0.675secs off the pace, with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz sixth.

The second Aston Martin of Lance Stroll was seventh, ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, Williams’ Alex Albon and Russell, who was hampered all day by a steering vibration.

Hamilton said: “The car was feeling really positive, really enjoying driving it. We still have some challenges with the balance but I was looking strong.

“What was a surprise was the grip level and how the car was reacting here. Definitely a more enjoyable ride than we’ve had here the last two years.”

Hamilton said, though, that Mercedes “still have a lot of work to do” on race pace, as he was struggling with tyre graining, where the surface tears and grip is lost.

But, as ever in Friday practice, there were a number of variables that made it difficult to predict form.

Red Bull were battling ride issues. Both drivers complained that the car was reacting badly over the bumps on the Monaco streets.

“Very difficult,” Verstappen said. “It is not something I didn’t expect but it’s definitely at the higher end of the worst possible outcome of the weekend so far.

“It’s just very difficult. There are a lot of bumps and kerbs and camber changes in the track and for us that is basically impossible to take. Every time we go over it, we lose a lot of lap time just because the car doesn’t ride well. There is also no really clear direction or solution to try and solve something like that.”

Red Bull also struggled in Friday practice at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix last weekend before Verstappen went on to take pole and win the race, albeit under pressure from Norris at the end.

But Verstappen said: “Imola was completely different - different issues you can solve with set-up. These things you cannot solve with set-up because it is how the car is designed and there things you cannot change overnight, so we are kind of stuck with it.

“We will try to make it a little better but I don’t expect any miracles. (Ferrari) are miles ahead so I’m not even thinking about that, just want to solve the issues we have.”

Leclerc said: “On the medium (tyre) we were really strong. On the soft, we struggled to put everything together. There was a lot of traffic. But we have a good car for the moment. I feel quite confident with the car.

“However, the way Monaco is, I might have taken a bit more risk than the others, which paid off. But it is all about tomorrow when everyone goes on the limit. So far we have done a really good job, and we need to keep working but it is a positive first day.”

McLaren’s true pace is hard to judge as Norris used only one set of soft tyres all day, running them in the first session and again in the second. So his qualifying simulation run for his fastest time of the day was on less effective tyres than those used by other teams.

Hamilton used the same tyre strategy - but his tyre deficit to Leclerc on new tyres was cancelled out by running later, when the seven-time champion would have benefited from the track grip improving.

Norris’ team-mate Oscar Piastri, second fastest in the first session on soft tyres, did not run the fastest rubber at all in the second session and ended up 12th fastest.

Verstappen was one of a number of drivers who clipped the barriers - including his team-mate Sergio Perez at Massenet, Stroll and Pierre Gasly’s Alpine at the Swimming Pool - without major damage, although Stroll took no further part in the session after returning to the pits.

Lewis Hamilton
High-speed tea: Cars race around the tight and twisty streets of Monte Carlo [Getty Images]