Fernando Alonso gave the Ferrari team an early morale boost by topping the opening free practice session ahead of this weekend’s Monaco GP, but had the ominous presence of Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel looking over his shoulder as the chequered flag fell.
Alonso was the only driver to duck under the 1min 16secs barrier. But his 1min 15.927secs effort was only 0.073secs faster than Vettel managed, with yellow flags blighting the final minutes of the hour-and-a-half session and denying anyone else the chance to improve.
A succession of drivers took the opportunity to top the times, including Robert Kubica, Felipe Massa and, early on, Jaime Alguersuari, who virtually had the track to himself as the other teams opted for a slow start to the day. Kubica eventually ended the session in third spot, a further 0.016secs behind, with Mark Webber pipping Massa to fourth.
The remainder of the top ten was closely matched, with Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi the last man within a second of Alonso’s pace. Michael Schumacher, McLaren duo Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button and Force India’s Adrian Sutil completed the leading group, with Schumi’s Mercedes’ team-mate Nico Rosberg just outside, having spent over half the session in the pits as he had a suspected damper problem.
The German was followed by Rubens Barrichello, Tonio Liuzzi, Vitaly Petrov, Alguersuari and Nico Hulkenberg. Sauber’s Pedro de la Rosa and Kamui Kobayashi were next up, already struggling before the Japanese rookie bounced his C29 off the chicane kerbing and into the seafront barriers, removing its front wing and damaging the left rear corner.
Kobayashi had already been off at Mirabeau earlier in the session, and accounted for two-thirds of the notable on-track incidents, with HRT’s Karun Chandhok completing the set with a gentle spin into the barriers at Massenet.
1. Fernando Alonso Spain Ferrari-Ferrari 1m 15.927s
2. Sebastian Vettel Germany Red Bull-Renault 1m 16.000s
3. Robert Kubica Poland Renault-Renault 1m 16.016s
4. Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault 1m 16.382s
5. Felipe Massa Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari 1m 16.517s
6. Michael Schumacher Germany Mercedes-Mercedes 1m 16.589s
7. Lewis Hamilton Britain McLaren-Mercedes 1m 16.647s
8. Jenson Button Britain McLaren-Mercedes 1m 16.692s
9. Adrian Sutil Germany Force India-Mercedes 1m 16.805s
10. Sebastien Buemi Switzerland Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m 16.857s
11. Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes-Mercedes 1m 17.149s
12. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Williams-Cosworth 1m 17.331s
13. Vitantonio Liuzzi Italy Force India-Mercedes 1m 17.704s
14. Vitaly Petrov Russia Renault-Renault 1m 17.718s
15. Jaime Alguersuari Spain Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m 17.991s
16. Nico Hulkenberg Germany Williams-Cosworth 1m 18.397s
17. Pedro de la Rosa Spain BMW Sauber-Ferrari 1m 18.434s
18. Kamui Kobayashi Japan BMW Sauber-Ferrari 1m 18.547s
19. Timo Glock Germany Virgin-Cosworth 1m 19.527s
20. Heikki Kovalainen Finland Lotus-Cosworth 1m 19.606s
21. Jarno Trulli Italy Lotus-Cosworth 1m 19.902s
22. Lucas di Grassi Brazil Virgin-Cosworth 1m 20.566s
23. Bruno Senna Brazil HRT-Cosworth 1m 21.688s
24. Karun Chandhok India HRT-Cosworth 1m 21.853s