Fresh from Max Verstappen’s fairytale debut with the team two weeks ago in Spain, Red Bull have suggested that the teenager’s triumph may be far from a one-off by setting the pace in practice for the Monaco Grand Prix. The 18-year-old Verstappen, who had moved from Red Bull’s sister team Toro Rosso, caused a sensation by becoming the youngest ever winner of a Formula 1 Grand Prix when taking the checkered flag in Barcelona.
In practice around the famed Monte Carlo street circuit on Thursday, it was new teammate Daniel Ricciardo who grabbed the headlines. Boosted, unlike Verstappen, by an upgraded Renault engine, the Australian went fastest in the afternoon, 0.606 seconds clear of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and a further 0.293 seconds quicker than championship leader Nico Rosberg. Verstappen, meanwhile, was in fourth. And Ricciardo is hopeful that he can back up that pace and follow in the footsteps of his young teammate.
“The engine has helped a little bit but obviously we have a good car around here as well, I think it’s down to a little bit of both,” he said. “Come qualifying and race day Mercedes will turn it up but hopefully I can stay in front. I’ll be surprised if we can keep the gap we have today in qualifying but we will see how we go. The goal here is pole and win.”
With overtaking a tricky prospect on the tight Monaco circuit, ensuring a good grid position in Saturday’s qualifying session promises to be all-important. Certainly both Mercedes drivers will be eager to get a clear track in front of them, particularly after what transpired off the line in Spain. Hamilton and Rosberg collided on the first lap, taking both out of the Grand Prix and leaving the German still 43 points clear in the championship standings.
Their rivalry now heads to the principality where both Hamilton and Rosberg have a home, in the same apartment building, no less. But Rosberg is now also expecting to have to fight off a real challenge from Red Bull.
“It’s great to be back on the streets of my home town here in Monaco – and also to see all the fans so close to us as we’re on track,” he said. “As expected, Red Bull look very strong here. We have some more homework to do during tonight and tomorrow to find some time – but I can't wait for Saturday and the qualifying battle. It should be very close and very exciting, which is great for the sport.”
After the result in Spain, Kimi Raikkonen is now second in the world championship, 39 points adrift of Rosberg. Yet that cannot disguise the fact that it has been a disappointing start to the season Ferrari. And there was little to smile about in practice on Thursday, either, with Raikkonen only seventh in the afternoon and Vettel down in 14th after spinning off and hitting a barrier.
McLaren were left with much to ponder, too, after Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso came in 12th and 14th quickest, respectively.
Qualifying Time: 8 a.m. EDT
TV Channel: NBCSN
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra