Hamilton and Vettel's friendly rivalry faces test in Monaco

Lewis Hamilton lapped faster than ever at Monaco as the Mercedes driver and Ferrari's championship leader Sebastian Vettel set the pace in first practice for Formula One's showcase race on Thursday.

Moments after Bottas saw his hopes of adding to a maiden win in the previous round go up in smoke, Hamilton closed in on Vettel on his faster tires and never looked back after going by on lap 43.

"It's been a bit up and down for me this year", Bottas said Wednesday at the Monaco GP. "We put some good laps together and know where we need to improve so I'm very happy with our position after the first day".

It's early days still but the 2017 season is turning into a full head-on battle between Mercedes' Hamitlon and Vettel's Ferrari. We expect a whole brawl on the track on Saturday.

"They'll probably get it all figured out tomorrow, and give us the usual headache on Saturday afternoon", a senior Ferrari engineer said with resignation.

Ricciardo and Verstappen were on average 0.792s off pole last time out in Spain, though interestingly the equivalent figure past year was 0.884s - before Ricciardo surged ahead to take his Monaco pole by just over a tenth of a second from Nico Rosberg. We committed to the set-up as it takes longer than a session to change and we chose to push through and collect some data.

"I have no idea whether we will be on the pace for qualifying", Hamilton, 32, said.

The Scuderia have not won in Monte Carlo since 2001, but Horner reckons that Sebastian Vettel has already shown enough in FP1 and FP2 to be favourite for the race win come Sunday. "Mercedes have a day to think about it and I'm sure they'll be there on Saturday". The 27-year-old Finn has quietly impressed - out-qualifying Hamilton at two of the opening five rounds this season and winning the first race of his career in Russian Federation.

Jenson Button could only manage the 12th-quickest time for McLaren as he continues to get to grips with F1 again in his one-off return in the Principality while he fills in for Fernando Alonso, who is away taking part in the Indianapolis 500 instead this weekend.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen was third quickest, followed by Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas, the other race victor this season. Over 18 holes, whoever's the most consistent generally ends up winning, so I'm excited about it. "I have the feeling that it can't be much better in a different place".

Last year's race victor Lewis Hamilton, who had topped the morning season ahead of Vettel, failed to improve on that time in the afternoon and trailed Vettel by more than a second in eighth, with team-mate Valtteri Bottas 10th. His best time was just four hundredths shy of his McLaren team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne.

Jolyon Palmer's poor season took another sorry twist after his Renault engine expired in the opening exchanges of the second session.

  • Julie Sanders