Lewis Hamilton Fastest in Monaco After Drain Cover Drama
File image of Lewis Hamilton. (Getty Images)
Monte Carlo: World champion Lewis Hamilton topped the times ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in Thursday morning's incident-hit opening free practice for this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix.
Using the latest new 'ultra-soft' Pirelli tyres for the first time, the defending three-time title winner clocked a best lap of one minute and 15.537 seconds to outpace championship leader Rosberg by 0.101 seconds as the pair dominated proceedings on a dry morning in the Mediterranean principality.
Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel was third fastest for Ferrari, four-tenths adrift of Briton Hamilton, ahead of the two Red Bulls driven by Australian Daniel Ricciardo and record-breaking Dutch teenager Max Verstappen.
They were in turn seven and eight-tenths behind the Englishman with, remarkably, Russian Daniil Kvyat, the man deposed by Verstappen at Red Bull, taking sixth spot in his Toro Rosso.
The two Force Indias of German Nico Hulkenberg and Mexican Sergio Perez were seventh and eighth ahead of Finn Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari and Spaniard Carlos Sainz in the second Toro Rosso.
The session was run in mild and dry conditions, but was punctuated by a storm of stoppages with a series of Virtual Safety Car (VSC) interruptions, five in all, and accusations after the session that some sections of the circuit's surface were not safe.
This resulted from a metal manhole cover lifting out of place at Ste Devote in the closing minutes and causing two punctures –- one to Rosberg with six minutes remaining and then another for 2009 champion Jenson Button's McLaren Honda.
It had seemed that Button hit debris from Rosberg's problem after the German drove gingerly back to the pits under a VSC period, but close study of video replays identified the manhole as a danger and the session ended two minutes early with a red flag.
Earlier, the VSC had been deployed when Brazilian Felipe Massa crashed his Williams at Ste Devote, his car requiring repairs that prevented him rejoining the fray.
Hamilton also ran wide at Ste Devote but managed to avert a serious incident, a fate that was not avoided by Mexican Esteban Gutierrez, whose Haas car stopped on track at Portier with electrical problems.
When that VSC period was over, Briton Jolyon Palmer wasted no time in hitting the barrier at Tabac in his Renault to trigger yet another pause and that was repeated when Brazilian Felipe Nasr went off at Ste Devote with 15 minutes to go.
There was clearly a problem -– as Button made clear –- but it was no surprise on a morning of drama that also saw Jules Bianchi's family initiate legal action against the sport's governing body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA), his former Marussia team and the Formula One Group.
Frenchman Bianchi died in July 2015, nine months after crashing into a recovery vehicle in torrential rain at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.
His father Phillipe said in a statement: "We seek justice for Jules, and want to establish the truth about the decisions that led to our son's crash at the Japanese Grand Prix in 2014.
"As a family, we have so many unanswered questions and feel that Jules's accident and death could have been avoided if a series of mistakes had not been made."
Bianchi's legal action is being taken in Britain and led by Stewarts Law, which has sent pre-action letters of claims to the FIA, Marussia and the Formula One Group of companies.