Monaco P1: Alonso to the fore
Spaniard fastest for Ferrari, but Raikkonen forced to sit it out
By James Galloway.. Last Updated: 24/05/12 1:19pm
Fernando Alonso has given an early indication that Ferrari's resurgence could be about to continue on the streets of Monte Carlo after he set the pace in Practice 1 on Thursday morning.
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The Spaniard, who finished a close second to Williams' Pastor Maldonado last time out at Barcelona in the upgraded F2012, swapped fastest times with Lotus's Romain Grosjean mid-way through the opening session before ending up on top by a 0.365s margin thanks to an impressive lap of 1:16.265.
Grosjean had earlier completed several impressive fastest times to underline Lotus's continuing challenge, although his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was forced to watch the baulk of the session from the garage after ordering his team to change his E20's steering rack after his installation lap.
The Finn, who made numerous changes to the steering column during pre-season testing, therefore still hasn't completed a flying lap around the famous circuit since his last race there in 2009, although the lost track time is nonetheless unlikely to perturb Formula 1's coolest of customers.
Another man whose return to the Principality's streets on Thursday was a notable one was Sergio Perez, the young Mexican's debut F1 appearance there last year ending against the crash barriers in qualifying after a big accident at the harbourside chicane.
Up until that Q2 accident the Sauber driver had shown a good turn of speed around the tight layout and a year on in Practice 1 he was at it again, Perez beating McLaren's Lewis Hamilton to third place as Spanish GP victor Maldonado took a promising fifth for Williams.
Felipe Massa has become accustomed to positions outside of the top 10 so far in 2012 amid a wretched run of results but the morning of day one here produced at least a brief step forward as the Brazilian took sixth in the second Ferrari. He has, however, already left a mark on the circuit's barriers after whacking his right-front tyre against the Armco on the entry to Tabac.
Kamui Kobayashi backed up Sauber team-mate Perez's efforts in seventh, the Japanese ahead of Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel who both completed low-key sessions.
After a week of press speculation over his future, five-time Monaco winner Michael Schumacher was more in the P1 limelight, however, as several big lock ups around the lap was followed by an apparent brush with a kerb which damaged the right-front corner of his Mercedes W03's front wing.
The most spectacular moment of the morning though belonged to Caterham's Heikki Kovalainen when the Renault engine on his CT01 blew coming through Monaco's tunnel, shrouding the area in smoke and dropping oil onto one of the fastest parts of the circuit.
Unsurprisingly, given there were just six minutes left on the clock, race control wisely opted to call the opening session of the weekend to a halt to allow trackside marshals to clear up the debris and remove the stricken Caterham.