Button fastest in P2 before rain falls
McLaren driver only front runner to use supersofts in stop-start P2
By James Galloway.. Last Updated: 24/05/12 6:03pm
Jenson Button made the most of a brief window of dry running on Thursday afternoon in Monaco to use the supersoft tyres to vault to the top of the order before rain intervened to frustrate the field.
After an intriguing Practice One had whetted the appetite for the afternoon's action around the Principality's famous streets, the appearance of looming dark clouds coming in over the mountains soon brought expectations for the second session back down to earth and ensured a much-compromised second 90 minutes of practice .
With teams' weather forecasts at the start of the session suggesting there would be initially be as little as 15 minutes before the rain started falling, cars duly flooded out onto the circuit at the green light to try and maximise the expected limited time on slicks.
Morning form men Fernando Alonso, Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean were all initially straight back on the pace as lap times began to ramp up on the soft compound but, just before the first spots of rain arrived, Button became the first man to venture out onto the quicker supersofts and duly posted by far the best time of the meeting thus far - 1:15.746.
This initially put him a full second up on then nearest challenger Alonso, but, in impressive fashion, Grosjean then moved into second spot in a time just 0.392s adrift of the McLaren despite still being on the slower 'prime' compound.
Alonso was then shuffled down to fourth by his team-mate Felipe Massa, the Brazilian responding to the ever growing speculation over his Ferrari future by producing by far his most competitive day of his wretched season so far.
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Although initially light in its intensity, the early rain shower sent all drivers scurrying back to the pits and it was a further 20 minutes before Marussia's Timo Glock broke the silence and ventured back onto the circuit on slicks.
What appeared a rather perilous couple of laps followed for the experienced German but most of his fellow drivers duly followed suit over the following minutes. However, the shower had washed away much of the grip that built up during the day hitherto and there was little movement on the timesheet, before a heavier shower then swiftly intervened in any case to soon make the times academic.
The waiting game restarted and while rain continued to fall for the remainder of the session, drivers did this time eventually opt to sample the wet conditions on intermediate tyres.
However, highlighting how slippery the street circuit becomes in such conditions, no fewer than five drivers - Bruno Senna, Maldonado, Sergio Perez, Massa and Heikki Kovalainen - skidded down the Mirabeau escape road. While the first four were all pushed back onto the circuit by Monaco's ever-efficient marshals, Kovalainen couldn't find reverse gear in his Caterham and therefore for the second session in succession his car ended up having to be craned away.
The track did begin to dry in the closing minutes but lap times still in general remained some 10 seconds or so off Button's earlier impressive benchmark, meaning the timesheet remained static.
Maldonado therefore ended up completing the top five, ahead of Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, Red Bull's Mark Webber and Kamui Kobayashi in the Sauber, who tried out a new floor on his C31.
Lewis Hamilton didn't appear to get a clear lap in during the opening stint and ended up behind World Champion Sebastian Vettel in 11th place, while Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen completed 25 laps on his return to the circuit following his morning-long steering rack change.
With so little learnt, Saturday's morning Practice Three will surely prove to be one of the busiest sessions of the season so far.