Fernando Alonso put Ferrari on top of the afternoon practice timesheets at the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday but Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton was still fastest overall for Mercedes.
The Briton, who will be chasing his fifth win in a row on Sunday, lapped the Mediterranean street circuit with a best time of one minute 18.271 seconds on an overcast morning in the principality.
Alonso, who has not won a race in more than a year, then set the fastest lap of 1:18.482 in a damp afternoon session with Hamilton second in 1:18.901.
A heavy downpour between the sessions left the track soaked and slippery, with the top drivers leaving it late to set any meaningful times.
Nico Rosberg, winner from pole position last year, was a mere 0.032 slower than his Mercedes team mate in the morning but his times after lunch were unrepresentative and he was only 20th.
Daniel Ricciardo was best of the rest for champions Red Bull in third place in the morning and team mate Sebastian Vettel, the quadruple world champion, filled that slot in the afternoon.
Hamilton leads Rosberg by three points in the standings after four successive one-two finishes. Mercedes have won every race and started them all from pole.
Alonso, a past winner in Monaco with Renault and McLaren, had been boosted before the session by a statement from Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo assuring him of the team’s complete support.
Ferrari have been struggling to match the pace of the Mercedes this season and have not won in Monaco since Michael Schumacher in 2001.
The only casualty of the morning was German driver Adrian Sutil, who made contact with the barriers at Mirabeau. Marussia’s Max Chilton also stopped on the track.
Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson nudged the wall in the afternoon, without major damage to his Caterham.
The opening session was closely watched for signs of how the new cars, with their heavier V6 turbo hybrid power units, would handle the layout with more torque and less downforce.
Some drivers have warned that Monaco could be the toughest test of the season, with the cars slipping and sliding more around the tight corners on a track where any mistake can be costly.
Even if Mercedes still look quick, champions Red Bull and Ferrari have sensed a chance to break their dominant streak.
“Mercedes have been quite strong here over the last couple of years but it’s an opportunity,” Red Bull principal Christian Horner said before the session started. “We’ve got a bit of funny weather this weekend and we’ll do everything we can.”
The noise, or lack of it, was also much discussed with the new cars sounding far more muted even in the bowl-like surroundings of the harbour.
The loudspeakers blaring out live commentary around the track were far more deafening close up than anything coming from the muted V6 turbo hybrid power units that have replaced the screaming V8s. (Reuters)Monaco Grand Prix, Free Practice 2 – Thursday, 22 May 2014
|3||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:19.017||0.535|
|6||11||Sergio Perez||Force India-Mercedes||1:19.668||1.186|
|7||27||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1:19.712||1.230|
|9||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:19.779||1.297|