Carlos Sainz topped the first practice session ahead of the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix.
The Spaniard’s 1:13.690 on the medium tyres was good enough to pip Fernando Alonso for top spot by little over three tenths of a second.
For the first time this season, Red Bull struggled, with Sergio Perez finishing fourth and Max Verstappen cutting a frustrating figure in sixth.
“The car is unbelievably difficult to drive,” Verstappen said, among other things, during an unusually scruffy session.
Between the Red Bulls, local boy Charles Leclerc was fifth, with Lando Norris and Esteban Ocon in seventh and eighth respectively.
Rounding out the top 10 were Lance Stroll and Alexander Albon, who crashed his Williams and brought the session to an end with little more than three minutes left on the clock.
Elsewhere, Nico Hulkenberg also provided a reminder of the dangers lurking round every corner when he clipped one of the unforgiving barriers to bring out an earlier red flag, while George Russell endured a session to forget in 15th.
Mercedes unveil upgrades – what did we learn?
Mercedes‘ long-awaited upgrade package has arrived. Scheduled to debut at Imola, the W14‘s makeover was unveiled around the streets of Monaco during FP1.
It’s been the talk of the paddock, with the new sidepods grabbing the headlines but there were also changes to the suspension and floor.
Russell and Mercedes chief Toto Wolff have downplayed the impact they’ll make in the short term, but insist this is the first step on the long road to recovery.
So, how did the new-look W14 fare against the competition?
Well, it’s Monaco, so everything has to be taken with a pinch of salt, but on the whole, the team will probably be pleased.
Russell struggled to find his feet in his new environment, complaining of a weak rear end, but Hamilton in third was able to demonstrate some pace.
The seven-time world champion, who is reportedly on the verge of signing a new Mercedes deal, held top spot for a while before being toppled by Alonso and then Sainz.
It’s impossible to know how the previous version of the W14 would have performed but third would have been at the upper end of expectations.
More will become apparent in the sessions to come, but so far so good.
“We haven’t seen major problems so that’s something,” Andrew Shovlin, the team’s trackside engineer, said.
“Lewis obviously seemed happier than George with his set-up.
“The difficult thing with Monaco is that it’s always evolving, but it’s a good start.”
Early signs suggest close race
The 2023 Formula 1 season has been anything but competitive, so Monaco could provide some respite to the relentless march of the Red Bulls.
Four different teams were represented in the top four in FP1, with the top nine times all set on the mediums, meaning we could be set for a thrilling Saturday qualifying session.
As for the race pace, it’s hard to discern at this early stage, with traffic and disruptions making it difficult for the drivers to get into a rhythm and put together a clean run of laps.
However, from the data, the Red Bulls, Aston Martins and Ferraris look evenly matched.