Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Monaco, 2021

Why Ferrari’s Monaco potential was “obvious” to Norris

2021 Monaco GP Thursday practice analysis

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Red Bull were expected to have the upper hand in Monaco this weekend. But after Thursday’s running it seems as though Ferrari might have found something no one else has, with both their drivers topping times on qualifying simulation runs during second practice.

There was a significant difference in temperature between first and second practice, with the track gaining 10C between the sessions. The tarmac was a maximum of 41.1C in the morning, rising to a high of 51.1C in the afternoon.

Ferrari’s pace in Monaco was somewhat predicted by their speed in the final sector at the Circuit de Catalunya. During second practice, Charles Leclerc was quicker there than both Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. Today Leclerc beat the pair again in second practice.

Last time out, by the time it came to qualifying, that had reversed. On their best laps, Verstappen was fastest in the third sector by over a tenth, followed by Hamilton, with Leclerc left trailing. Verstappen and Hamilton also pulled out overall higher speeds than the Ferrari.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Monaco, 2021
Norris predicted Ferrari would go well in Monaco
So it might be the case that despite, the grumbling from Verstappen that their car is not fast enough, Ferrari have simply played their whole hand while Mercedes and Red Bull still hold things in reserve. Alternatively, perhaps Ferrari had to make more compromises for the quicker corners in Spain, a problem they don’t have here.

Some drivers expressed surprise at Ferrari’s sudden speed but McLaren’s Lando Norris said they’d been expecting it. He was so confident he texted ex-team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr before the weekend saying he expected him to win. “I think it’s quite obvious that they were going to be very quick here,” he said. “They were very quick in the slow speed corners and that’s basically all we have here.”

It’s harder to explain where AlphaTauri’s turn of pace has come from. During the past rounds, Pierre Gasly has stated their car cannot perform in low-speed corners, particularly bemoaning it in Portimao. Before Barcelona he said: “We’ve tried many things in terms of set-up to solve the issues. And unfortunately, it didn’t really work. So that’s probably something a bit more fundamental, which takes slightly longer than we would like.”

Whatever the team’s fix was, it seems to have worked. Gasly has often been strong in terms of single-lap pace in the AlphaTauri but even Monaco newcomer Yuki Tsunoda was able to find the pace for a top-10 placing in first practice. He took himself out of the equation early in second practice by breaking his suspension on a wall but Gasly remained in the top 10, ahead of Sergio Perez’s Red Bull.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Monaco, 2021
Red Bull weren’t as quick as expected
Red Bull themselves seemed to have distinctly up-and-down sessions. They used different tyre allocations for each driver, Verstappen running the soft tyres less often than Perez, possibly explaining how Perez got the edge on him in first practice. Although the two drivers’ times were close in the morning, Perez finished the afternoon over half a second back from Verstappen, albeit after a session where he was repeatedly frustrated by traffic.

Another big team mate split in the times was at McLaren. During the morning session, Daniel Ricciardo’s engineer told him that he was only losing time to Norris in the final few corners of the circuit. Whether that was to encourage Ricciardo or not, it wasn’t true – he was losing substantial time against Norris throughout the session in the middle sector, too.

That seemed to worsen during second practice, with Ricciardo reportedly having a mid-session break with his engineers to work out where Norris was finding speed he wasn’t. Norris finished second practice in sixth, Ricciardo in 15th and still down in both the second and third sectors. That eight-tenths deficit to Norris will weigh heavily on his mind during Friday’s downtime at a track where starting position is everything.

Alpine thought they might qualify well here, after two strong weekends in Algarve and Barcelona, but as yet there’s little sign they will. Both drivers are returning to the track for the first time since 2018 and Fernando Alonso seemed to still be finding his feet and suffered a few brushes with the walls, so might find more form with clean runs.

At the back of the grid, Alfa Romeo well-placed to take advantage if Alpine or Aston Martin fail to capitalise on their potential. Kimi Raikkonen placed tenth in first practice and Antonio Giovinazzi ninth in second practice, both substantially better than any of the other teams currently struggling for points.

Qualifying strategy is likely a no-brainer. Starting as high up as possible is vital and no one will want to lose a position off the line, so expect to see everyone who reaches Q3 get there, and start the race, on softs.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Longest stint comparison – second practice

This chart shows all the drivers’ lap times (in seconds) during their longest unbroken stint. Very slow laps omitted. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan, right-click to reset:

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Combined practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Charles LeclercFerrari1’19.6181’11.68431
2Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’12.6061’11.79656
3Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’12.9951’12.07455
4Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda1’12.6481’12.08159
5Valtteri BottasMercedes1’13.1311’12.10760
6Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’13.2361’12.37949
7Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda1’12.4871’12.70855
8Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda1’12.9291’12.49858
9Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’14.1061’12.74649
10Sebastian VettelAston Martin-Mercedes1’13.7321’12.98252
11Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’14.0811’13.06554
12Fernando AlonsoAlpine-Renault1’14.2051’13.17556
13Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’14.0901’13.19552
14Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’14.3201’13.19959
15Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-Mercedes1’14.2811’13.25758
16George RussellWilliams-Mercedes1’14.8401’13.50960
17Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes1’14.2681’13.59364
18Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda1’13.7461’14.82949
19Nikita MazepinHaas-Ferrari1’14.6161’14.40752
20Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari1’14.8011’14.41654

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2021 Monaco Grand Prix

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....

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14 comments on “Why Ferrari’s Monaco potential was “obvious” to Norris”

  1. Well done, Hazel and Keith! Excellent info. I was busy working and had no time to check in all day.

  2. 1’19.618

    typo there @keithcollantine

    1. sorry, my mistake

  3. Just got to wait and see what happens on Saturday. Can’t read too much into practice.

    I definitely wouldn’t be putting much money on Ferrari for pole.

  4. ryanoceros666
    21st May 2021, 1:13

    I guess Lando didn’t have Charles’ number on his phone. He’s my bet for surprise outcome this weekend but I expect Mercedes to show their true pace during qualifying like they always do.

    1. Being the fastest doesn’t always get you the win, just ask Senna.

  5. This graph is impressive for williams, it’s just practice but they’re by far the best team relatively to their 2019 situation at monaco.

    1. @esploratore Is it? It’s not clear to me how to read that graph – is everyone except Williams slower or faster than they were in 2019?

  6. when i raced bikes i never once heard anyone ever say “Im well placed to take advantage of those up the grid failing to reach their potential”. I remember saying cr8p. I like the optimism Hazel.

  7. Red Bull were expected to have the upper hand in Monaco this weekend

    Where’s that from? Because Mercedes hyped them up?

    1. RandomMallard (@)
      21st May 2021, 7:38

      Because it is a track Red Bull have always been strong at, even in years where their car has been pretty off the pace compared to the mercs. 2016 and 2018 are notable examples

      1. Yes this – also Mercedes have a frighteningly long car, the longest of the field, so you would assume it would not be optimised for Monte Carlo.

        1. @hazelsouthwell

          Mercedes have a frighteningly long car, the longest of the field

          Ok, lets not over exaggerate shall we. The difference between Mercedes’ ‘frighteningly long car’ and the shortest (Haas I believe) is approximately a 77mm (7.7cm) wheel base.

        2. @hazelsouthwell
          RBR could have an advantage over Mercedes in terms of mechanical grip, Verstappen was the fastest man in sector 3 in Barcelona ahead of Lewis and Leclerc. A long wheelbase isn’t ideal for direction changes. However, theoretically speaking, Mercedes produces more downforce with that extra floor portion than any other car on the grid which is what they actually need to be fast in Monaco.
          RBR could have a slight edge over Mercedes in Monaco, yes I agree but that doesn’t mean that Mercedes are on the backfoot either. They are going to attack and with Hamilton able to squeeze everything out of his car you may never know. I expect a strong qualy from RBR, but I won’t be surprised if Hamilton will be on pole.

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