A week after hopes of kick-starting his 2011 championship campaign in Spain faltered on race day, Mark Webber received another setback on his return to the scene of another 2010 victory.
The Australian, who has seen Red Bull Racing team-mate Sebastian Vettel win four out of the five grands prix held so far this season, proved victorious in the back-to-back races in Barcelona and Monaco a year ago, helping him to overcome a poor start to the campaign and thrust himself right back into title contention. Needing to do the same in 2011, however, Webber has run in to problem after problem.
The latest came on the opening day of the Monaco Grand Prix, when his RB7 was unable to complete a flying lap because of persistent gearbox problems. To make matters worse for the Australian, Vettel emerged fastest of all, as the field got to grips with some extra complications in the 90-minute session.
Already contemplating a fresh strip of asphalt in what will become the sole DRS zone on race day, the drivers also had to contend with a water leak on the start-finish straight, which interrupted proceedings for ten minutes, as well as the usual detritus found on a street circuit. The session was littered with incidents, not least for both Tonio Liuzzi and Michael Schumacher, who suffered separate accidents that curtailed their efforts.
The German at least wound up in the top ten when the chequered flag fell, book-ending the leading group with Vettel, albeit lapping some 2.2secs slower than the reigning world champion. Between them, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa both underlined the growing Ferrari threat, in second and fourth respectively, with Nico Rosberg in the second Mercedes sandwiched between them.
Rosberg and Alonso will both have thought that they had a legitimate claim to top spot, but the German was displaced by Alonso, who then found his hopes dashed by Vettel's late lap, which left the Red Bull driver 0.113secs clear at the top.
McLaren twins Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button were fifth and sixth, barely a couple of tenths apart, while Pastor Maldonado and Adrian Sutil provided some encouragement for Williams and Force India alike after difficult starts to the year. Vitaly Petrov, in the best of the Lotus Renaults, completed the leading runners, while team-mate Nick Heidfeld came closest to usurping Schumacher.
Sebastien Buemi and Daniel Ricciardo were twelfth and 14th for Toro Rosso, either side of Rubens Barrichello, with Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez next up. Lotus again proved to be the best of the 'new for 2010' teams, with both Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli finishing above Paul di Resta in the second Force India.
Meanwhile, Liuzzi's incident did little to help HRT in its stated aim of overhauling Marussia Virgin in the Principality, with the Italian a second shy of Timo Glock, and team-mate Narain Karthikeyan even further back, giving the Spanish outfit a lot of work for the remainder of the weekend.
For full practice times, click here