Double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso has vowed 'to take some risks' after offering Ferrari a ray of hope by setting the pace for the first time this season on the opening day of free practice in Monte Carlo ahead of this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix – but he warns that 'the Red Bulls could be hiding a bit'.
After lapping just over a tenth of a second shy of F1 2011 World Championship leader Sebastian Vettel during the morning FP1 session, Alonso – a back-to-back winner around the narrow, tortuous streets of the glamorous Principality in 2006 and 2007, but a man who experienced the other side of its distinctly capricious and unforgiving nature with a costly practice accident last year – improved his best effort by just over 1.6 seconds later on in the afternoon to conclude Thursday's proceedings on top of the pile.
That put the Spaniard just over a tenth ahead of his closest challenger Lewis Hamilton, and more than half-a-second clear of the faster of the two hitherto dominant Red Bulls – and afterwards, he admitted that he 'immediately felt comfortable' and is quietly confident that the Scuderia
will be closer to the front than it has been of late.
“In Monaco, it's mainly a question of having a good feel for the car,” the 29-year-old explained. “The more the driver has, the harder he can push, lap-after-lap. It seems we are a bit more competitive than elsewhere, although one has to adopt the usual caution linked to the unknown factor of how much fuel the others were running.
“However, the reason is very simple in that here, the aerodynamics count for less and so we are suffering less. On a track with the lowest average speed, some weaknesses are hidden by other factors, such as the mechanical side and the engine. I immediately felt comfortable here, right from the morning, so I was able to push harder and harder, because the car was reacting well and I had confidence in it. I am pleased, but we know this is just the first day and that the Red Bulls could be hiding a bit, before coming out for Saturday's qualifying.
“Saturday will be a much more stressful day because here, the slightest error carries a heavy penalty. We must try to take some risks, because we need to close the gap to the best. As for the tyres, I think their performance is reasonably similar to what we saw in winter testing, even though temperatures are now much higher. Compared to the other races, there is not such a big difference between the 'Prime' and the 'Option', or at least that's the initial impression.”
As has become somewhat customary since the pair have been team-mates at Ferrari, Felipe Massa was several tenths adrift of Alonso in both sessions – six tenths in this instance – and the Brazilian confessed that he came close to straying over-the-limit at times during the course of the day.
“I am reasonably happy with the car, even if there is still some oversteer, especially with the super-soft [tyres],” he revealed. “Compared to Barcelona, I reckon we will be better-equipped to fight; it's not like on other occasions when it was clear we could not get the tyres to work, [although] there were moments when I was a bit on-the-limit, and I even found myself brushing the barriers at least three times.
“I did a long run on the 'Option' to try and find its limit in terms of wear. It's impossible to avoid traffic here and overtaking will be difficult, as usual at this circuit; maybe thanks to KERS it will be possible to overtake a car that is struggling with its tyres, although it will never be easy.”