Just as he had on home soil a fortnight ago, Fernando Alonso claimed early honours as the F1 circus hit the streets of Monaco for an opening free practice session ultimately cut short when oil was laid through the tunnel by Heikki Kovalainen's expiring Caterham-Renault.
The Spaniard, who hopes to show that his Barcelona form was no flash in the pan after finishing second in the grand prix, established his position midway through the 90-minute morning session, fending off a brief challenge from Lotus' Romain Grosjean and the later arrival of potential frontrunners such as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel to emerge with a three-tenths advantage over the Frenchman after posting a benchmark time of 1min 16.265secs.
Grosjean, a former GP2 Series pacesetter and potential sixth F1 winner of 2012, at Monaco, looked extremely committed as he hurled his Lotus through the Swimming Pool section, but came up short of matching Alonso throughout the session, and completed five fewer laps than the Spaniard's 22. Third place in an unusual top three went to Sergio Perez, who clearly showed no lingering fears of the Monaco circuit following last year's qualifying accident by posting a time just over four-tenths off the pace, but good enough to remain ahead of the McLarens, Red Bulls and Mercedes.
2008 race winner Lewis Hamilton was fourth fastest after making a late start to the session. The Briton completed just a dozen laps to begin the set-up process on his McLaren, and would be happy to have lapped within half a second of Alonso. Hamilton found himself in the middle of a tight trio with Perez and Barcelona race winner Pastor Maldonado, as the Venezuelan lapped just 0.495secs shy of the pace on a circuit he knows well from his successful runs in GP2.
Felipe Massa backed up Ferrari team-mate Alonso with the sixth best time, comfortably ahead of Kamui Kobayashi, Jenson Button, Vettel and Nico Rosberg, who rounded out the top ten. Massa, however, was among the few drivers to find the limits of the track after kissing the barriers at Tabac. While his F2012 required little more than cosmetic attention, the same could not be said for Michael Schumacher, who damaged a front wing and wheel rim after clouting the end of the metalwork on the entrance to the Swimming Poll section. While others explored the escape roads and short cut the Nouvelle Chicane, the biggest loser of the morning was Kimi Raikkonen, who completed just an installation lap in his Lotus before deciding that the steering was not to his liking.
The subsequent change of set-up required the Lotus mechanics to rebuild both steering and suspension, leaving Raikkonen to return to the paddock ahead of schedule, and he was already on his way when countryman Kovalainen filled the tunnel with smoke and steam as his Renault engine let go in the biggest possible fashion. Unable to pull off, the Finn freewheeled his way back into daylight before abandoning the CT01 to the marshals to the run to the chicane. With a substantial amount of oil and fluids to be cleared up, the FIA decreed that there would be no further running in order to keep a tight timetable on schedule.
While Kovalainen's demise won't have bothered those with a fair few laps under their belts, others such as Timo Glock, with just nine laps on the board, may have welcomed the few extra minutes that may have have been available. The Gerrman veteran finished down in 22nd spot, ahead only of Raikkonen and HRT's Pedro de la Rosa, while the second Spanish entry, in the hands of Karthikeyan, defied its tendency towards escapology by beating off both Marussia entries. Kovalainen, for the record, was 18th at the time of his exit, lapping less than a second off Mark Webber, early pacesetter Jean-Eric Vergne, STR team-mate Daniel Ricciardo and Force India's Paul di Resta who, like the McLaren pair, was a late starter to the session.