Lewis Hamilton has warned Daniel Ricciardo not to get comfortable at the top of the Monaco F1 timesheets, confident that there is more to come from him and Mercedes when things get serious.
Mercedes' world champion was the first to set the times alive as he used the new Pirelli ultrasoft compound to take the practice benchmark close to last year's FP2 times within half an hour of action on the tricky street circuit, but was blown away in the afternoon session as Ricciardo lowered the bar even further, to an eventual 1m 14.607s mark that proved to be six-tenths faster than the best Mercedes could muster.
While acknowledging that Red Bull looked to be the car to beat early in the weekend, Hamilton insisted that Monaco masked relative power differences and, even with Ricciardo using the latest V6 from Viry-Chatillon, he hoped to be in the mix for pole on Saturday afternoon.
“The Red Bulls are looking quite quick and it's close,” he noted, “Naturally, it's not a power circuit so it's good - and I think it's more exciting for the fans. I think [Red Bull] are very much a threat, but I don't know where six-tenths is. I, for sure, have a little bit of time left. It's very close, so we shall see how it goes tomorrow [sic
“I love driving here, and I always find that, as soon as I get out, I'm on it straight away, where it seems everyone else takes their time to get used to it. I was on it from the first or second laps and I like that early stage of the session because it's when you can see the biggest difference.
“At the end, I don't feel like I got a great lap, so there's still time in me - not six tenths, but there's time, and I think it's definitely closer than it looks. We've always known they've had a good car, they've always had good downforce, but did we expect them to be as fast as they are today? Perhaps not… I don't know how it's going to play out.”
Qualifying will be as important as ever for this round, and Hamilton admitted that he expects Saturday to have more of a say in the final result than Sunday's race, especially as the tyres continue to be too durable to make it anything more than a one-stopper.
“Everyone that's expecting a good race should know this is a track where you really can't overtake, so qualifying is going to be the race and then they'll see a procession - a train - on Sunday,” he pointed out, “There's some things that can happen obviously, like last year, but generally you won't see passing between us. But, hopefully, because it's so close there's going to be us all in between and then it's going to come down to that one pit-stop.”