Lewis Hamilton says he is “surprised” by the gap Mercedes held over its Formula 1 rivals during practice for the Monaco Grand Prix.

Hamilton set the pace on Thursday in Monaco by topping both practice sessions as the reigning world champion squad looks to continue its streak of one-two finishes at the start of the 2019 season.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen managed to get in between Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in FP1, but the German manufacturer dominated the afternoon and held a seven-tenth advantage over its closest opposition.

“I’ve really been quite happy with the setup,” Hamilton said.

“We’ve just been making small tweaks over the two sessions, and even in the sessions, making a couple of small tweaks.

“I’m surprised to see the delta that we had in FP2,” he added. “I don’t know if Max maybe didn’t get in a time or what, but the performance we have here is fantastic.

“Every year, it gets faster, and it’s that much faster you notice it when you’re going past the barriers and touching them. You definitely notice that you’re going quicker this year.”

Mercedes’ rivals had tipped the team as favourites heading into the weekend following its strong start to the campaign, despite its struggles at the circuit in recent years.

While Mercedes looked untouchable throughout practice on Thursday, chief race engineer Andrew Shovlin revealed a tyre warm-up “concern” heading into qualifying.

“We still seemed to have problems getting lap one out of the Soft, despite the hotter track temperatures in the afternoon,” he explained.

“Our number one concern is getting the Soft tyre to work on the first lap; our headline times were good but it took us a lot of laps to get there and qualifying is so important at this track.

“We've got [reserve driver] Esteban [Ocon] in the simulator so hopefully he can help with some of that learning.

“On the long runs we were suffering with an incredible amount of traffic and the drivers struggled to put two clear laps together,” Shovlin added.

“That has meant we've not got quite the level of information we'd like going into the race.

“Monaco is unusual in that we have an extra day between the practice sessions so it gives us more time to look at data and understand the issues.”

 

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