MONACO (AP) — Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton posted the fastest times in the first two practice sessions of the Monaco Grand Prix, but it was 17-year-old Max Verstappen who caught the eye with a superb drive in the morning.
Considering he had never driven before on the Monaco track, Verstappen’s second place in the first practice was an outstanding achievement and underlined his growing reputation as a future star.
“It was all new for me, but I felt really good in the car immediately. This gave me a lot of confidence,” said Verstappen, who is Dutch and races for Toro Rosso — Red Bull’s junior team — and finished seventh in the afternoon’s rain-soaked second run. “I can be happy with my first day driving here in Monaco.”
Nico Rosberg finished second behind Hamilton in the second practice, which was interrupted early on when the rain came thundering down and drenched the tight, sinewy track as spectators huddled for shelter.
Although the rain stopped with 30 minutes of the session left, teams were still in the garage with Rosberg walking around, arms folded, as he waited for the track to dry.
“When it rained, we didn’t need to take any risks so stayed in the garage,” Hamilton said.
Finally, with a few minutes remaining, drivers came back out for a few laps.
While the rain disruption was frustrating for fans, Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said such wet conditions are too dangerous to drive in.
“There is a risk of putting a car into the wall, which makes things complicated for the weekend,” he said.
Force India team principal Robert Fernley concurred, saying that “there’s not much to learn going out in the wet and a hell of a lot to lose.”
Hamilton, who was also quickest in the morning’s first practice, clocked a leading time of 1 minute, 17.192 seconds — putting him 0.740 clear of Rosberg and 1.103 ahead of Ferrari’s Sebatian Vettel.
Earlier Verstappen impressed with a commanding drive on his first ever appearance in Monaco. He had only ever previously done simulator work.
Hamilton, who has won three out of five races this season and signed a new three-year deal with Mercedes on Wednesday, was .149 seconds faster than Verstappen.
Verstappen impressed with his mix of aggressive driving and precision on a track where cars have to brake late due to the number of tight corners.
“We already know that Max is a very high-skilled driver. But I was impressed how (he) achieved this very good time, from run to run he improved his lap time without any mistakes. No locking, anything,” Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost said. “I think we will have some success with him this year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him, sooner or later, finish in the top five.”
His performance was even better considering the circuit was damp early on.
“I thought it was super. For a guy who can’t rent a hire car yet, it’s enormously impressive at 17 years of age,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. “It shows the junior program is hugely impressive.”
Rosberg, who is second behind Hamilton in the championship standings, had an early scare when he brushed his Mercedes against the barriers but did no damage. He was more than one second slower than Hamilton and posted the ninth best time in the morning.
Rosberg, who is German and grew up in Monaco, won last year’s race from pole position after Hamilton accused him of deliberately undermining him in qualifying. Rosberg crashed under no pressure near the end of qualifying, forcing stewards to stop the session and denying Hamilton a chance to beat his time.
Rosberg won the Spanish GP two weeks ago to cut Hamilton’s championship lead to 20 points.
He is looking to become the first driver since Ayrton Senna to win the Monaco GP three times in a row and will look to take pole position in Saturday’s qualifying.
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.