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Thursday Free Practice 1: Advantage Alonso

NEWS STORY
24/05/2007

Ahead of today's first free practice session, the air temperature is 29 degrees C, while the track temperature is also 29 degrees. It is absolutely beautiful, blue sky and bright sunshine. That said, weather experts continue to predict rain for Saturday and Sunday.


First out is Monaco maestro David Coulthard, followed by Liuzzi, Sutil and Webber. Mercedes Norbert Haug makes his way to the McLaren garage, his mobile phone held tightly to his ear, perhaps he's placing a bet on one of his drivers.

Red Bull has shown clear signs of improvement in recent weeks, and David Coulthard is clearly 'up for it', making the most of this 'Indian Summer' of his long F1 career.

One by one the drivers come out for their obligatory installation lap, even Alonso and Hamilton are keen to check the condition of the Principality's streets.

With ten minutes of the session complete, only the Ferraris and Williams haven't been out… so no change there then.

Rubens Barrichello is confident that Honda will make a step forward this weekend. It seems appropriate therefore that he is the first driver to stay out after completing his installation lap. However, following a couple of lock-ups the Brazilian returns to his garage at the end of the next lap.

As Raikkonen walks leisurely to the pits, Coulthard and Trulli are back on track. The Scot returns to his garage, having completed another installation lap, however, Trulli, a winner here in 2004, stays out.

The Italian crosses the line at 1:23.999, which is the cue for Ralf Schumacher to take to the track in the second Toyota.

One by one drivers leave the pits, Speed, Sutil, Coulthard, Albers and Hamilton, and once the dust has settled it is the McLaren driver who tops the timesheets, having posted a 18.686. In the press room a number of British journos check their pockets to ensure they have a plentiful supply of Kleenex.

It's all over for Albers, whose car grinds to a halt by the harbour wall, smoke pouring from the front of the car. The misery of Spyker, and indeed Christijan Albers, continues. The Dutchman stares forlornly at the car.

Being Monaco, the stranded Spyker means that the session is stopped whilst the car is removed.

Hamilton continues to top the timesheets, 1.294s clear of Ralf Schumacher, who is ahead of Alonso, Trulli, Heidfeld, Speed, Sutil and the hapless Albers. Wurz and Rosberg have been out, indeed they are ninth and tenth on the timesheets. Only the Ferrari's haven't been out.

Shades of Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau as Scott Speed complains of "a big bermp" at Turn One.

When the track is given the all-clear, Massa wastes no time in getting to work, with teammate Kimi Raikkonen close behind. It's good to see the Ferraris running in a more traditional red and not the day-glo Marlboro hue they've used in recent years.

Massa goes tenth (20.121) then immediately improves to second, as Raikkonen wastes no time and goes straight to fourth (19.753). However, the Finn is demoted by Fisichella, who goes third.

As Massa takes the top spot, Hamilton hits back, going quickest in the first two sectors and finally crossing the line at 17.601, almost a second clear of the Brazilian.

While the McLarens and Ferraris battle it out, Robert Kubica is quietly getting on with his job, the Pole now up to third.

Alonso improves to third (18.605) as Hamilton goes quickest in the middle sector. However, the Englishman fails to improve.

Barrichello, one of three drivers yet to post a time, the others being Liuzzi and Button, heads down the pitlane.

Behind the McLaren, Ferraris, BMW and Fisichella, both Red Bulls are in the top ten, with the Toyotas not far behind. Kovalainen, despite having completed 11 laps, remains over 3s off the pace.

Barrichello posts a time, unfortunately its 4.6s off the pace and leaves him with only Albers keeping him off the bottom of the timesheets.

Alonso posts a personal best in the first sector to close to within 0.694s of his teammate, who has really set a blistering pace here thus far.

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