Alonso sets pace as Ferrari respond to practice battle

Sixty years ago yesterday a red Italian car led home two of its siblings when the FIA Formula One World Championship was born at Silverstone. That day Dr Guiseppe Farina took his Alfa Romeo to victory in the British Grand Prix over team-mates Luigi Fagioli and Reg Parnell. So it was apposite that yesterday another red Italian car dominated proceedings in the first two practice sessions for the Monaco Grand Prix.

Fernando Alonso set the pace for Ferrari in the morning before lopping a second off his lap time to lead the way in the afternoon, too.

Traditionally, Ferrari do not go for lap times on the first day of a meeting, but Monaco is an unusual place where you need to be up to speed from the start. Each team is already jumpy enough about the prospect of all 24 cars being out on the track during the first 20 minutes of qualifying, without missing any chances in practice.

So close were the final times, after the track had been coated with grippy tyre rubber from the first practice session and the cars in the World Series and GP2 categories, that the first 11 drivers were separated by a mere 0.842sec. Only two seconds separated the first 18. The problem is that the fastest of the three new teams' cars – Heikki Kovalainen's Lotus – was over three seconds behind and the slowest – Bruno Senna's HRT – more than seven seconds off the pace.

After their respective wheel and brake problems in last Sunday's Spanish GP, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel had troublefree days and said they were not worried about repeats. "We know that the wheel rim failed, which led to the tyre deflation and the accident," Hamilton said.

The Red Bull team principal Christian Horner confirmed that Vettel's left front brake disc had sheared, acting as just a spacer instead of offering any braking force on the wheel. "We think we understand what happened," Vettel said. "We are not 100 per cent sure yet, but we have a fix for here and we don't expect to have similar problems."

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