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Leclerc tops Perez in opening Monaco Grand Prix practice

Charles Leclerc topped the times for Ferrari at his home Monaco Grand Prix in Friday’s opening free practice, finishing a closely-contested session narrowly ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.

The 24-year-old Monegasque driver clocked a fastest lap of one minute and 14.531 seconds, outpacing the Mexican by just 0.039 seconds on a very warm day in the Mediterranean principality.

His Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz was third ahead of reigning world champion Max Verstappen, with tonsilitis-suffering Lando Norris fifth for McLaren.

The top three were within 0.070 seconds and the top 10 separated by less than a second, signalling how competitive the action had been.

Pierre Gasly was sixth for Alpha Tauri ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in the second McLaren and the two Mercedes of George Russell and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who were split in ninth by Sebastian Vettel.

After their improved form in Spain, Mercedes’ Hamilton was unhappy with the return of porpoising in his car, grumbling in the closing laps that “it’s so bouncy out here, man, I’m losing my mind”.

On a perfect Riviera afternoon, the action began with a track temperature of 54 degrees and the air at 28, inviting conditions for all involved and the many Leclerc fans basking in the sunshine.

Everyone departed immediately, keen not to waste any track time, and Sainz swiftly set a marker lap before the times tumbled rapidly and, after 10 minutes, it was Leclerc who led, in 1:16.020, ahead of Sainz and Verstappen.

Norris, still battling tonsilitis, was fourth ahead of Hamilton.

‘Bling ban’ delay

He had earlier been cleared to continue racing with his various piercings for jewellery, including a nose stud, after the FIA had deferred action on their ‘bling ban’ to the end of next month.

“Honestly, I feel there’s way too much time and energy been given to this,” he told reporters. “I’ve said everything I feel I need to say… I’ve taken the (ear) studs out every time I’ve been in the car…

“I think we’ve all worn jewellery our whole careers in F1 and it’s never been a problem in the past and there’s no reason for it to necessarily be a problem now.”

He added that it was unnecessary to “keep revisiting this subject every weekend — we have bigger fish to fry”.

The session was red-flagged for a first time after 20 minutes when Mick Schumacher pulled up at the pit-lane entry in his Haas.

His car, suffering gearbox problems, was cleared rapidly, but like Valtteri Bottas, with similar problems at Alfa Romeo, his session was over.

The delay lasted only four minutes before Lance Stroll led a restart and Hamilton, defying his discomfort, went briefly second on mediums behind championship leader Verstappen as Norris went top.

It was very close and competitive, with less than eight-tenths separating the top 11 drivers, from seven different teams, with 15 minutes to go before both Red Bulls broke into the 1:14s, Verstappen 0.188sec faster than Perez until they were split by Leclerc.

Ferrari had appeared to be taking it relatively easy, the drivers feeling their way into the weekend’s work, but Leclerc and Sainz delivered clear confirmation of their real pace in the closing minutes.

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