Sat, May 24, 2008 - Page 19 News List

Hamilton sets the pace at practice for Monaco GP

AP , MONTE CARLO, MONACO

A sunbather watches Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain during the first practice session for the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday.

PHOTO: AP

Lewis Hamilton showed his determination to end a four-race winless streak by setting the pace at Thursday's opening practice sessions for the Monaco Grand Prix.

Hamilton was fastest through the first two sectors of the famous street circuit on his way to clocking a best lap of 1 minute, 15.140 seconds in the afternoon session.

“[It’s] one of those days where you really need to walk before you run and just take your time,” Hamilton said. “It’s a rollercoaster ride, no one can ever imagine how hard it is, how fast it is, how close you are to the barriers and ... to going over the curb. It just takes an unreal amount of concentration.”

The 23-year-old McLaren driver finished runner-up in his first try at Formula One’s most renowned track last year behind then teammate Fernando Alonso. Hamilton, coming off a second-place finish at the Turkish GP, was nearly four-tenths of a second quicker than Nico Rosberg of Williams, who timed 1:15.533.

McLaren has long enjoyed success at Monaco with 14 victories in the past 25 races. Hamilton also triumphed at Monte Carlo in GP2 two years ago.

The Briton dismissed suggestions that Monaco’s track was out of date for today’s racing.

“The lap I just did in practice was not an old lady’s lap — this is a racers’ track. If you can’t drive it, that’s your problem,” Hamilton said.

Ferrari, looking for a fifth straight race victory, saw Kimi Raikkonen finish third in 1:15.572 ahead of teammate Felipe Massa, who went around the 3.34km circuit in 1:15.869.

“After today we are seeing for sure it will be very tough. Our main competitor is very, very strong,” Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali said.

Ferrari has only five victories in Monaco in the last 30 years.

The last came seven years ago through Michael Schumacher, who was in Ferrari’s garage on Thursday.

“We needed to think [about] how to have a different approach [this year], so we did a long study on the setups we took in the past years and tried to better understand the tire usage, tire pressure connected to setups,” Domenicali said.

He also said tricky weather conditions, which have often played a determining role at Monte Carlo, could offset McLaren’s clear advantage.

Raikkonen, who won here in 2005 for McLaren, leads the overall championship standings with 35 points, seven better than Massa and Hamilton, who hasn’t won since the season-opening Australian GP.

McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen — who was fastest through the final sector — rounded out the day’s top five with a time of 1:15.881.

Renault struggled with the circuit’s first corner, where both drivers spun out in the afternoon session to damage their rear wings. Alonso swiped the wall to lose his wing while Nelson Piquet Jr, who has failed to finish three of the season’s first five races, got his tires stuck.

“There is no room for mistake and we proved it today once more,” the two-time defending champion here said. “A little touch is enough to break the car.”

BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica, an outside favorite to win tomorrow, was more than a second behind with a time of 1:16.296.

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