Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz went quickest in the opening practice session for the 2023 FIA Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix, beating Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso to top spot by more than three tenths of a second at the end of a session that ended early when Williams’ Alex Albon crashed in the final minutes.
With a little under three minutes left on the clock in the hour-long session, Albon lost the rear of his FW45 on entry to the first corner, Sainte Devote, and hit the barriers hard with the rear left of his car and with his stricken car stranded and with debris scattered across the track, the session was red-flagged. Race Control quickly indicated it would not be restarted.
At the top of the hour, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc made the initial headway, with the local hero setting a time of 1:15.931 five minutes in to top the timesheet. Sainz then moved past that marker with a lap of 1:15.198. Leclerc was soon back on top, though, thanks to a lap of 1:15.037. He then made a significant step forward to lower the bar to 1:14.562 before Sainz returned to P1 with a lap of 1:14.401. The Spaniard then improved to 1:14.245 before making his way back to the pit lane to plot his next run.
While the Ferrari pair were setting the pace, a number of chasing drivers behind were struggling to find a comfort zone on the street circuit, with championship leader Max Verstappen particularly unhappy with the handling of his car which he said was bottoming out too much.
While the Ferrari drivers ran medium tyres early on, their rivals spent the opening phase on hard compound Pirelli tyres and when they moved to the yellow banded tyres the order changed.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton posted a lap of 1:14.035 to move ahead of the Ferrari drivers, while Verstappen also used the mediums to make progress. The Dutch driver was still unhappy with how his RB19 was bottoming out, though he was told he might have put up with the feeling until the end of the session.
Alonso moved up to P2 just 0.064s behind Hamilton but the session was then halted by red flags when Nico Hülkenberg clipped the barriers on the left-hand side at the Nouvelle Chicane.
The contact punctured Hülkenberg’s rear left tyres and damaged the wheel rim. He was able to limp back to the pits but the session was red-flagged for three minutes while debris from the incident was cleared.
When running began again, Alonso rose to P1 with a lap of 1:13.907 but Sainz wasn’t done and he then retook first place with a lap of 1:13.690. Alonso closed the gap marginally soon after but Sainz was still pushing and he carved out a more significant gap of 0.338s with a final flyer of 1:13.372. Moments later Albon crashed at St Devote to bring the session to a close.
The top three of Sainz, Alonso and Hamilton were followed by Pérez with Leclerc in fifth place and Verstappen, still struggling, in sixth place ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris ended up seventh ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll and the unfortunate Albon.
2023 FIA Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix – Free Practice 1
1 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:13.372 26 163.730
2 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 1:13.710 0.338 28 162.979
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:14.035 0.663 27 162.263
4 Sergio Pérez Red Bull Racing 1:14.038 0.666 27 162.257
5 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:14.093 0.721 24 162.136
6 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:14.244 0.872 26 161.807
7 Lando Norris McLaren 1:14.467 1.095 25 161.322
8 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:14.585 1.213 29 161.067
9 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:14.653 1.281 28 160.920
10 Alexander Albon Williams 1:14.666 1.294 32 160.892
11 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1:14.718 1.346 29 160.780
12 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:14.725 1.353 29 160.765
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:14.820 1.448 29 160.561
14 Pierre Gasly Alpine 1:14.866 1.494 30 160.462
15 George Russell Mercedes 1:15.066 1.694 24 160.035
16 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri 1:15.083 1.711 33 159.998
17 Oscar Piastri McLaren 1:15.192 1.820 32 159.766
18 Logan Sargeant Williams 1:15.557 2.185 30 158.995
19 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:15.684 2.312 25 158.728
20 Nico Hülkenberg Haas 1:15.785 2.413 17 158.516