Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc raised hopes of a first home podium appearance after setting the fastest lap in practice for Formula One’s showcase Monaco Grand Prix on Friday ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

The local hero, who has twice been on pole position in Monaco without securing a top three finish, showed an impressive pace with a best lap of one minute and 11.278 seconds on the soft tyres.

That time was already quicker than last year’s pole of 1:11.365 set by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who has also been on pole at every race this season and is aiming for an outright record ninth in a row.

“All in all we have a good car for the moment,” said Leclerc. “I felt quite confident with the car, however it’s super important that we keep this rhythm into FP3 (third practice).

“The way Monaco is, I might have taken a bit more risk compared to the others today which paid off, however it’s all about tomorrow in qualifying when everybody starts to go on the limit.”

Seven-times world champion Hamilton, a three-times winner in the principality that is now also his home, was surprisingly quickest in practice one with a time of 1:12.169 and second in the later session, 0.188 slower.

Hamilton, Formula 1’s most successful driver but without a win since 2021, had sounded gloomy earlier about his podium prospects but that all changed within the space of a day.

“It’s been a good day, probably the best we’ve had so far this year, and the car is feeling very positive,” said the Briton.

“This track is just amazing in an F1 car, and I’ve been enjoying my driving today. I was pleasantly surprised by the grip level and the way the car was responding, which made it a much more enjoyable ride than the last two years.

Championship leader Verstappen was fourth and McLaren’s Lando Norris fifth with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz sixth.

Verstappen, winner of five of the seven races so far and 48 points clear of closest rival Leclerc in the standings, had several scrapes and brushes with the barriers and was only 11th in practice one.

“The car is so loose on the bumps. Any interaction with engine braking or brake bias, it’s just making it all worse,” he said over the radio then.

He grazed the wall again at Portier in second practice and his comments suggested he was still having a hard time wrestling the car around.

“I’m jumping like a kangaroo, man! I’m getting headaches. It’s crazy,” he said.

Team mate Sergio Perez suffered a puncture and was 12th fastest in practice one and also struggling later on, finishing eighth fastest.

“The ride is horrendous,” said the Mexican.

RB’s Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo lapped eighth and ninth fastest respectively in practice one but dropped back in the second, with Williams’ Alex Albon ninth and Russell only 10th.

Red flags were waved with 15 minutes remaining in the first session when Sauber’s Guanyu Zhou clipped the tyre wall and scattered debris on the track, with Leclerc running over some of it and damaging his Ferrari.

Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond, Christian Radnedge and Pritha Sarkar, original source Reuters

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc during practice REUTERS/Benoit Tessier