Max Verstappen ended Free Practice 3 fastest of all heading into the most important qualifying session of the year.
He managed to leap above both Ferraris on his final flying effort but the Maranello men look like a real threat for pole position.
Mercedes on the other hand have pace to find in the break between FP3 and qualifying, with Valtteri Bottas fourth and championship leader Lewis Hamilton all the way down in seventh.
Here is how practice unfolded ahead of the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix.
There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky for F1’s return to Monaco on Thursday for the start of FP1.
With an hour less track time that usual with the reduction in practice time this season, all of the drivers were quickly out onto the circuit for the first time in two years.
Charles Leclerc gave a wave to his home fans as he made his way out onot the circuit for the first time but reported a gearbox problem soon after.
The Monégasque was pulled back into the garage inside the opening 10 minutes of the session and it was diagnosed as a session-ending issue.
Team-mate Carlos Sainz was flying on the medium tyres on his first few quick laps, clocking up a 1min 14.457sec to go fastest of all at the 10-minute mark.
Max Verstappen’s opening flyer on the hards was set to be a decent benchmark slightly off of Sainz’s time but a slow Nikita Mazepin on the racing line at the Swimming Pool section forced the Dutchman to back off.
Mazepin was one of the first drivers to brush the walls around Monaco, able to continue on while Nicholas Latifi’s moment meant he had to pit for minor repairs to his Williams.
Lewis Hamilton gradually closed a 1sec gap to Sainz down to 0.016sec on his medium tyres, narrowly ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Verstappen struggled to get a clear run on the hard compound tyres, catching traffic on most of his fast laps in the final sector.
He was finally able to split the two Mercedes drivers with a time good enough for third.
Fernando Alonso was the first to have major contact with the barriers, understeering into the barriers at Anthony Noghes, taking off the left-hand endplate on his front wing in the process.
The Spaniard was able to make it back to the pits for a new front wing.
With a bit of clear air, Verstappen got a clean lap in to go fastest of all on the hard tyres to dislodge Sainz from the top spot, but only briefly.
Bottas restored Mercedes to the top of the pile before Hamilton bettered the Finn’s effort with a 1min 12.995sec on medium compound tyres.
Kimi Räikkönen was the first driver to send it a little too deep into Sainte Devote but the Alfa Romeo man was quickly back on track after taking to the escape road.
Sainz was briefly back on top before a lap by Pierre Gasly sent AlphaTauri to the top of the timesheets with just under 25mins remaining.
The Spaniard was pushing on but an oversteer moment out of the swimming pool chicane shifted him out wide and he brushed the wall with the right side of his car. The contact was minor but he was into the pits at the end of the lap for a checkover.
Verstappen went quickest with 15 minutes to go having switched over to medium tyres, a tenth quicker than Sergio Perez who was on the softs.
That advantage didn’t last long as the Mexican dipped into the mid 1min 12’s to top the times.
He bettered his own effort in the final minute of the morning session to extend his advantage to just over a tenth of a second.
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 20, 2021
The track was immediately swarmed with cars as the session went green as drivers looked to make the most of the limited track time.
Ferrari had swapped out the broken gearbox in Charles Leclerc’s car from the morning session and the home hero was back out logging as many laps as he could.
Red Bull was quickly out of the blocks too as Verstappen headed up an early 1-2 from Perez by a tenth of a second.
The Dutchman lowered that benchmark by a further four tenths before Hamilton set an identical time just seconds after on a 1min 13.499sec, both on the medium tyre.
The Red Bull man improved again but that time was smashed by Hamilton by almost half a second on their subsequent runs to dip into the 1min 12’s.
Times continued to fall and Sainz was the quickest Ferrari in the opening 20 minutes, 0.4sec down on the Mercedes driver’s time but on the hard compound tyres. Another run later and he chopped that gap down to 0.180sec.
Leclerc was trying to make up for the time he missed out on in the morning but got sidways at La Rascasse and had to back out of a lap to save his car from the barriers.
Latifi tapped the barriers in the first session and he had to engage reverse to avoid biffing the barriers in the second after going deep at the hairpin.
Bottas’ first lap on the softs wasn’t good enough for the top spot but his second effort put him top of the times and into the low 1min 12’s. Hamilton’s first soft tyre effort was a scruffy one and a few sideways moments left him a tenth off of the Finn.
Sainz was the first driver into the 1min 11’s as the Ferrari driver went quickest of all on a 1min 11.796sec to go fastest, a time that Verstappen couldn’t beat on his initial flyer.
Antonio Giovinazzi was a surprise name at the top-end of the times, briefly going third fastest for Alfa Romeo but dropping to fifth place following the times from Sainz, Verstappen and Mercedes.
Mick Schumacher caught Perez on the racing line in the middle of the swimming pool chicane on a hot lap and locked up trying to avoid crashing into the Red Bull.
Gasly promoted AlphaTauri into fifth briefly before Leclerc shot up the times, 0.6sec down on his team-mates best time.
While Verstappen complained about keeping his tyre temperatures under control, Ferrari showed that it could repeat fast laps at decent pace as the Monégasque improved to P3 a fraction down on the lead Red Bull man.
Hamilton popped up to second place on his eight-lap old soft tyres to pip Verstappen with just over 20 minutes remaining.
Just as attention started to switch to race runs, Leclerc popped up with a final hot lap to go fastest of all on a 1min 11.684sec to cement the Ferrari 1-2.
Schumacher was in the wars again inside the final 10 minutes, losing the back end of his Haas car on entry to Massenet and tapping the barriers, causing a rear right puncture. He parked his car in an escape road on the exit of the tunnel but the red flag was throw to recover the car, ending the running on Thursday.
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 20, 2021
The track was damp for the second F2 sprint race earlier in the morning following overnight rain but the conditions were a lot cooler than Thursday’s sunny sessions. Despite the limited time ahead of qualifying put drivers off getting straight out onto the track when the lights went green.
Kimi Räikkönen was the first to venture out quickly followed by his team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi. The Alfa duo dragged most of the field out soon after in the opening 10 minutes.
Leclerc showed Ferrari had lost nothing on the day off and went immediately quickest on his first flyer with a 1min 12.633sec from team-mate Sainz. The Spaniard one-upped that on his subsequent lap but was swiftly replaced again at the top as the home favourite went quicker still and into the low 1min 12’s.
Mercedes was the last of the teams to emerge from the garages with 15 minutes gone. Verstappen’s first time of the day was good enough for P2, 0.1sec off of Leclerc while Perez’s medium-tyre run put him fourth, 0.4sec down.
The Dutchman went one better on his next lap as title rival Hamilton could only improve to fourth on his flying laps, 0.5sec off of the session-topping time. Sainz was the next contender to go to the top, a 1min 11.452sec the latest benchmark.
In the McLaren battle, both drivers were some way off of rivals Ferrari but Norris held almost a full second over his team-mate as Daniel Ricciardo struggled with traction. The lack of pace left the duo in seventh and 13th respectively with the first half an hour gone.
Leclerc was on course for a quicker lap but oversteer on entry to the Nouvelle Chicane undid his first sector and flirting with the barrier on exit of the swimming pool caused him to abort the effort.
There was plenty happening at La Rascasse as drivers tried to find the gaps for a hot lap. Norris almost collided with Sainz trying to avoid the Ferrari that jumped off line just as the McLaren darted to the inside approaching the final corner. Luckily for both they avoided contact.
Leclerc was the first to dive down the escape road at Sainte Devote on a hot lap while Bottas was down soonafter. Sainz was able to sneak an improvement in as the time ticked down to the final 19 minutes but Monaco finally claimed its first victim in Nicholas Latifi.
The Williams driver hit the inside barrier on exit of the swimming pool chicane, sending him over the yellow kerbs and into the outside wall, breaking the front right suspension to bring out the red flags.
The Canadian had the measure of George Russell throughout the session up to his mistake, making his error even more frustrating.
With 11:57 left on the clock, final practice ahead of qualifying resumed with Mercedes desperate to find some time down in fifth and sixth.
Verstappen and Leclerc improved their times but stayed second and third respectively while Perez jumped up to fourth on his first flying lap in the final 10 minutes.
Red Bull might have lost the GPS readout on Verstappen’s car but they didn’t need to look far on the timing screens as he leapt to the top of the times on a 1min 11.294sec.
Bottas moved himself up to fourth in the final five minutes as Mercedes still couldn’t get on terms with Ferrari and Verstappen.
The red flags brought the session to an end two minutes early as Mick Schumacher hit the barriers heavily at the top of Casino Square. The entire left-hand side of his car was damaged leaving the Haas crew an incredibly tough job to get it fixed in time to take part in qualifying.
— Formula 1 (@F1) May 22, 2021