Monaco: Formula One celebrated its 60th birthday on Thursday with Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari fittingly on top of the timesheets in first practice for the showcase Monaco Grand Prix.
Flying the flag for the only team to have been in the championship since the very first season, the Spaniard lapped the tight and twisty street circuit with a best time of one minute 15.927 seconds.
Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel was second quickest, 0.073 slower, with Poland’s Robert Kubica third for Renault in a session without major incident despite having six more cars on track than last year.
Australian Mark Webber, winner in Spain on Sunday for Red Bull, was fourth fastest ahead of Ferrari’s Brazilian Felipe Massa and Germany’s seven times world champion Michael Schumacher in a Mercedes.
Schumacher was making his first appearance on track in Monaco since a now-infamous 2006 race when he was sent to the back of the starting grid by stewards who ruled he had deliberately blocked rivals in qualifying.
If Schumacher were to win for Mercedes on Sunday, he would equal the late Brazilian Ayrton Senna’s record of six wins in the principality.
World champion Jenson Button, last year’s winner for Brawn, was eighth for McLaren behind 2008 champion and team mate Lewis Hamilton.
The Automobile Club de Monaco marshals and fire crews, always the trendiest in F1 with their mirror shades and red and gold helmets, were rarely troubled on a hot Mediterranean morning.
They, and the fans in the harbourside grandstands and yachts moored along the quay, could soak up the sunshine as the session got off to a quiet start.
The first proper timed lap came after 20 minutes, with the noise levels rising and the wail of engines bouncing off buildings and reverberating through the tunnel as a stream of cars left the pits.
Alonso, a double world champion who took back-to-back Monaco victories for Renault and McLaren in 2006 and 2007, went top with 20 minutes to go with a time that withstood Vettel’s later effort.
The only drivers to tangle with the unforgiving metal barriers ringing the circuit were Indian rookie Karun Chandhok, whose HRT skimmed them at Massanet, and Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi in a Sauber at the swimming pool complex.
The first Formula One championship race, the British Grand Prix, was held at Silverstone on 13 May 1950. Ferrari made their debut in Monaco a week later.