As is often the case, the Formula Renault 3.5 Series free practice session in the streets of Monaco was a lively affair. ISR’s Sam Bird used his prior track knowledge to full advantage to put on an impressive display. The British driver recorded the fastest time of the morning, topping the timesheets ahead of Marco Sorensen (Lotus), who was completing his very first laps on a street circuit. Despite a collision at the very end of the session, Alexander Rossi (Arden Caterham) rounded off the top three.
In keeping with tradition, the Formula Renault 3.5 Series drivers kicked off the weekend ahead of the 70th Monaco Grand Prix. At the green light the majority of the drivers took to the unique and demanding track, some already familiar with the circuit and others discovering it for the first time. The session did not start well for Richie Stanaway, however, who immediately went into the barrier on the exit from Piscine.
Stanaway’s shunt would prove to be the first of many collisions. Alexander Rossi, Robin Frijns (Fortec Motorsports), Kevin Korjus (Tech 1 Racing) and Jake Rosenzweig (ISR) all managed to negotiate the various cars involved in incidents to lead proceedings in the early stages of the session.
Shortly after the session’s midway point, Sam Bird was the first to get close to last year’s pole time of 1:26.427, set by Daniel Ricciardo, who now drives in Formula One for Scuderia Toro Rosso. Kevin Korjus, however, was the first to successfully improve on Ricciardo’s time with a lap of 1:26.344, and the iRace Professional driver’s effort triggered the morning’s final wave of improvements.
Before hitting the barrier at Mirabeau, Alexander Rossi took his turn to top the timesheets with a lap of 1:25.299. But it was Sam Bird, the pole man at Monaco in last season’s GP2 Series, who had the last word. Bird, driving in the colours of Mercedes AMG Petronas F1, finished the only free practice session of the weekend at the top of the pile with a time of 1:25.046. Marco Sorensen finished second-fastest, ahead of Rossi, Korjus and Kevin Magnussen (Carlin). The FR 3.5 Series drivers take to the streets of Monaco again on Saturday for qualifying.
What they said:
Sam Bird: “I’m happy with my performance this morning, but there’s still a huge amount of room to improve. There isn’t any grip on the track yet as we were the first to drive on it, and I didn’t use DRS on my fastest lap. So it’s going to get quicker. This car is great to drive on the streets of Monaco. Unfortunately I’m in the first qualifying group, which is not an advantage, but I’ll get on with it and try to get pole position, as I did in the GP2 Series last year.”
Marco Sorensen: “It was the first time in my life that I’d driven a racing car on a street circuit. It was pretty good. It’s not easy, but I quickly found my bearings. I’ll need to do even more if I’m to figure strongly in qualifying. I don’t have a particular objective, other than to avoid making the slightest error.”
Alexander Rossi: “It’s the first time that we’ve really been on the pace and that’s very encouraging for my team, which is new to the Formula Renault 3.5 Series this season. The only problem was the mistake I made on my final lap, at Mirabeau. But it’s better to hit the barrier today than on Sunday!”
Kevin Korjus: “It was a particular kind of session as there were lots of incidents compared with last year. We had to avoid the other cars to be able to clock a time in the morning! We managed to finish in the leading group, without using fresh tyres. That’s encouraging. There’s a long wait from now until Saturday, so we’ll need to stay focused.”
Robin Frijns: “This circuit is incredible. The first laps take you by surprise, particularly due to the humps all over the place. But I quickly found my rhythm. I went quite close to the barriers on several occasions, which had me sweating, but I think that’s how you find your limit here.”