TEAM EFFORT: Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton chats to his pit crew after finishing a practice session at the Monaco GP. Image: AFP/ Jean Christophe Magnenet
MONTE CARLO, Monaco - Lewis Hamilton oozed all the authority and skill of a champion on Thursday (May 21) as he marked the confirmation of his new three-year contract with Mercedes by dominating both opening practice sessions for this weekend's Monaco GP.
The 30-year-old Briton, beaten into second place by his Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg at the Spanish Grand Prix two weeks earlier, delivered a consummate performance in cool, treacherous and wet conditions on the unforgiving streets of the Mediterranean principality.
SPECIFIC CHANGES TO THE CAR
It was a perfect riposte to Rosberg's revival and confirmed Hamilton's intention to win Sunday's (May 24) classic 78-lap race and wreck his rival's bid for a rare hat-trick of successive victories on his home town road track.
"It's been great, a good day so far," said Hamilton after completion of an afternoon session interrupted by a heavy rain shower and a red-flag following a crash when Roberto Merhi lost control of his Manor Marussia car at the exit of the tunnel. He hit the barriers, but was unhurt.
"You need to get on the pace quickly and find the time and be very specific with any changes you make," said Hamilton. "And it is better not to make too many."
Hamilton did one lap after the rain on a wet track and said: "I think the only thing I learned was that the white lines, which are painted black now, are slipperier than ever! This black paint is more slippery than the white.
"Other than that, you know, this is the hardest track to drive in the wet."
Hamilton tweeted: "Awesome day today! Great job by the team!" after finishing practice on Thursday.
Rosberg was second fastest at the end of the day by more than seven-tenths of a second ahead of four-times champion Sebastian Vettel and his Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Rosberg, 29, is 20 points behind Hamilton in the title race. He survived "a moment" during the morning opening session when he brushed a barrier at Tabac.
ROSBERG: 'MORE TO COME'
The incident ruined that lap and forced him back to the pits but his car had no serious damage.
Rosberg said: "It wasn't a perfect day, not perfect weather for practice and I think that was a complete surprise. We all put on 'super-softs' for second practice and the rain came. The good thing is that the car is definitely very quick so that's good.
"There is more to come from me, for sure. This is Monaco and you know you have to build up to it through the Thursday and then the Saturday and make sure you're there for qualifying.
"I feel pretty confident. I know there is more to come so I have to get down to it and do a great qualifying lap."
Hamilton clocked a best of 1min17.192 before the rain that halted afternoon action until the final 10 minutes of the session.
FERRARI READY TO COMPETE
Vettel was upbeat about his and Ferrari's prospects despite being comprehensively outpaced again by Mercedes. "We should be closer again here. Obviously, some of that is down to the nature of the track. Everybody's a little closer."
Russian Daniil Kvyat of Red Bull was fifth and the talented young Spaniard Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso) sixth.
Dutch teenager Max Verstappen continued his extraordinary impact on the season by taking seventh in the second Toro Rosso ahead of a much-improved performance from Spanish double champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso in the troublesome McLaren-Honda.
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