Rosberg tops red-flagged final practice

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Nico Rosberg has continued his clean-sweep of the sessions in Monaco by finishing quickest in final practice on Saturday.

The German driver’s good form from Thursday was evident once again, putting in a quickest time of 1:14.378 to edge out Romain Grosjean and Sebastian Vettel at the top of the time sheets. The session was interrupted by two red flags, the first of which came out with around 20 minutes left in the session after Felipe Massa went off at Ste Devote. The accident will certainly give Ferrari a busy lunchtime in the two hour break before qualifying if they are to get Massa out for the session, but thankfully he walked away unharmed.

Soon after the session restarted, Adrian Sutil suffered his second crash of the weekend at Massenet which ended his session early. However, the car was recovered under yellow flags, but the session was brought to an early end after Grosjean binned his Lotus at Ste Devote after avoiding Lewis Hamilton, who was coming out of the pits. This came after the Frenchman had damaged his first set of tires earlier in the session after scraping the barrier, and Lotus will also face a big repair job if they are to run in qualifying.

Grosjean had led at one point, with most drivers leaving it late to run on the super-soft tire, but it was Rosberg who ultimately finished fastest. Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber impressed for Red Bull to finish 3rd and 7th, marking an improvement from Thursday, whilst Fernando Alonso finished a good 4th for Ferrari ahead of Lewis Hamilton.

Kimi Raikkonen could not match his teammate’s pace in P6, but Paul di Resta, Pastor Maldonado and Nico Hulkenberg will all be delighted to have finished in the top ten. At the front though, it was all about Rosberg, who finished a full six-tenths clear of Grosjean. The German driver has been unstoppable so far this weekend in Monaco, and it’s hard to look past a Mercedes pole position in qualifying.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.