Button leads first Monaco practice

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AP

McLaren driver Jenson Button of Britain on his way to setting the fastest time on the first day of practice for the Monaco Grand Prix.

McLaren's Jenson Button set the pace in a rain-hit practice for the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday but kept a wary eye on rivals Lotus.

Button, a winner around the treacherous metal-ringed street circuit in his 2009 title season with Brawn GP, skimmed the barriers and roared past the luxury yachts bobbing in the harbour with a fastest time of 1min15.746 on super-soft tyres.

“We have not done a lot of running for a Thursday at Monaco so hopefully Saturday will be a bit better,” he said looking forward to qualifying, with Friday a rest day in the principality.

“The cars that looked very fast for me were the Lotuses. Their runs whenever they are out look very competitive, so I'd say the Lotus is the car to beat so far this weekend.”

Button's time was set in the dry as drivers got in quick laps in the first 15 minutes before the rainclouds darkened the skies and made conditions slippery.

Frenchman Romain Grosjean burnished his hopes of becoming his country's first Formula One winner in Monaco since Olivier Panis in a wet 1996 with the second-fastest time for Lotus in both sessions.

“I like Monaco, it's good fun.”

“The car is going well at the moment so let's see what we can do later on,” he said. “It's important to have a car that you are confident with and work every single detail because it makes such a big difference.”

A win by Grosjean or team mate Kimi Raikkonen would give Formula One a first of having six different winners from six different teams in the first six races.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso had showed his Monaco mastery in the morning with a pace-setting 1min16.265 in a sunny session cut short in a cloud of smoke when Heikki Kovalainen's Caterham blew its engine in the tunnel.

The Spaniard, twice a winner in Monaco with Renault and McLaren, was fourth in the afternoon without fitting the super-soft tyres.

“I would say first impressions are quite positive,” he said of the car. “Everything seems to respond as we would expect.

“We only made a few small modifications to the set-up, trying to improve it, but it's obviously too early to draw any conclusions.”

MASSA THIRD

Ferrari's Brazilian Felipe Massa, under intense pressure to deliver after scoring just two points in five races, was an encouraging third in the second session.

Mexican Sergio Perez, returning to the scene of his big accident in qualifying last year, had been third in the morning for Sauber with race favourite Lewis Hamilton fourth for McLaren.

The largely incident-free first session was red-flagged with just over nine minutes to go when Kovalainen's car blew its engine and filled the tunnel - the fastest point of the circuit - with smoke.

Kovalainen parked up at the tunnel exit as drivers threaded their way through the smoke. With oil also deposited on the track, organisers decided not to re-start the session.

That left 2007 champion Raikkonen at the bottom of the timing screens after the Finn completed an installation lap but failed to set a time.

Raikkonen sat out the rest of the session as mechanics worked on his car.

“The steering wasn't to my liking so the team changed it for me,” he said. “It's something you change for Monaco and there's no way of knowing what it will be like beforehand.”

Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, surprise winner for Williams at the last race in Spain but now among the favourites at a track he loves, was again among the frontrunners with the fifth fastest time in both sessions.

Red Bull's double World champion and last year's winner Sebastian Vettel, joint championship leader with Alonso, clocked the ninth and 10th best times respectively.

Five-times Monaco winner and seven-times World champion Michael Schumacher damaged his Mercedes's front wing when he rode the kerbs at the swimming pool complex in the morning. He was 11th then and ninth in the afternoon. - Reuters

RESULTS - SECOND SESSION

1 Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren - 1min15.746

2 Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus - 1:16.138

3 Felipe Massa (Brazil) Ferrari - 1:16.602

4 Fernando Alonso (Spain) Ferrari - 1:16.661

5 Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) Williams - 1:16.820

6 Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes - 1:17.021

7 Mark Webber (Australia) Red Bull - 1:17.148

8 Kamui Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber - 1:17.153

9 Michael Schumacher (Germany) Mercedes - 1:17.293

10 Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Red Bull - 1:17.303

11 Lewis Hamilton (Britain) McLaren - 1:17.375

12 Paul Di Resta (Britain) Force India - 1:17.395

13 Bruno Senna (Brazil) Williams - 1:17.655

14 Nico Huelkenberg (Germany) Force India - 1:17.800

15 Sergio Perez (Mexico) Sauber - 1:18.251

16 Vitaly Petrov (Russia) Caterham - 1:18.440

17 Jean-Eric Vergne (France) Toro Rosso - 1:18.522

18 Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Toro Rosso - 1:18.808

19 Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Lotus - 1:19.267

20 Timo Glock (Germany) Marussia - 1:19.309

21 Heikki Kovalainen (Finland) Caterham - 1:20.029

22 Charles Pic (France) Marussia - 1:20.240

23 Pedro de la Rosa (Spain) Hispania - 1:20.631

24 Narain Karthikeyan (India) Hispania - 1:20.886

FIRST SESSION

1 Fernando Alonso (Spain) Ferrari - 1min16.265

2 Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus - 1:16.630

3 Sergio Perez (Mexico) Sauber - 1:16.711

4 Lewis Hamilton (Britain) McLaren - 1:16.747

5 Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) Williams - 1:16.760

6 Felipe Massa (Brazil) Ferrari - 1:16.843

7 Kamui Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber - 1:17.038

8 Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren - 1:17.190

9 Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Red Bull - 1:17.222

10 Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes - 1:17.261

11 Michael Schumacher (Germany) Mercedes - 1:17.413

12 Nico Huelkenberg (Germany) Force India - 1:17.631

13 Mark Webber (Australia) Red Bull - 1:18.106

14 Jean-Eric Vergne (France) Toro Rosso - 1:18.209

15 Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Toro Rosso - 1:18.252

16 Paul Di Resta (Britain) Force India - 1:18.302

17 Bruno Senna (Brazil) Williams - 1:18.617

18 Heikki Kovalainen (Finland) Caterham - 1:19.039

19 Vitaly Petrov (Russia) Caterham - 1:19.341

20 Narain Karthikeyan (India) Hispania - 1:20.838

21 Charles Pic (France) Marussia - 1:20.895

22 Timo Glock (Germany) Marussia - 1:21.638

23 Pedro de la Rosa (Spain) Hispania - 1:22.423

24 Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Lotus - No Time

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