There were testing times in Monaco for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes on Thursday as the British driver and his team struggled to extract the maximum from their vehicle, before what is shaping up to be a tight battle with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel on the streets of Monte Carlo.
Trying to get the front and rear carcass temperature in the correct window at the same time without overheating the surface of the tyre is a fine balancing act, and Mercedes struggled more than most. "Firstly, to drive this track - it's so much fun".
In somewhat cloudy and warm conditions, Hamilton was.200 of a second clear of Vettel.
Hamilton is six points behind Vettel in his quest for a fourth title, but it seems highly probable that the Ferrari driver, who starts alongside Raikkonen on the front row, will extend his championship lead.
"Practice one was actually really good and we were quickest, but then in second practice we just struggled to extract the grip from the tyres and we were sliding around a lot". This was a problem they hoped upgrades in Barcelona had addressed and the win there suggested they had been successful.
After a day off Friday, the cars will return to the track on Saturday morning for the third practice session before taking part in the qualifying session in the afternoon. Even when they switched to the ultrasofts at the end of the session it made no appreciable difference.
"I was devastated after the session, to the point that I couldn't get out of the vehicle", Hamilton said on Saturday evening.
"You can say there is a certain DNA in the auto and I think we have proved that our vehicle can go very quick in qualifying and the race, but it seems to be more of a diva to get it into the right window", team boss Toto Wolff explained.More news: UVA comes up short during first game in the ACC Tournament
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Vettel too was perplexed as to the reasons behind Merecedes' drop in form. "Maybe I struggled a bit more than him and today he was faster". "I was pretty happy in the afternoon. I feel I've done a good job in some races, but I feel there is more to come to be at a consistently good level".
"We got it right, the team put me in a very good position every time; things were running smoothly and hopefully tomorrow we can get a great result with both cars. We need to figure out why", said Hamilton.
Hamilton won a thrilling race, Vettel was second and Bottas got nothing " except praise for his efforts.
"We clearly took a step in the wrong direction with the vehicle set-up over the break".
In the first session of qualifying the drivers to be eliminated were Marcus Ericsson, Jolyon Palmer, Esteban Ocon, Lance Stroll and Pascal Wehrlein.
In Free Practice 2, this performance took a backwards step, Mercedes changed the set-up of the cars over the break and Hamilton finished in eighth.
Briton Jenson Button, temporarily back from retirement to replace Fernando Alonso who is racing in the Indianapolis 500, was 14th for McLaren, one second and two places behind his team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne.