Monaco GP: Red Bull fastest in practice but can they repeat it in qualifying?
Ricciardo leads Red Bull 1-2 in both Thursday sessions; "Red Bull look strong but they have looked strong on a couple of Fridays," says Vettel
Ferrari have shrugged off Red Bull's searing pace in practice for the Monaco GP with the former world champions under pressure to translate their flying form on Thursday into their first pole position of the season.
Red Bull have frequently impressed in practice this season only to fall back in qualifying - partly because of the engine boosts Ferrari and Mercedes are able to deploy in qualifying, although that isn't likely to be a significant factor this weekend in F1's showpiece event as Monaco is one of the least power-dependent circuits on the calendar.
Daniel Ricciardo topped the timesheets in Practice Two with a new track record time of 1:11.841, two tenths up on team-mate Max Verstappen and over half a second clear of championship leader Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel.
An excited Ricciardo said: "I'm getting lit tonight. I enjoyed myself.
"We're already on lap record pace, which is cool. It was fun and a good day.
"I think come qualy, Ferrari and Mercedes will turn it up. I think it will tighten up by Saturday but all we could do today was try and top it and we did. It's a good start, both cars are strong and I think our long run looked decent. We seem good in all conditions at the moment."
But an unfazed Vettel said: "On Saturday it will be very close. I couldn't pick a favourite yet. Red Bull look strong but they have looked strong on a couple of Fridays this season so we will see."
And Hamilton, who felt he lost three tenths in the final sector, commented: "It's been an OK day. No damage, which is a good thing. But tough.
"We have a lot of ground we need to make up if we want to be in the fight for the win."
Neither Verstappen nor Ricciardo has qualified higher than fourth yet this season and Red Bull boss Christian Horner admitted: "Saturday has been our weakness throughout the season. We've always had a strong race car, but Saturday is where we've tended to struggle, at the business end of qualifying."
However, with the unique layout of the legendary Monte Carlo street circuit playing to the strengths of their car, Verstappen is confident Red Bull can remain the team to beat this weekend.
"We know that we have a great car," Verstappen told Sky Sports F1. "On other tracks the straights are too long but as soon as we come to a track where the straights are not that long then we are very strong.
"I think everybody [will sacrifice race pace for qualifying set-up]. Normally in the race, if you have a good start and clean pit stop then it's all good. We just need to focus on qualifying but so far the balance has been really good.
"For sure the driver can make a difference but you also need a really good car for that. If you have a good car you feel comfortable and it all builds up to each other. So far that has been really positive, straight out of the box the lap times were there so hopefully it will be the same on Saturday."
Qualifying takes place at 2pm on Saturday, live on Sky Sports F1 and Sky One.
The break in the running - Friday is market day in Monte Carlo, which precludes any F1 track action taking place - will offer Ferrari and Mercedes an opportunity to pore through their data in a bid to uncover where they are losing out, although the size of their deficit to Red Bull will be of concern to both teams.
"It's a place I always love driving on," said Ricciardo. "It helps when you're fast but regardless it's just so fun driving an F1 car around here."
Vettel, meanwhile, admitted he still had work to do.
"I'm not that happy yet in the second and last sector," said the Ferrari driver. "There are some things we can do better. I don't think we got the best out of the tyres as we hit traffic a lot.
"The track is very challenging. I like driving here. I was happy with the car, I had trust, and even if I was sliding around I was confident I wasn't going to hit the barriers."