Leclerc at home in Monaco as fastest in F1 practice

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc has raised hopes of a first home podium appearance after setting the fastest lap in practice for Formula One's showcase Monaco Grand Prix ahead of Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton.

The local hero, who has twice been on pole position in Monaco without securing a top-three finish, showed an impressive pace with a best lap of one minute and 11.278 seconds on the soft tyres.

That time was already quicker than last year's pole of 1:11.365 set by Red Bull's Max Verstappen, who has also been on pole at every race this season and is aiming for an outright record ninth in a row.

"All in all we have a good car for the moment," said Leclerc. "I felt quite confident with the car, however it's super important that we keep this rhythm into FP3 (third practice).

"The way Monaco is, I might have taken a bit more risk compared to the others today which paid off, however it's all about tomorrow in qualifying when everybody starts to go on the limit."

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc leading the way on his home patch in Monaco. (AP PHOTO)

Seven-times world champion Hamilton, a three-times winner in the principality that is now also his home, was surprisingly quickest in practice one with a time of 1:12.169 and second in the later session, 0.188 slower.

Australia's Oscar Piastri, who had finished second behind Hamilton in first practice, came in 12th quickest in the afternoon, while his McLaren teammate Lando Norris was fifth fastest in the second session.

Hamilton, Formula One's most successful driver but without a win since 2021, had sounded gloomy earlier about his podium prospects but that all changed within the space of a day.

"It's been a good day, probably the best we've had so far this year, and the car is feeling very positive," said the Briton.

Monaco has not had a home-grown race winner since Louis Chiron, whose bust now gazes out over the swimming pool section of the harbourside circuit, drove his Bugatti to victory in 1931 - but Leclerc has a great chance.

The race is often processional and Saturday's qualifying will be of crucial importance.

Championship leader Verstappen was only 11th in practice one and fourth in the second session, and had several scrapes and brushes with the barriers.

"The car is so loose on the bumps. Any interaction with engine braking or brake bias, it's just making it all worse," he said over the radio then.

He grazed the wall again at Portier in second practice and his comments suggested he was still having a hard time wrestling the car around.

"I'm jumping like a kangaroo, man! I'm getting headaches. It's crazy," he said.

RB's Yuki Tsunoda and Australian Daniel Ricciardo lapped eighth and ninth fastest respectively in practice one but dropped back in the second.

The McLarens of Piastri and Norris both had a special livery to mark the 30th anniversary of the death of Ayrton Senna, inspired by the late, great Brazilian's helmet colours.