By Alan Baldwin
MONACO (Reuters) – Formula One World champion Lewis Hamilton and his rivals expect to go quicker than ever around Monaco’s metal-fenced streets this weekend once they get to grips with the new hypersoft tyres.
The Mercedes driver, 17 points clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel after five races, said on Wednesday that records were likely to fall and others echoed that view.
“It’s going to be a track record for sure, by quite a lot,” Force India’s French driver Esteban Ocon told reporters. “It’s going to be impressive to watch.”
His Mexican team mate Sergio Perez reckoned an improvement of a second to a second-and-a-half a lap was a realistic expectation.
Perez holds the current race lap record of one minute 14.820 seconds around the Mediterranean principality, set last year, but Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen took pole position in 2017 with a 1:12.178.
The track has been resurfaced since then between turns seven and 15, and on the main pit straight from the final Anthony Noghes corner to the first at Sainte Devote, which could also speed things up.
The hypersoft tyre will be making its race debut in Monaco and was around a second faster than the ultrasoft — which first appeared two years ago — in testing in Abu Dhabi and Barcelona.
All teams have opted heavily for the softest and quickest rubber in the Pirelli range in their pre-race selections, with Red Bull opting for the maximum 11 sets per driver.
“This tyre around Monaco could be something special, we will see very quick lap times if that is the case,” said Renault’s Carlos Sainz.
Qualifying, predicted the Spaniard, could be “absolute madness.”
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who took pole position in 2016 and is among the favourites to win on Sunday, agreed it could be quicker than ever.
“I’m excited to get on the hypersoft,” said the Australian, who finished runner-up in 2016 and was third last year. “I don’t know what the lap record is here but I’d like to think we’d beat it this weekend.
“It would be nice if I do it.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge)