Starting a race weekend as the fastest driver on track is never a bad thing, but doing so in Monte Carlo might carry extra weight to it compared to normal. For Ayumu Iwasa, he kicked off the race weekend around the streets of the Principality in fine form, topping Free Practice in a stop-start session on Thursday.
Iwasa left it late to take the top spot, claiming P1 with his final flying lap before a Red Flag ended the Practice session early. It’s just part of the challenge of Monaco according to the DAMS driver, one he is relishing ahead of Qualifying tomorrow.
“I think this was a really good start, especially for Monaco,” he explained after Practice. “Actually at the start I was feeling quite good with the car, I felt like it had really good potential. So this is a good thing heading into Qualifying. I think that the track was a little bit tricky at some points because it was a bit slippy. Still, I was able to drive and build up the pace progressively, so it was a good session.”
While Championship leader Théo Pourchaire ended Thursday’s running in 10th place and F2’s latest winner Oliver Bearman finished early in the barriers, Iwasa made every lap count. Building up speed was the main focus for Iwasa, and he maximised the session to leave himself and his team with confidence heading into tomorrow’s all-important session.
Immediately after stepping out of the car, Iwasa said that he was left with positive feelings about the pace heading into tomorrow, building on his experience from 2022. It’s a factor that he hopes to use to his advantage.
“It’s a really difficult job to build up right in Monaco. The building up of the pace is the most important thing here, because if I try to push the maximum right away, I don’t get a lot of information from the track and the car because the track is still greasy. I need to get as much information as possible and that was my target.
“I have some experience here from last year, I had good speed last year as well, so I think it was a very positive session because I was able to see that potential again. I think it’s really positive to be up there. I was not P1 straight away, it’s still really close. I was P1 but a lot of people will improve ahead of tomorrow for sure. I need to look at what the potential is and maximise what I do.
“We have a bit of time to look at the data now, so I don’t think that this is the full potential of what we’re capable of, even now with P1. Anyway, I was able to get the feeling in the car and on the track as well, which is really positive around this track and is really important for Qualifying.”
The split Qualifying format will theoretically minimise the issues with traffic around such a tight and twisty circuit like Monaco. With just 11 cars on track per group, getting a clean lap in should be more straightforward than it was in Free Practice. Of course, with it being a street circuit, nothing is ever guaranteed. Being part of the group that goes out second though will put him in great shape to fight for the coveted Monaco pole position.
“It depends on the situation. We don’t know what the track conditions will be tomorrow. Last year I was Group A and this year I will be Group B, so it will be interesting. I will try to do my best on the track, and we don’t have a lot of laps to do tomorrow because it’s a shorter session than normal.
“I think it will be a bit more difficult, especially if there’s a Red Flag, that will make things more difficult. But also, it’s good to have to put it together as early as possible. It’s quite a good format, but sometimes it’s difficult. I got in big trouble with it last year!”
Aiming to rebound after a difficult round in Baku last time out, Iwasa says that a hard fought battle for pole is on the cards, but his P1 in Practice is by no means a guarantee he can repeat the feat tomorrow.
As evidenced with three Red Flag stoppages impacting a much longer Practice session, there is always a chance of misfortune wrecking a great lap. Putting together a potential pole lap, maximising performance and avoiding any potential yellow or Red Flags makes Qualifying in Monaco such a unique challenge according to Iwasa.
“I think pole is possible for sure. We have the potential to get pole, but we shouldn’t think about it too much. We just have to do our best as a team to get the most speed out of it and then in my driving performance. I need to spend some time from now until Qualifying to do that.
“I think it’s putting everything together in a single lap, that’s the most difficult thing for sure in Qualifying. Also, the conditions getting better as the sessions go on and the tyres changing a lot in terms of their performance. It means I have to adapt my driving for every single lap, that’s the most difficult thing with Qualifying in Monaco.”