Perez ahead of Ferrari’s Sainz and Red Bull team-mate Verstappen as F1 returns to Monte Carlo

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Sergio Perez enjoyed a confidence-boosting start to his Monaco GP weekend as he set the pace in Practice One for Red Bull.

Perez, who has struggled to replicate his form of 2020 since signing for the Formula 1 title challengers, fitted the softest tyres to post a 1:12.487 and top his first session of the season – just ahead of Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen as the sport made its big return to the Monte Carlo streets.

Sainz and Verstappen, a tenth of a second off the pace, both set their fastest times on the slower medium tyre.

Sainz was the surprise package of the morning as he shone for Ferrari, although the team did suffer an early blow with Charles Leclerc completing only four laps before heading to the pits with what turned out to be a session-ending gearbox issue for the Monegasque home favourite.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were only fifth and sixth as the championship leaders, who have installed Red Bull as the team to beat in Monaco, eased themselves into F1’s showpiece weekend.

“Red Bull really do look strong,” said Sky F1’s Martin Brundle, with Ted Kravitz also reporting that the team had an upgrade package for their RB16B.

Pierre Gasly, also on soft tyres, was fourth for AlphaTauri.

McLaren, sporting a striking new Gulf-inspired livery for the Monaco weekend, placed seventh and 15th through Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo, with 2021’s third-placed team tinkering with setups in opening practice.

As ever with a Monaco practice session, drivers were flirting with the barriers.

Fernando Alonso and Sainz both had to pit for damage after brushing the walls, which border the famous two-mile circuit that has graced F1 for seventy years.

SKYSPORTS