MONACO: Max Verstappen resumed normal service on Friday when he topped the times for Red Bull and then demanded more performance from his team ahead of Saturday's crucial qualifying session at the Monaco Grand Prix.

The defending double world champion struggled with his car in the opening practice, as he complained of “bottoming out” on his way to sixth, but he bounced back in the afternoon to go fastest ahead of Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari.

“The second practice was much better,“ said Verstappen, who leads team-mate Sergio Perez by 14 points in this year’s title race. “The car felt much more competitive.

“Compared to Ferrari, we are still a bit short in terms of how the car behaves on the kerbs and over the bumps and that’s something we have to work on for tomorrow because they are very close.

“The Aston Martins are also close and we need something more to stay ahead. The car is better so then you can push more and go closer to the guardrails.”

Verstappen was quickest in a best lap of one minute 12.462 seconds, 0.065 clear of the Monegasque local hero who is bidding for a third successive 'home' pole position.

Carlos Sainz, who was fastest in the first session, was third in the second Ferrari, despite a late crash into the barriers in the Swimming Pool comples, ahead of Aston Martin's two-time champion Fernando Alonso, Lando Norris of McLaren and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes.

Last year's winner Sergio Perez was seventh in the second Red Bull ahead of a resurgent Valtteri Bottas of Alfa Romeo and the two Alpines of French duo Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon.

The session was run in near-perfect conditions, a warm afternoon sun touching 27 degrees as it shone from a wide blue sky over the Mediterranean principality. The track temperature was 45 degrees.

'I had fun'

Hamilton was very satisfied with his day's action.

“I really enjoyed that,“ he said. “I had fun and enjoyed driving that car so I must say thank-you to everyone at the factory for all their hard work.

“I think we got a lot of data... It’s not the place to ultimately test an upgrade, but the car was generally feeling good... I think ultimately it’s a bit of a shame we weren’t as close as I hoped to be at the end of the session, but definitely I felt the improvements.

“We’ve just got to keep chipping away at it, see if we can squeeze any more juice out of the car.”

After an encouraging morning run behind the pace-setting Ferrari of Sainz, Hamilton quickly confirmed that Mercedes' upgrade package was working well as he topped the times on mediums in 1:15.735.

He was soon outpaced by team-mate George Russell in 1:15.482 before, in a flurry of pace, Alonso, Verstappen and Hamilton took top spot.

Verstappen improved again in 1:13.857 to set the pace while the two Ferraris narrowly avoided a collision in the 'Swimming Pool complex' before the Dutchman trimmed his time down to 1:13.312.

After 24 minutes, Alonso swapped his mediums for a set of softs and the serious stuff began with him blasting to a best time of 1:12.786, an improvement of nine-tenths on his previous fastest lap.

Fellow-Spaniard Sainz also switched to softs and delivered a lap in 1:12.569 to go top again.

With 20 minutes remaining, Verstappen and Leclerc, who had fine-tuned their cars after first practice, surged clear of the field, the Red Bull fastest in 1:12.462, shortly before Sainz crashed as he came out of the Swimming Pool complex.

The session was red-flagged as Sainz climbed out of his Ferrari, having hit the unforgiving barriers with his right front section.

On resumption, Alex Albon, who had crashed in the first session, re-joined the fray in his repaired Williams as the shadows began to stretch across the circuit. - AFP