MONTE CARLO, May 22 – Nico Rosberg revelled in recording the fastest practice lap of the day here Thursday as Formula One's cars finally took to the famous streets around the harbour here ahead of Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix.Beaming with pleasure, talking with excited anticipation of his hopes for the race and exuding all the determination of a top-level professional sportsman focussed on his job, Rosberg deserved his now almost customary glow of glory.
But however fast he drove, and however noisy were the cars, nothing he did could erase the prospect of an expensive ‘civil war’ as the teams prepared not only their machines, but also their arguments, ahead of another planned confrontation with their fractured sport’s governing body on Friday.
Typically for this wealthy sport enjoying its glamorous showpiece weekend, Friday’s crisis talks are expected to take place not in an office or a conference room, but aboard a luxury super-yacht moored in the harbour.
Renault boss Flavio Briatore’s ‘Force Blue’, a towering vessel with three floors and enough space for the event, will host the Formula One Teams’ Association (FOTA) crisis talks ahead of a probable meeting with FIA president Max Mosley.
In the wake of Ferrari’s failed attempt to block the International Motoring Federation (FIA) from going ahead with its plans for a 40-million-pound budget cap next year, the teams know they need to find a solution to their current crisis as quickly as possible.
If not, the sport faces the spectre of losing at least six manufacturer-backed outfits including Ferrari in 2010.
Rosberg’s Williams team, however, remain one of those likely to stay and they, along with Brawn GP and Force India are expected to sign for next season ahead of the looming deadline on May 29.
After that the FIA may accept other teams as replacements for those who are late making their intentions clear, a situation that has left the sport’s veteran commercial ring-master Bernie Ecclestone worried.
"I am not happy, I don’t like it," he said. "We don’t want to lose Ferrari. Nobody wants to see that happen. But we will have to see what happens." Ecclestone, a close friend of Briatore’s, is expected to attend the FOTA meeting and try to mediate between the teams in order to find a solution.
They all agree that cost-cutting is necessary, but not yet on how to achieve it or by how much.
And few observers will have failed to notice that the success of the low-budget independent Williams team on Thursday, following four victories in five races by the new independent Brawn GP team, is an endorsement of the argument for budget caps.
Rosberg, running light on fuel, said: "That was great! I had a few moments when I felt near the edge – like everyone today I guess – but it was so enjoyable.
"We are certainly lighter than other people-and that is why we are first — but I have a feeling that we are quicker than normal and we are going to drop back less.
"I hope we can do a top five in qualifying, which is great. It is my home, Monaco, so I really enjoy driving here. It is such a challenging track and it is very, very difficult."
The 23-year-old German, son of former champion Finn Keke Rosberg, clocked a best time of one minute and 15.243 seconds.
He was two-tenths of a second quicker than last year’s race winner defending world champion Briton Lewis Hamilton who was second fastest in his McLaren Mercedes.
Veteran Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, who had been quickest in the morning’s opening free practice session, was third fastest for the Brawn GP team ahead of his team-mate championship leading Briton Jenson Button.
Brazilian Felipe Massa was fifth for Ferrari ahead of much-fancied German Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull, Finns Heikki Kovalainen of McLaren and Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari.
Hamilton said he felt optimistic. He said: "From today’s results, I definitely feel Q3 should be possible this weekend. Here the most important thing is to be as close to the front as possible, if not on the front row. But to beat the Brawns will be tough."
Hamilton said he was relishing driving around the streets of Monaco. "Driving Monaco is a spectacular thing," he said. "You can never compare it to any other circuit you go to, or any other experience. It really is such a huge buzz, it feels amazing."