Mercedes British driver Lewis Hamilton drives during the first practice session at the Monaco street circuit on May 25, 2017 in Monaco, three days ahead of the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix. AFP pic

MONACO: Mercedes boss Toto Wolff believes Lewis Hamilton has changed from being a loner to become a true team player this year - and hopes that it will boost his hopes of taking pole in Monaco.

As the Formula One paddock took advantage of Friday’s traditional rest day in Monte Carlo, Mercedes were busy seeking solutions to the set-up problems that saw three-time champion Hamilton fall a second behind championship leader Sebastian Vettel in Thursday afternoon’s second practice.

Ferrari were doing the same to ensure their advantage was consolidated with four-time champion Vettel forecasting a major fight-back from the champions.

“I am not counting out Mercedes,” he said. “They probably had a problem and I am sure they will be back to full force on Saturday.

“There is plenty of time for them to sort things out. My guess is that it will be very close – and that the five-tenths we are ahead of Red Bull is not the reality.

“We have been able to put it together on Thursday and I am happy about that. It was a good start into the weekend – now let’s let that sink in and see that we keep the tension until Sunday.”

Vettel added that he was wary of saying he felt like the favourite.

“We have to get everything right and then we should be in good shape, but here you are not entirely the master of your own fate and so many things can happen in a long race.

“We have seen that many times before, so let’s keep the fingers crossed.”

Vettel also made clear he believed it was time for Ferrari to win again in Monaco after a 16-year spell since 2001.

“Monaco is always special – if you could have the freedom to choose any race on the calendar that you would want to win, it would without doubt be Monaco...

“You can ask up and down the paddock and you would get the same answer. I would say it is about time that Ferrari wins again here.”

Wolff revealed that the abrupt retirement of 2016 champion German Nico Rosberg has led to a new unity at Mercedes with his replacement Finn Valtteri Bottas working more closely with Hamilton.

“Nico played a fundamental role in our car development,” he said. “His head worked like an engineer, but with Valtteri, we have found the best possible substitute.

“The dynamics in the team have changed completely. With Lewis and Nico, we went through different phases, from friendship to rivalry to hostility and arrogance.

“But with Valtteri and Lewis, there is zero controversy.”

Wolff said that mutual respect had brought a new mood inside the team.

“I think Lewis changed over the winter. He went from a loner to a true team player.” -- AFP

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