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LEWIS Hamilton is favourite for the 2012 Monaco Grand Prix – the jewel in Formula 1’s crown – ahead of qualifying in Monte Carlo.

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"It’s an incredibly tough circuit, very technical, so every little scrap of information helps you understand where to go with the set-up."

Lewis Hamilton after Monaco GP free practice

The 27-year-old Vodafone McLaren Mercedes racer from Hertfordshire goes in qualifying around the famous street circuit on Saturday.

Hamilton, the 2008 F1 world champion now based in Monaco, has set the quickest time in qualifying three times this season, although he was stripped of pole position at the Spanish GP in Barcelona a fortnight ago.

Securing a front row grid position is particularly important in the Principality due to the tight and twisty nature of the Circuit de Monaco.

The Lotus cars of Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen were 11/1 to qualify fastest, but have both come in to 17/2 with Hills after a number of three figure bets.

Hamilton is 15/8 to start on pole, with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso 11/2 and Red Bull racer Sebastian Vettel 13/2.

Herts-born Hamilton is the 3/1 favourite to win the race in Monaco, while Alonso has been well backed at 9/2 to come up trumps in Monte Carlo.

Hamilton was fourth quickest in first practice on Thursday and then 11th in a rain-hit afternoon session.

He’ll be looking to get some good running in during final practice on Saturday morning.

“It’s an incredibly tough circuit, very technical, so every little scrap of information helps you understand where to go with the set-up,” said Hamilton.

McLaren teammate Jenson Button, winner in Monaco in 2009, was fastest in Thursday’s second free practice session.

“I definitely feel like the car improved from P1 to P2,” said Button afterwards.

“We tried something different for this afternoon’s session and I was happier with how the car felt.

“There’s still room for improvement, but we know what direction we want to take.”

Speaking after practice, McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said: “I think we’re yet to see what either Jenson or Lewis can achieve when they push the car to its fullest extent around here, but I know that both our drivers relish the challenge of this circuit and that they’ll hit the ground running again on Saturday.

“At the moment, the sharp end of the grid looks extremely close – and it’ll be all to play for in what’s likely to be an absolutely thrilling qualifying session. Bring it on!”

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