The Italian Grand Prix is shaping up to be a thriller with close times set through the field and the top eight cars separated by 0.25 seconds in a fascinating Free Practice session 2 at Monza.
Lewis Hamilton didn’t seem to distracted by being the centre of attention over his possible Mercedes move; he set the fastest time for McLaren ahead of team mate Jenson Button, three hundredths of a second behind.
Fernando Alonso set the third fastest time despite a problem ridden day which saw a forced engine change after FP1, a brake problem and a gearbox problem. He managed just 17 laps in the afternoon compared to 42 for his team mate Massa.
Although the faster times were set on the medium compound Pirelli tyres, the teams did a lot of set up work on the hard tyre today, for race preparation, as the strategy looks like being one stop on Sunday. Looking after the front right is the key for a stint of up to 30 laps, which is what we will see on Sunday. There is no room for flat spotting a tyre if they are to make the strategy work, so the multiple lock ups and missed braking points will have to be eradicated on Sunday.
If the headline lap times were close, so was the the performance on the long runs. Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen was astonishingly consistent on a 17 lap run and a little faster than Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari, but based on previous weekend’s it’s possible Lotus may have slightly less fuel on board. Either way we have the front running teams very well matched with McLaren still the team to beat.
Meanwhile both Mercedes drivers were forced to work on race runs by DRS problems. They have brought an interesting looking car here, with a front wing which goes back in philosophy to Montreal time. This could be one of their most competitive outings for a while.
It was interesting to see that for many of the front runners the fastest lap on the medium tyre was the second or third, despite track temperatures of 40 degrees. This will make qualifying interesting as some of the drivers may only be able to fit in one run in Q3 on that basis. Button set his fastest time on the third lap of the run, while Hamilton did two hard laps and got the time on the second.
The Saubers and Force Indias look sharp too, underlining how tight competition will be for places in Q3. The pressure is certainly on the Sauber drivers to deliver the strong results their car is capable of. Perez has two podiums this year and brings a lot of funding to the team, but there is strong competition from outside for Kobayashi’s seat and he needs to deliver in the next few races.
ITALIAN GRAND PRIX, MONZA, Friday Practice 2
1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m25.290s 32
2. Jenson Button McLaren 1m25.328s + 0.038s 35
3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m25.348s + 0.058s 17
4. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m25.430s + 0.140s 43
5. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m25.446s + 0.156s 41
6. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m25.504s + 0.214s 42
7. Paul di Resta Force India 1m25.546s + 0.256s 40
8. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m25.547s + 0.257s 36
9. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m26.068s + 0.778s 32
10. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m26.094s + 0.804s 38
11. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m26.104s + 0.814s 35
12. Jerome d’Ambrosio Lotus 1m26.157s + 0.867s 36
13. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m26.394s + 1.104s 31
14. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m26.404s + 1.114s 42
15. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m26.724s + 1.434s 33
16. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m26.730s + 1.440s 17
17. Bruno Senna Williams 1m26.783s + 1.493s 39
18. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m26.841s + 1.551s 39
19. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m26.864s + 1.574s 36
20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m27.222s + 1.932s 36
21. Timo Glock Marussia 1m27.944s + 2.654s 36
22. Charles Pic Marussia 1m27.968s + 2.678s 36
23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1m28.575s + 3.285s 34
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m28.779s + 3.489s 21