Sebastian Vettel put in an ominously dominant performance in the second practice session at the Italian Grand Prix as he headed the field by 0.623 seconds. While it can be dangerous to read too much into events on Friday, after Vettel claimed victory in Belgium two weeks ago to extend his lead atop the drivers’ standings to 46 points, it was not the start to the weekend that his rivals wanted to see.
Mark Webber was second quickest on Friday afternoon as Red Bull recorded a one-two on a Monza circuit where their aerodynamic superiority was expected to be placated. Closest challengers, Lotus pair Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean were slightly further back on matching times. Fernando Alonso, currently the closest rival to Vettel in the championship was fifth fastest, ahead of the pole sitter for the last four races, Lewis Hamilton.
On this outing, it is difficult to see anyone denying Vettel pole position on Saturday. Yet, Red Bull also dominated Friday’s practice in Spa before Hamilton and the rest of the field caught up in qualifying. And the triple world champion certainly isn’t getting too carried away by his early pace at Monza.
“It will be very tight this weekend, as we saw in the first practice,” Vettel said, according to the official Formula One website. “It will be close tomorrow in qualifying with quite a few cars separated by only a few hundredths of a second.
“There are a few things we still need to do to optimize the car, as there are two or three corners where we are sliding more than we would like. It’s positive today, but it’s only a Friday.”
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Alonso is desperate for a positive showing this weekend, not only because it’s Ferrari’s home Grand Prix but also to avoid slipping further behind in his quest for a third world title.
“Red Bull seems very strong again here and we will have to do a lot of work to be as well prepared as possible for qualifying, in order to find those missing tenths,” Alonso explained. “We must get the most out of what we have available and try to have a good qualifying and a good race in front of our home crowd.”
Not for the first time on Friday, Hamilton was less than satisfied with his Mercedes, but will know that he has often recovered to storm to the top of the timing charts when it matters more on Saturday. A second-straight victory at Monza would be greatly appreciated by Hamilton in order to close his 58 point gap to Vettel.
“Although we're quite competitive, we're not quick enough yet and will have to work hard tonight to see where we can make some improvements,” he said. “Of course we don't know what fuel loads other teams are on so we'll have to wait and see but there is a bit of work for us to do if we want to compete right at the front tomorrow.”
Where to watch: Qualifying for the Formula One Italian Grand Prix will get underway at 8 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBCSN, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.