Italian Grand Prix: Friday Analysis

Friday in Italy was undoubtedly a scrappy affair, as drivers looked to explore the track limits at the limit of adhesion. While the likes of Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen all suffered off track excursions, Sebastian Vettel displayed ominous pace at the head of the field. The German’s personal best effort of 1:24.453 was a clear 0.6 seconds faster than his nearest challenger Mark Webber. Pre-weekend predictions of Red Bull domination have not been quelled following the dominant short and long run pace exhibited by the triple World Champion.

FP1

FP1 was rather a different story, as Sebastian Vettel lurked in the shadows while Lewis Hamilton topped the timesheet. Lewis managed an impressive early time of 1:25.565, in a session which was dedicated to teams and drivers becoming accustomed to the Monza specific aero packages. Their unfamiliarity with the car’s characteristics was evident, as several drivers struggled under braking. Most notably, Hamilton’s braking misjudgements returned as he headed onto the run-off at Turn 4. Meanwhile, Valtteri Bottas and Pastor Maldonado both struggled to keep the car under control and demonstrated their issues with a trip through the gravel. James Calado, who was participating in his first FP1 outing was also caught out by Monza’s unusual characteristics, yet performed admirably to finish P17 overall – just 0.4 seconds behind Paul Di Resta. Calado commented; “Amazing – that’s the only word I can use to describe the day. It took a while to get used to the car again, but once I was familiar with everything I was able to drive consistently and set some reasonable lap times. The balance felt good and everything ran smoothly during the session. I learned a lot and hopefully got some good data for the team. I want to say a big ‘thank you’ to Sahara Force India for the opportunity and I’m already looking forward to getting back in the car later in the year.” 
With Hamilton and Rosberg finishing P1 and P3 respectively, it appeared that Mercedes’ latest low-downforce, Monza specific, package is working well. The car seems to be well balanced, even through the tricky Lezmo’s as well as the demanding Ascari corner. McLaren’s 50th anniversary celebrations did not commence as well as anticipated as a DRS malfunction hindered Jenson Button’s session. The wing remained open and the Brit was forced to pull the car into the pit lane for repairs – reducing his track time and the team’s vital testing time.
FP1 Timesheet
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:25.565 24 laps
2 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:25.600 0.035 25 laps
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:25.704 0.139 25 laps
4 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:25.753 0.188 26 laps
5 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:25.941 0.376 22 laps
6 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:26.007 0.442 24 laps
7 Jenson Button McLaren 1:26.035 0.470 23 laps
8 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:26.103 0.538 27 laps
9 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:26.149 0.584 21 laps
10 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:26.155 0.590 25 laps
11 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:26.194 0.629 25 laps
12 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:26.295 0.730 23 laps
13 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:26.387 0.822 21 laps
14 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:26.449 0.884 16 laps
15 Paul di Resta Force India 1:26.594 1.029 13 laps
16 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:26.802 1.237 21 laps
17 James Calado Force India 1:27.041 1.476 24 laps
18 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:27.224 1.659 16 laps
19 Charles Pic Caterham 1:27.818 2.253 24 laps
20 Max Chilton Marussia 1:27.869 2.304 20 laps
21 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1:28.192 2.627 21 laps
22 Rodolfo Gonzalez Marussia 1:29.526 3.961 26 laps

FP2

While Red Bull laid dormant throughout the morning session, Sebastian Vettel was unleashed in FP2, as the German controlled proceedings, with dominant long and short run pace. With Mark Webber finishing the day in P2, FP2 was undoubtedly where Red Bull showed their hand. The question now is have Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus shown their performance yet?
Lewis Hamilton, who topped the morning session finished in a respectable yet not outstanding P6, while his reaction to the day’s work would suggest that Mercedes have the potential for a positive weekend. “The car feels pretty good here today at Monza,” the Brit announced. “The balance is reasonable and we’ve had a pretty smooth day, better than our recent Fridays in fact. 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.”
Behind the Red Bull duo came the Lotus pairing of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean. The pair managed to clock identical lap times, as the E21 looks to be strong in dry conditions as per usual. However, prominent Friday displays rarely translate to successful Saturday’s for the team, who are yet to secure a Pole Position since the Genii Capital takeover. Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso suffered a minor excursion into the gravel at Lezmo Two during the session, as the Ferrari ace claimed P5. A quiet day for the team, yet not one without positives and undoubted promise for the weekend ahead. 
However, FP2 could have been named ‘The Sebastian Vettel Show’ – His unwavering control was certainly an ominous declaration of intent. Despite this, the German remained grounded during interviews, downplaying his chances as any World Champion would. “I’m sure it will be very tight,” he told Sky Sports F1. “I think it will be close tomorrow in qualifying with many cars within a few hundredths. We will have to work, we have two or three things we have to find a step on. Even though the car was great, there were still two or three corners where the car was sliding.” A sublime lap is required to overhaul the might of the Vettel-Monza combination in 2013. 
FP2 Timesheet
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:24.453 39 laps
2 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:25.076 +0.623 39 laps
3 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:25.116 +0.663 36 laps
4 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:25.116 +0.663 40 laps
5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:25.330 +0.877 38 laps
6 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:25.340 +0.887 39 laps
7 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:25.367 +0.914 42 laps
8 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:25.519 +1.066 29 laps
9 Jenson Button McLaren 1:25.532 +1.079 42 laps
10 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:25.627 +1.174 39 laps
11 Paul di Resta Force India 1:25.830 +1.377 40 laps
12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:25.888 +1.435 40 laps
13 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:26.028 +1.575 37 laps
14 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:26.138 +1.685 36 laps
15 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:26.224 +1.771 32 laps
16 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:26.385 +1.932 43 laps
17 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:26.599 +2.146 39 laps
18 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:27.198 +2.745 44 laps
19 Max Chilton Marussia 1:27.548 +3.095 30 laps
20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:27.696 +3.243 37 laps
21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:27.771 +3.318 38 laps
22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:28.057 +3.604 32 laps    
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