World champion Lewis Hamilton ended the final practice session at the top of the pile as he bids to win his 50th grand prix and complete a historic hat-trick in Monza.
Hamilton, a winner at the so-called Temple of Speed in each of the previous two seasons, is hoping to become the first driver since Juan Manuel Fangio, the five-time champion, to triumph at Monza for three consecutive years.
The British driver, who leads his sole title rival Nico Rosberg by nine points, is also only one victory shy of a career 50.
And Hamilton posted the fastest practice lap of the day yesterday with a best time of one minute and 22.801 seconds to finish nearly two 10ths clear of Mercedes team-mate Rosberg.
Ferrari, appearing in front of their partisan home crowd, will be buoyed by their display in practice, with Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen third and fourth respectively. Raikkonen was within half-a-second of Hamilton’s quickest lap.
The second practice session at a sun-drenched Monza was briefly interrupted by a short press conference in which Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One’s chief executive, announced he is poised to pen a new three-year deal with the historic Italian circuit.
The pending contract means Monza, which has been a permanent fixture on the calender since 1950, will continue to host the Italian Grand Prix until 2019.
“While we have reached an agreement (they) are getting all the small details that are important in a contract together and we will sign this back in England,” Ecclestone, 85, said.
Back on track and Max Verstappen, who has courted some rather negative attention following his aggressive defensive tactics in Belgium last Sunday, was fifth in the order, one place ahead of his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso was seventh, while his team-mate Jenson Button, whose future remains shrouded in uncertainty, finished 10th, 1.7 seconds slower than Hamilton.
Williams driver Felipe Massa, who on Thursday announced he will be retiring from the sport at the end of the season, was 11th, despite battling a number of car issues on Friday.
Meanwhile Formula One’s governing body has given Red Bull’s Max Verstappen a “gentle warning” about his driving after the controversial Belgian Grand Prix, team principal Christian Horner admitted last night
“(FIA race director) Charlie (Whiting) was keen to show him a replay of Spa,” Horner told Sky Sports.
“It was a gentle warning to say ‘that’’ll be a black and white flag’...a bit of a warning.”
A black and white flag can be waved, once only, at a driver during a race to warn him that he has been reported for unsporting behaviour.
If the driver does it again, a black flag will be shown which tells him he has been excluded and must return immediately to the pits.
Verstappen tangled with Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel at the start in Spa and then aggressively defended against Raikkonen when the Finn tried to pass later in the race.
Raikkonen, the 2007 champion, accused the 18-year-old of forcing him to brake by changing position and expressed concern that he had acted in that way as payback for what happened earlier.
Horner said Verstappen, the youngest race winner in the sport’s history and already attracting a considerable following as a rare talent and rising star, cared little about what the others thought.
“Like any 18-year-old, (the criticism) seems to be going in one ear and out the other,” he said.
“He really doesn’t care, he’s focused on his own job, he’s not intimidated by the surroundings he’s in and I think that’s what marks him out as a real talent and star of the future.”
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