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Hamilton tops Monza times, reboots title bid

Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team’s British driver Lewis Hamilton drives during the first practice session at the Autodromo Nazionale circuit in Monza on September 2, 2016 ahead of the Italian Formula One Grand Prix © AFP / Giuseppe Cacace

Monza, Italy, Sep 2 – A happy Lewis Hamilton bounced back to top the times ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in Friday’s second free practice for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.

The championship leader and defending three-time world champion, who leads Rosberg by nine points in the title race, was second behind him in the opening session, but re-booted his title bid with a strong showing in the afternoon.

On a hot late summer’s day at the old Autodromo Nazionale in Monza’s former royal park, the 31-year-old Briton clocked a best lap in one minute and 22.801 seconds to outpace German Rosberg by 0.193 seconds.

Hamilton is seeking to complete a hat-trick of successive Italian wins and to claim his 50th Formula One victory in Sunday’s race.

“It’s been a really good day,” said Hamilton.

“Monza is an amazing track to drive and the fans always come out to show their support. We made good progress through our programme across the two sessions and our long run pace felt good.

“We split the tyre compounds between Nico and myself, so we could learn as much as possible going into qualifying and the race and we’re looking quite strong.

“We’ve still got some work to do this evening to analyse the data and prepare the car, but I’m confident we can take the fight to the rest of the grid.”

Rosberg said: “The car felt pretty good during P1, but we need to work on the balance overnight as the one lap pace didn’t feel 100 per cent.”

Sebastian Vettel was third fastest ahead of his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, the Italian team closing the gap behind the Mercedes to less than half a second as they made use of their latest upgraded power units.

“It is a pretty small step and we wouldn’t put anything in the car that wouldn’t improve our performance,” said Raikkonen.

“It’s just a normal progress. We try to improve all the areas and that’s one of them. It’s a small thing, but it’s the right direction…”

“We have decent speed,” Vettel added. “The car feels good, but we need to make it feel good in every corner. The first impression is positive.

“We’ve had worse Fridays, but Mercedes are looking very strong, similar to last year. They seem to be very competitive. We need to focus on ourselves and then we can be a lot closer.”

Under-scrutiny Dutch teenager Max Verstappen, who was given a gentle warning about his aggressive style of driving by the FIA’s Race Director Charlie Whiting earlier, was fifth ahead of his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.

Ricciardo said: “Position-wise, we are more or less where we expected… At least I expected Ferrari to be behind Mercedes here, but I didn’t expect the gap to be as big as it is.”

Former Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso was seventh for McLaren ahead of Valtteri Bottas of Williams with Romain Grosjean of Haas and Jenson Button, in the second McLaren, completing the top ten.

Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team’s German driver Nico Rosberg in the pits during the second practice session at the Autodromo Nazionale circuit in Monza on September 2, 2016 ahead of the Italian Formula One Grand Prix © AFP / GIUSEPPE Cacace

Verstappen and the Red Bull team manager Jonathan Wheatley met Whiting before the morning practice to discuss Verstappen’s performance at last Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix.

After the meeting Red Bull team chief Christian Horner told reporters that Whiting had told Verstappen he risked disqualification if continued with the aggressive style that prompted criticism from both Ferrari drivers and others.

He said: “Charlie was keen to show him a video of Spa. It was a gentle warning… Like any 18-year-old, the criticism (from other drivers) seems to be going in one ear and out the other. He really doesn’t care.”

Verstappen said he had little to say about the meeting with Whiting.

“We had a chat about what happened at Spa and I prefer to do it there, with Charlie, instead of in the media, or in the drivers’ briefing. Spa is now gone and we are in Monza now so we focus on Monza.”

Felipe Massa, who on Thursday announced his impending retirement from F1, was 11th in his Williams and Dane Kevin Magnussen, who limped away from a high speed crash in his Renault in Belgium last Sunday, was 19th.