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Michael Schumacher has topped first practice ahead of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. The Mercedes led the way as Jérôme d’Ambrosio subbed for the banned Romain Grosjean at Lotus. Chinese driver Ma Qing Hua debuted for HRT while both Fernando Alonso and Pastor Maldonado broke down in the closing stages.
The first track action at classic Monza comes less than five days after the drama concluded at another legendary Formula 1 venue, Spa in Belgium. This weekend marks the final European race of the campaign before the sport heads off for seven events across Asia and America.
Jean-Éric Vergne was first on-track for Toro Rosso, but all of the drivers were presented with a selection of challenges; new tarmac has been laid between the Ascari Chicane and Parabolica and a number of leaves had fallen onto the racing line in the braking zone of the former. Lewis Hamilton set the first lap time, almost six seconds slower than the eventual 1:25.422 of Schumacher as the circuit was yet to be rubbered in.
As always at Monza, braking and kerbs are the name of the day. A number of drivers tested the limits at Turn 1, not least Felipe Massa and Kimi Räikkönen, but only the Finn dared to take an extremely tight line into second chicane the Roggia; the result was a high-flying moment which damaged the undertray of his Lotus.
The Tifosi was pleased with its close-up of Alonso in the last knockings of the 90 minutes, as the Spaniard pulled off at the Rettifilo with a suspected engine problem; it remains to be seen whether the unit in question is an old one. Maldonado stopped on the exit of the Roggia. Stuck in second gear and with his DRS flap jammed open, these were tell-tale signs of a hydraulic issue which the team soon confirmed to GPUpdate.net
At the top, Schumacher led the way from Spa winner Jenson Button whose personal best lap time was three tenths of a second off the leading pace. Nico Rosberg confirmed a top three shutout for Mercedes power as the two Ferraris – with Massa ahead – rounded out the top six with Hamilton. Red Bull, again struggling for top speed, could manage no more than ninth and 11th spots as Räikkönen and d’Ambrosio were seventh and 15th for Lotus.
Ma ended a highly respectable session within two seconds of Pedro de la Rosa.
Monza’s second practice session begins at 2pm local time (BST +1) and can also be followed through the interactive GPUpdate.net Live Report
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