Lewis Hamilton admitted he was surprised to be able to match Charles Leclerc’s pace during Friday practice for the Italian Grand Prix.
Ferrari’s Leclerc was fastest in each of the two practice sessions on Friday, with rain affecting FP1 more than the afternoon running. On a Monza circuit that is heavily dependent on straight-line speed — an area of strength for Ferrari – Leclerc was less than 0.1s clear of Hamilton’s Mercedes in FP2 and the championship leader says he wouldn’t have predicted being so close.
“It definitely is surprising,” Hamilton said. “I didn’t know what to expect this weekend. I expected them to be quick on the straight, which they are, but there’s enough corners where we’re able to gain it back. They’re not really that quick through the corners, so it kind of balances us out.
“Not a massive amount is different to how it was in the last race. They’re quite quick in a straight line, we’re quite strong I think on race pace. But actually perhaps a little bit closer on single-lap pace. It looks like we’re going to have a fight.
“Definitely (gives Mercedes confidence). I still think it’s going to be a really hard race, but we are on a similar level, which is really quite nice. I don’t know where the Red Bulls are, but I’m sure they’ll tell me.”
While much of Friday’s running was wet, Hamilton says he is not focused on how the car feels in those conditions as he looks for further gains to challenge for pole position on Saturday.
“You don’t really prepare for the rain, in the sense of giving the setup for the rain. You try and make the car as quick as you can for a single lap, and you deal with it if it rains.
“Right now, just really trying to go through the data with a fine comb, see where I can improve, where I can improve as a driver, if there’s any performance, whether it’s gear shift points, whether it’s braking points, whether it’s using curbs or not using curbs, whatever it may be, and also with the setup making sure that we just squeeze an extra bit of juice out of the car.”