Bottas strikes first in Italian GP practice

Andy Hone/Motorsport Images

Bottas strikes first in Italian GP practice

Formula 1

Bottas strikes first in Italian GP practice

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Valtteri Bottas went fastest ahead of Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in first practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, with home team Ferrari stuck outside the top 10.

The Finn’s No. 77 was 0.245s quicker the sister car and 0.8s faster than the rest of the field, setting a dominant early benchmark at the power circuit.

Alex Albon was third fastest for Red Bull Racing. The Thai driver was positive early about having struck a happy balance in the RB16 — a major bugbear of the 24-year-old this season — though struggled initially to bring his tires up to temperature enough to avoid having several times deleted for exceeding track limits exiting Parabolica.

Daniil Kvyat was the highest-placed driver to set his fastest time on the medium compound rather than the soft. The AlphaTauri driver was sandwiched by Red Bull Racing cars, half a tenth behind Albon and almost a full tenth ahead of Max Verstappen.

Verstappen triggered the session’s only red flag with a trip into the gravel a little after the half-hour mark. The Dutchman lost the car getting on the power out of Ascari and spun across the track. Skipping across the sausage curbs, he lost his front wing coming to rest in the barriers on the inside of the circuit.

The red flag was thrown, but Verstappen had kept the engine running, allowing him to gingerly reverse back onto the track and return to his garage. The session resumed rapidly, but it took Verstappen almost an hour to rejoin with his repaired machine.

Pierre Gasly ended fractionally behind the Dutchman in sixth despite rotating into the gravel at Roggia late in the session. Racing Point’s Sergio Perez and McLaren’s Lando Norris followed with an identical time, the Mexican ending up ahead having set his fastest lap first.

Daniel Ricciardo was ninth for Renault, the Australian equipped with his second of three new internal combustion engines, turbochargers and MGU-H units in what is expected to be the French team’s strongest race of the season owing to its low-downforce requirements.

Carlos Sainz was 10th, his McLaren powered by the engine that forced him to withdraw from the Belgian Grand Prix on the reconnaissance lap. The Spaniard set 27 laps to allow the team to assess whether the power unit can be returned to the race pool.

Charles Leclerc was the fastest Ferrari and Ferrari-engined car, the Monegasque 1.2s off the pace at the start of what is expected to be another painful weekend for the underpowered Italian team. His car was flattered somewhat by picking up a slipstream for his fastest lap, ensuring he finished ahead of Esteban Ocon in the second Renault.

Slipstreaming, especially powerful at the mostly flat-out Monza, is likely to play a major role this weekend, with several drivers spotted trying to maneuver around each other to generate a tow on their fastest laps. The positioning raised the ire of Alex Albon and Lance Stroll in particular, who chastised their rivals for driving too slowly in the middle of the track.

Postioning yourself for a toe is a popular practice at Monza. Steven Tee/Motorsport Images

Qualifying for last year’s Italian Grand Prix was marred by several drivers missing the checkered flag after jockeying among themselves to be the last to cross the line with the draft, and race director Michael Masi said he anticipated talking with team principals about avoiding a repeat this weekend.

Stroll was 13th ahead of Haas teammates Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen. Alfa Romeo pair Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen ended 16th and 17th ahead of Williams reserve Roy Nissany. The Israeli was driving George Russell’s car, which was fitted with a new internal combustion unit, turbocharger and MGU-H.

Sebastian Vettel was the second-slowest driver of the session ahead of Nicholas Latifi.

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