The Autodromo Nazionale Monza circuit was bathed in glorious sunshine once again as cars emerged for the third and final practice session of the Italian Grand Prix weekend. By the sessions end it was Sebastian Vettel who topped the time sheets but margins were close, with one second separating the top 14.
Friday was a day of dominance by Sebastian Vettel after topping the afternoon session by six tenths of a second. Hamilton was on top in first practice but feels that he has already found the limit of the car. Drivers generally struggled with brake balance and stability under braking with plenty of lock-ups and use of the run-off area into the chicanes.
There were also plenty of off-track excursions thanks to the low-downforce set-ups making it tricky through the medium speed bends, understeer a plenty for everyone. With just 60 minutes of practice remaining, drivers were eager to find the final tweaks ahead of qualifying and the race.
As the green light went out, it was Max Chilton who emerged on track first before the rest of the field filed out for their installation laps, a must busier start in comparison to the Friday sessions.
After just five minutes of the session, the track fell silent once again as drivers returned to their respective pit garages in preparation for their first runs. The noise made a welcome reappearance shortly after with the Red Bull duo completing a slow lap with their RB9′s drenched in Flow-Vis paint.
Charles Pic was the first driver to complete a lap time with a 1m31.737. His team-mate Giedo van der Garde beat that benchmark by three seconds on his first attempt as the drivers built up their confidence once again. Perez moved ahead of the Caterham duo shortly after with the Force India’s of Di Resta and Sutil also getting in some early laps.
Lotus reverted back to their shorter wheelbase on Raikkonen’s car for the third practice session with James Allison, their former technical director, making his race weekend debut for Ferrari.
Meanwhile, Perez returned to the top with Hulkenberg moving up to third. Team-mate Gutierrez went off-track at the first chicane with Ricciardo putting in the fifth fastest time with his early effort. Raikkonen, now running the standard E21 wheelbase, went to the top with a 1m25.871 after 15 minutes of the session being completed.
Gutierrez and Vergne hit the top of the timings before Raikkonen displaced them both. Vettel moved to the top with a 1m25.265, all drivers running the hard tyres in the early stages, with times continuing to tumble. The German managed to beat his previous effort, tipping below the 1m25′s with a 1m24.947 by the half-way stage. Webber went second, two tenths behind his team-mate, with Hamilton moving up to third after binning a number of laps with off-track excursions.
Rosberg suffered a blow mid-way through the session after his car overheated. It gave the Mercedes mechanics plenty of work to do as they inspected the engine for damage.
The yellow flag came out at the Parabolica after Paul Di Resta lost the rear and clattered into the barrier. The Scot radioed shortly after saying “something broke there.” Whatever the cause, it gave the Force India mechanics plenty to do prior to qualifying. His team-mate Adrian Sutil also found the gravel at the Ascari chicane after a clumsy spin. However he managed to keep it out of the barriers and back on track.
Vettel emerged for his second run and immediately improved on his previous fastest time, setting a 1m24.551 and eking out his advantage to six tenths of a second. Vergne went off-track at the Ascari chicane and Grosjean took to the run-off area at turn one, drivers still struggling under braking.
With 15 minutes of the session remaining, the track fell silent once again with all drivers returning to their pit garages to prepare for their final run of the session. Drivers emerged from the pit lane on the medium Pirelli compound for a final low fuel run ahead of qualifying.
Hulkenberg went fourth on his first lap on the softer compound tyre. Ricciardo went third with his first lap on fresh rubber with his 2014 team-mate Sebastian Vettel extending his advantage at the top, Alonso slotting into second place. Webber and Button went third and fourth with Raikkonen setting the fifth fastest time. Hamilton could only manage eighth before backing off on the next lap and going for another lap.
Vettel bettered his lap by one tenth of a second with Alonso and Webber also improving on their second attempt. Hamilton moved up to fourth with Perez and Ricciardo jumping to fifth and sixth. Sutil could only set the 16th fastest time with his final effort as the chequered flag waved to signal the end of the session.
So it was Sebastian Vettel who set the pace once again in practice but the lap times closed up considerably. Red Bull looked strong but Ferrari closed the gap with Alonso finishing in second place and Massa finishing well within the top 10. Lotus looked to have dropped back in qualifying trim with Raikkonen in 10th and Grosjean in 14th.
Force India had a terrible practice session with Di Resta crashing out and Sutil looking off the pace. Mercedes had a mixed morning too with Hamilton looking fast but Rosberg losing vital track time.
- Sebastian Vettel: Infiniti Red Bull Racing 1’24.360
- Fernando Alonso: Scuderia Ferrari 1’24.643
- Mark Webber: Infiniti Red Bull Racing 1’24.677
- Lewis Hamilton: Mercedes AMG Petronas 1’24.712
- Sergio Perez: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes 1’24.864
- Daniel Ricciardo: Scuderia Toro Rosso 1’24.865
- Felipe Massa: Scuderia Ferrari 1’24.995
- Jenson Button: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes 1’25.103
- Pastor Maldonado: Williams F1 Team 1’25.116
- Kimi Raikkonen: Lotus F1 Team 1’25.120
- Jean-Eric Vergne: Scuderia Toro Rosso 1’25.136
- Nico Hulkenberg: Sauber F1 Team 1’25.273
- Esteban Gutierrez: Sauber F1 Team 1’25.324
- Romain Grosjean: Lotus F1 Team 1’25.499
- Valtteri Bottas: Williams F1 Team 1’25.660
- Adrian Sutil: Sahara Force India 1’25.702
- Paul Di Resta: Sahara Force India 1’26.120
- Charles Pic: Caterham F1 Team 1’26.607
- Giedo van der Garde: Caterham F1 Team 1’27.172
- Jules Bianchi: Marussia F1 Team 1’27.605
- Max Chilton: Marussia F1 Team 1’27.665
- Nico Rosberg: Mercedes AMG Petronas 1’27.882
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic