Ellis Goodwin, F1 Correspondent
McLaren led the way with a one-two finish in an extremely tight Friday Practice Two (FP2) at the FIA Formula One Italian Grand Prix from Monza.
Lewis Hamilton set a lap time of 1m 25.290s, pipping his teammate, Jenson Button, by just 0.038s.
... there are still things we can improve on the car for tomorrow.
"It’s extremely tight," Hamilton said. "Overall, today has been quite productive, and everything has gone smoothly. Hopefully, we’re not in a bad position, although there are still things we can improve on the car for tomorrow.”
Ferrari's second driver, Felipe Massa, grabbed fourth with a 1m 25.430s, and Mercedes' Nico Rosberg rounded out the top five with a 1m 25.446s lap.
Both Ferraris have experienced some sort of technical problems. Massa a lesser brake issue, and Alonso with larger problems.
Alonso was forced to park his car in Friday Practice One (FP1) at the end of the main straight, and received a new engine between sessions. He had engine issues mostly worked out in FP2, but the gearbox failed and he limped back to the garage with 25 minutes left in the session. However, Ferrari mechanics were not overly anxious when he returned because they can replace the transmission overnight without penalty, according to Scuderia Ferrari's twitter feed.
Mercedes' driver Michael Schumacher was noticeably absent from the top five after setting the fastest lap in Friday Practice One. He could only reach tenth in FP2 with a lap of 1m 26.094, but Schumacher said they are progressing according to plan.
“I am quite happy with the practice sessions as we achieved a lot of reasonable work with regards to long runs which was our main focus today," he said. "We have a different aero package for Monza which seems to work well so it seems to be looking better than in the last races."
Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen was sixth in FP2 with a 1m 25.504s lap and Sahara Force India's Paul Di Resta was seventh with a 1m 25.546s lap.
Absent from the top 10 were both Red Bull cars. Mark Webber was 11th with a 1m 16.104s lap and Sebastian Vettel could only manage 13th and a 1m 26.394s lap.
Both sessions were void of any major off-track incidents, but plenty of drivers missed the chicanes and took a ride over the speed bumps. Alonso was able to keep off the bumps in FP1, but had a minor off in FP2. Raikkonen had the most spectacular run through the "sleeping policeman" when he took flight over the bumps in the Ascari chicane. The nose of Raikkonen's Lotus was momentarily suspended few feet in the air, but the car landed and continued without damage.
Jerome D'Ambrosio, Lotus' replacement for penalized driver Romain Grosjean, set a respectable time of 1m 26.157s in FP2, good enough for 12th.
“I really want to stay focused on what I’ve got to do, with the job, with the engineers, in the car," he said. "Stay focused on that. Once that is done correctly we can hope for something good on Sunday – but only if I stay focused on my job, so this is what I will try to do.”
HRT's rookie driver Ma Qing Hua drove the car for the first time in FP1 with a best time of 1m 31.239s, and a faster lap was aborted after a mistake in sector two.
"It was an extraordinary experience and I’m happy with my performance. From the start I felt comfortable in the car and working with the team, and I accomplished all the targets we set ourselves," he said. "It was an important step for me, but also for motorsport in China since it’s a very young sport there but with a great potential.”
Qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix is tomorrow, and the front runners have shown or expressed confidence, but Monza is a different entity. It is historic, majestic and poses an almost mystical quality. To the uninitiated it looks simple, but qualifying and racing at Monza never are.
“Monza is a beautiful circuit and the whole place has such great history - you really feel it as soon as you drive through the gates. And, of course, it’s an absolutely stunning place on which to drive - the speeds are incredible and, when you get the flow right, it feels simply amazing," Hamilton said. "It’s very, very quick. It’s somewhat deceptive, too: a map of the track makes it look quite simple, but it’s actually incredibly technical. It’s also bumpy, which means it’s incredibly difficult to nail those final thousandths on a quick lap. And that’s really what today has been all about: we’re trying to fine-tune the balance and find the tiniest amounts of time."