Jolyon Palmer set a benchmark for his rivals with a scorching late lap to claim the top spot in this morning's free practice session in Monza, although it was tight at the top: the Briton's best lap of 1:32.120 was just 0.003 ahead of Fabio Leimer and two tenths to the good over Sam Bird.
The session opened in hot and sunny conditions, with all drivers heading straight out as the lights went green. James Calado set the early pace, fresh from his earlier F1 practice session with Force India, but when Johnny Cecotto spun at the parabolica five minutes in the session had to be red flagged to sweep the gravel from the track.
When the session restarted Alexander Rossi, Marcus Ericsson, Sam Bird and Leimer all took their turn at the top of the timesheets, and with the usual pitstops now staggered because of the red flag there seemed to be more space than ever for the drivers to find their own grooves.
Until around 20 minutes in, that is, when Stefano Coletti and Cecotto came together at turn one, with the Monegasque driver breaking his wing in the process to his clear displeasure.
Palmer had been on the pace all session, and claimed his prize with 8 minutes to go: his rivals had little answer, and were perhaps mindful of avoiding damage with qualifying only hours away, although Bird popped up to third with 5 minutes to go.
He displaced Stéphane Richelmi, Tom Dillmann, Coletti, Julian Leal, Simon Trummer, Ericsson and Alexander Rossi with just one second covering the top 17 positions, this afternoon's qualifying session promises to be dramatic.