Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
An altogether different picture emerged during the second practice session for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza this afternoon as championship leader Sebastian Vettel topped the time sheets for Red Bull with a time of 1m24.010s. Like most drivers he set his time on the soft Pirellis, while in the morning most drivers ran on the medium tyre compound. Vettel was just able to keep a charging Lewis Hamilton at bay, as the Briton took seconds place, just 0.036s behind the German. Both Vettel and Hamilton had been battling for the fastest time and were equally fast early on in the session on the medium tyres, but both their times went down when they changed to the soft compound.
On a busy circuit it was hard to find a clear track ahead and many drivers had to abort their fast lap after an encounter with a slower car. Michael Schumacher was fast during the whole session, but also had a few moments, on one occasion he missed his braking point and had to abort his fast lap, and on the second occasion some 70 minutes into the session the German almost few off at the Parabolica after experiencing heavy understeer which almost sent his Mercedes into the gravel. But Schumacher’s hard work paid off and he finished in third position, 0.337s behind leader Vettel.
His team colleague Nico Rosberg had once again a troublesome practice, stayed in the garage a long time while mechanics worked on his car. He nevertheless went out on the soft tyres, but only managed to clinch 22nd position, which probably means he was running with a fully topped off fuel tank to gather data for the race on Sunday.
Felipe Massa was this time the quickest of the Ferrari drivers, he was already fast on the medium tyres and when he changed to the softs he ultimately took fourth place with a time of 1m24.366s, only 0,.019s slower than Schumacher. Fernando Alonso took fifth place also on soft tyres, but had some traffic problems towards the end of practice.
Mark Webber in the second Red Bull took sixth place almost half a second behind Vettel in first position, while the second McLaren with Jenson Button behind the wheel came in in seventh position. Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi took eighth and ninth position respectively. Kobayashi had to park his Sauber along the track after the second Lesmo with a technical problem; Perez’s session however, was trouble-free.
Bruno Senna completed the top ten for Lotus Renault after completing 38 laps and recorded a time of 1m25.325s. He was followed by his team colleague Vitaly Petrov, the Russian missed the first chicane at the start of the session but his performance improved once he had switched to the soft compound.
Adrian Sutil was not as fast as he had been in the morning session and had to be satisfied with 12th place. Paul di Resta was back in the car after Nico Hulkenberg had scored 12th position in the morning and without any problems the Scot took 13th position behind Sutil.
Jaime Alguersuari was again the quickest of the Toro Rosso drivers and landed 14th place this afternoon, while his team mate Sebastian Buemi landed in the tyre wall at the Parabolica just eight minutes into the session. The Swiss driver went off just halfway the Parabolica, shot through the gravel and hit the tyre barrier damaging the front of his Toro Rosso, it was over and out for him, but the time he had set before his excursion was still sufficient for 17th place.
Next on the afternoon time table were both Williams drivers, Rubens Barrichello was again the fastest of the pair and took 15th place, the first of the drivers who were over two seconds slower than Vettel, as he recorded a time of 1m26.202, which was 2.192s off the pace. Pastor Maldonado closely followed the experienced Brazilian in 15th place after completing 40 laps.
Although Jarno Trulli claims he still has problems with his new power steering, he was in the afternoon the quickest of the Team Lotus drivers and took 18th place, closely followed by Heikki Kovalainen who was just 0.046s slower than his Italian team mate. Thus Team Lotus was again the fastest of the newest teams, as Timo Glock took 20th place for Marussia Virgin.
The German was almost collected by Webber in the Variante Ascari, the Australian who was on a fast lap almost ran into the back of the Marussia Virgin, the same thing happened during the morning session and Glock was lucky not to get a penalty for causing a dangerous situation.
Number 21 on the list is HRT driver Vitantonio Liuzzi who had been faster than Team Lotus all afternoon, but during the final stage of the session was demoted to 21st place by Trulli and Kovalainen, later Glock also beat the Italian’s time. Even less lucky was the other HRT driver, Daniel Ricciardo, his mechanics worked on his car all afternoon and the Australian could only do seven laps in the 90-minute session and he therefore ended up on 24th and last place.
All in all a good session, this time Vettel was stronger, but only just. With the time differences we saw this afternoon it promises to be a close and exciting qualifying session on Saturday when drivers battle for a position on the start grid for Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix.