After a rain-lashed first free practice in which top drivers resembled oil drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, hunkered down to wait it out, Formula One's second free practice for the Grand Prix of Italy produced sunshine and faster times....
After a rain-lashed first free practice in which top drivers resembled oil drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, hunkered down to wait it out, Formula One's second free practice for the Grand Prix of Italy produced sunshine and faster times. As would be expected -- at least by Scuderia Ferrari fans -- at the 3.599-mile Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Ferrari topped timesheets in the form of World Driving Champion Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen racked up a 1 minute, 23.861-second lap.
Giving hope that any team can break up the tedium of a two-car championship, BMW Sauber runners Robert Kubica (1:23.931) and Nick Heidfeld (1:23.947) followed Raikkonen. Fourth-fastest Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes, Ferrari's dance partner in the sport's power duo, was the only other driver under the 1:24 mark.
The Monza track represents the high art of low downforce, with cars cleared of much of their brand-bearing, road-holding wings and winglets. Teams practiced at this track three weeks ago specifically for this race and the race last week in Belgium, also on a so-called fast track.
Rain haunted that one, too, with the outcome cast in the final two laps of sky-opened chaos. Apparent race winner Hamilton lost the victory and a sizable world driving title points lead when he was penalized for a chicane-cutting move. McLaren has appealed and has been given a Sept. 22 hearing date by the FIA's International Court of Appeal. McLaren's appeal could be ruled inadmissible by the time of the scheduled hearing. The incident produced such hubbub that Renault this week disassociated itself with remarks made by the team's engineering boss, Pat Symonds.
Once everyone was on track in second practice, Hamilton was followed by Nico Rosberg for Williams, Felipe Massa for Ferrari, Heikki Kovalainen for McLaren, Mark Webber for Red Bull, Adrian Sutil for Force India, and Sebastian Vettel for Scuderia Toro Rosso. The latter two represented best performances by Ferrari customer engines. Webber's eighth came on a Renault customer engine, one replaced since Belgium as the team chose to use its "free" engine change. Rules require engines to last two races but teams are allowed one discretionary engine change per season.
"The first session was very difficult, even in the better conditions in the first 30 minutes," Sutil said. "There were some dry and some wet patches, and it was very difficult to see where you could go . Even in the second practice there were still some damp parts, and it wasn't until the last minute that you could push hard. I am quite happy with the car and didn't really change anything from the setup we developed at the test. We also concentrated on getting the tires to work. We had a good day and I feel quite confident, so let's see if we can have a good day tomorrow."
The other customer engine team, Williams, put its Toyota-powered FW30, in the hands of Rosberg, in the top five both sessions.
"I think we have started the weekend well," Rosberg said. "In the morning session in the wet, we were pretty quick and I felt very comfortable in the car, so even if it rains in the race, we can be pretty strong here. We weren't too bad this afternoon in the drier conditions either, and despite the weather over the day, we managed to fit everything in, so practice was really well managed by the team. The car has good balance, but, of course, we still need to fine tune this a little bit. In terms of performance, we are definitely looking better than we have done of late. The Toyota engine is making a good contribution and because the car is performing well for this one-off low-downforce race, we need to make the best of it."
McLarens lost speed in the final sector of the track's timing tripartite designation. That sector is made up of two long straights as well as the high-speed Parabolica turn. But what Ferraris might make up in speed, they could lose in adhesion if predicted unsettled weather, including rain, brings cool temperatures to race day; The McLaren MP4-24 seems to reach working tire temperatures more quickly than the Ferrari F2008.
Sutil's top time in first practice placed him ahead of Rubens Barrichello of Honda and Force India teammate Giancarlo Fisichella. Hamilton, Webber, Kovalainen, Kubica, Heidfeld and Kazuki Nakajima of Williams did not record lap times for first practice, light rain that turned to torrents keeping them in their garages.
After claiming his team's Belgian Grand Prix effort a week ago put Renault, fifth-placed in constructors' points, into contention as third-best team on pit lane, Fernando Alonso turned 18th-best time in second practice. His teammate, Nelsinho Piquet, put his R28 out of business with several minutes of the session remaining when a chicane spin became a case for track officials. The car had to be winched away after Piquet could not get turned around to resume running.
Off track ...
Ferrari announced it will remain an Alonsofree zone through 2010. Raikkonen has signed to stay with the scuderia through 2010, ending speculation that Renault's Alonso, the most highly sought driver in the sport, will move to Maranello for next season. Alleged darling of Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo, Alonso reportedly remains the object of desire of Honda and BMW Sauber.
Di Montezemolo has taken charge as chairman of the Formula One Teams Association, a group designed to work with the FIA to forward the sport's goals, especially FIA president Max Mosley's favorites, going green and saving money. A first meeting of the group, as reported by Ferrari, agreed objectives and appointed commissions. McLaren chief executive Martin Whitmarsh will head a Sporting Working Group, Ross Brawn of Honda a Technical Working Group, and Renault F1 boss Flavio Briatore a Commercial Working Group.
Williams, whose F1 partnership was founded by Sir Frank Williams and partner Patrick Head in 1977, celebrates its 500th grand prix at this weekend's race meeting.