Sebastian Vettel claimed top spot in the final free practice session ahead of qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix and while the gap to his nearest rival was half yesterday’s frighteningly impressive six tenths of a second, the Drivers’ Championship leader continued to look the man to beat at Monza.
The Red Bull Racing driver ended the hour-long morning session 0.283 clear of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and just over three tenths of a second ahead of third-placed Mark Webber.
Vettel’s control of proceedings was absolute. After his installation lap the German remained in his garage until 20 minutes had elapsed but when he did emerge his first timed lap, a 1:25.265 on the hard tyre, was good enough for P1.
And there he remained. Alonso waited until the halfway mark approached to show his hand on the hard tyre and the Ferrari man immediately installed himself as Vettel’s closest challenger, with a time just two tenths adrift of the Red Bull driver, with Webber third.
Elsewhere, others were suffering problems. Paul Di Resta went off at the Parabolica, his Force india snapping out of control on entry to the corner and sending the Scot skittering into the barriers. His car sustained minimal damage but he suggested over team radio that something had broken on his VJM06.
At Mercedes, Nico Rosberg was also in trouble. As the final 20 minutes of the session approached and the field began to consider a move to the Medium tyre, Rosberg was left sitting at the back of his garage as his crew worked furiously at the back of his car. The German had complained of understeer at the start of the session and the resulting difficulties left him sidelined for the bulk of the session, with only five early laps on the board.
On track the switch to medium tyres took place with nine minutes left and Vettel once again dominated. His first lap on the softer of the weekend’s tyres lowered the P1 mark to 1:24. 478 and the following tour shaved just over a tenth off his time to leave him comfortable at the top of the order ahead of Alonso and Webber.
Behind them Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was fourth, with Sergio Pérez fifth for McLaren. Daniel Ricciardo, who earlier in the week was signed for 2014 by Red Bull Racing as replacement for the departing Mark Webber, logged the morning’s sixth-fastest time, just over half a second down on Vettel’s benchmark. Behind him, the top 10 order was completed by Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, McLaren’s Jenson Button, Williams’ Pastor Maldonado and Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen.
Italian Grand Prix Free Practice 3 times
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 1:24.360
2 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:24.643 +0.283
3 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 1:24.677 +0.317
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:24.712 +0.352
5 Sergio Pérez McLaren 1:24.864 +0.504
6 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:24.865 +0.505
7 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:24.995 +0.635
8 Jenson Button McLaren 1:25.103 +0.743
9 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:25.116 +0.756
10 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:25.120 +0.760
11 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:25.136 +0.776
12 Nico Hülkenberg Sauber 1:25.273 +0.913
13 Esteban Gutiérrez Sauber 1:25.324 +0.964
14 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:25.499 +1.139
15 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:25.660 +1.300
16 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:25.702 +1.342
17 Paul di Resta Force India 1:26.120 +1.760
18 Charles Pic Caterham 1:26.607 +2.247
19 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:27.172 +2.812
20 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:27.605 +3.245
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1:27.665 +3.305
22 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:27.822 +3.462