MONZA, Italy: Charles Leclerc set the pace in practice for his Ferrari team’s home Italian Grand Prix yesterday with Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton hot on his heels for Mercedes.
The 21-year-old Monegasque led both sessions at Monza, the soggy and crash-strewn first one hardly representative after heavy overnight downpours while showers returned in the afternoon.
Fresh from his first F1 victory last weekend at a Belgian Grand Prix overshadowed by the death of French Formula Two racer Anthoine Hubert, Leclerc lapped the ‘Pista Magica’ with a best time of one minute 20.978 seconds.
The youngster had led the first session time sheets with a time of 1:27.905 and is hitting a fine run of form after also dominating practice at Spa-Francorchamps and taking pole position.
Ferrari and Monza are both celebrating 90th anniversaries this weekend, with a big crowd already yesterday and the grandstands festooned with red and white banners.
Ferrari have not won at Monza since Spaniard Fernando Alonso in 2010 but hopes of ending that drought are high at a circuit that suits their car’s characteristics, although rain is expected.
Hamilton, 65 points clear of team mate Valtteri Bottas with eight races remaining, ended the day 0.068 slower but benefitting from an aerodynamic tow to split the Ferrari drivers.
Sebastian Vettel was third fastest in 1:21.179.
The morning featured three red flags and saw McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris second and third on the time sheets, positions the once-dominant team can only dream of in races at the moment.
Hamilton, last year’s race winner to boos from the unhappy crowd, was fourth in the morning with Vettel only eighth quickest and 2.6 seconds off the pace.
Alfa Romeo’s former Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen and Racing Point’s Sergio Perez both crashed in the treacherous conditions while others spun, including Bottas who ended the first session ninth fastest but was fourth after lunch.
Raikkonen was first off at Parabolica with half an hour completed, while Perez hit the wall heavily at the Ascari chicane.
Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly caused the final red flag when his car hit a kerb at the first chicane and briefly caused an obstruction, before being shoved clear by marshals.
British-born Thai racer Alexander Albon, who has traded places with Gasly, was fifth and sixth fastest for Red Bull in the respective sessions.
Team mate Max Verstappen, who will drop to the back end of the starting grid due to engine changes along with Gasly and Norris, was fifth in the second session.
Neither McLaren featured in the afternoon top 10, with Norris sidelined for all but the last 20 minutes due to an oil leak that took time to fix.
Today’s qualifying - 4pm. Tomorrow’s race - 4.10pm.