Red Bull’s Formula One championship leader Sebastian Vettel did his best to demoralise the ranks of Ferrari fans at their home circuit with a stunning show of speed in Italian Grand Prix practice on Friday.
The triple champion was a commanding 0.623 seconds quicker than his own team mate Mark Webber, next on the timesheets, in the afternoon sunshine at Monza with a fastest lap of one minute 24.453 seconds.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, the German’s closest championship rival with a cavernous 46-point gap to make up and eight races remaining, was fifth and 0.877 off the pace on the fastest circuit on the calendar.
Last year’s winner Lewis Hamilton had put Mercedes on top in the morning session with Alonso putting in the second-best lap only 0.035 seconds slower and Vettel fourth fastest.
Hamilton, who will be chasing his fifth pole position in a row on Saturday, roared around Monza’s classic ‘Pista Magica’ in 1:25.565 on a sunny morning in the former royal park. He was sixth after lunch.
The Briton, who was booed by some of the passionate Ferrari ‘tifosi’ when he won for McLaren last year, had said on Thursday that he hoped they would be booing him again if it meant a return to the top step of the podium on Sunday.
Alonso might have gone quicker than Hamilton in the morning had he not run wide, kicking up a cloud of dust, at the exit to the Parabolica corner on a fast lap with half an hour to go.
Raikkonen suffered his first retirement of the season, ending a 27-race scoring run, at the previous race in Belgium and has fallen back to fourth in the championship behind Hamilton.
A banner in the start/finish grandstand, written in large red letters and positioned next to a Ferrari flag, declared ‘Kimi in pole’ in what looked like a throwback to 2007 when the Finn finished third for the Italian team.
Raikkonen has a longer wheelbase car for the race, the fastest on the calendar with speeds of up to 340kph, but has played down his chances.