Impressive Leclerc tops both Friday practice sessions for the Italian Grand Prix

Charles Leclerc continued his impressive form by topping both sessions of Friday free practice for the Italian Grand Prix in front of an adoring Tifosi.

Leclerc, who won his first grand prix at Spa-Francorchamps last Sunday, was quickest in a wet first practice that saw several drivers spinning in the tough conditions before clocking a 1m20.798s from 37 laps to finish 0.068s ahead of the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton in FP2.

With Sebastian Vettel third quickest ahead of Valtteri Bottas, the Mercedes vs Ferrari dominance looks set to continue throughout the weekend on one of the quickest circuits on the calendar. Unsurprisingly, the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen were next on the timesheets, albeit well adrift of pace setter Leclerc although the intermittent conditions meant teams ran differing qualifying and race practice runs at different times.

Having traded places with Albon for the coveted Red Bull drive, Pierre Gasly was ‘best of the rest’ back in the comfort of his Toro Rosso, ahead of Romain Grosjean’s Haas, Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault and the second Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat.

For Acronis partner teams Racing Point and Williams, is was a mixed session. Lance Stroll was 12th during a wet opening session that caught out teammate Sergio Perez, the Mexican losing control on the exit of the Ascari chicane before spinning into the wall and damaging his car.

The team did a tremendous job of getting his car ready for FP2 and he was able to complete 33 laps of the circuit.

“Not the easiest of days with the wet weather impacting on both practice sessions,” said team boss Otmar Szafnauer. “The damage to Sergio’s car caused us a few headaches but we managed to get the car repaired in time for the afternoon session. Lance had a more straightforward day and both drivers completed a good number of laps in the second session.

“It’s hard to judge our relative competitiveness based on such a disrupted day, but the forecast looks much brighter across the weekend. I think we’ve got a good chance of getting both cars into Q3 tomorrow afternoon.”

For Williams there was an unfamiliar look to the timesheets with Robert Kubica comfortably quicker than George Russell in both sessions, although once again they will surely only be battling one another at the tail of the field.

“Today the weather was the big player and so we did some running in wet and dry conditions,” commented Kubica afterward. “The pace is as expected, Monza is a very high-speed track and we are not the kings there. The car felt the best it has done all year, which is surprising as it is a circuit you normally struggle to get right straight away. However, the Italian fans create a good atmosphere and its nice to be back racing in Monza.”

Yet the Williams duo will start ahead of several quicker cars come race day as regardless of how they perform in qualifying on Saturday, Verstappen, Lando Norris, and Gasly will start the race from the back of the grid on Sunday because of penalties for using too many engine parts this season.

 

Fraser Masefield

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.