Hamilton tops opening Italian GP practice

Lewis Hamilton set the quickest time in first practice at the Italian Grand Prix before qualifying later today for Saturday’s sprint. The Mercedes driver’s best time of 1m20.926s was 0.452s better than title rival Max Verstappen’s fastest time despite the Briton using the medium tire to the Dutchman’s softs.

Teammate Valtteri Bottas ended the practice hour third and another half-second behind Verstappen’s Red Bull, also on the medium compound.

Mercedes was the only team not to use at least two different compounds through the hour, with each of the Black Arrows burning through two sets of mediums across more than 26 laps.

The soft tire will be the only compound in use in the qualifying hour later on Friday in the season’s second trial of the sprint qualifying weekend format. Both the sprint race on Saturday and the grand prix on Sunday will then offer free starting tire choice to all drivers, though the medium compound is expected to be the favored tire for the half-hour sprint.

Lance Stroll was fourth best for Aston Martin, the Canadian beating 2020 Italian Grand Prix winner Pierre Gasly to the place by just 0.043s. Sebastian Vettel followed in the second Aston in sixth.

Carlos Sainz was the best-place Ferrari, the Spaniard taking seventh place ahead of compatriot Fernando Alonso, who was the highest placed non-Mercedes drivers to eschew the soft compound.

Daniel Ricciardo likewise avoided the softs on his way to ninth, though the Australian had faster times deleted for exceeding track limits. He still wound up ahead of Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull Racing car, the Mexican 1.1s off the pace.

Charles Leclerc was 11th ahead of Lando Norris, who overcame a spongy feeling on the brakes at the beginning of the hour only to have his best time — which would have been in the a top five — erased for crossing the white line at Parabolica.

Antonio Giovinazzi followed in 13th for Alfa Romeo, with Yuki Tsunoda following for AlphaTauri despite reporting a power cut at Turn 7, which his team said it could fix before qualifying.

Esteban Ocon was 15th ahead of Robert Kubica, the Pole again filling Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo seat after the Finn’s positive COVID-19 test.

Williams teammates George Russell and Nicholas Latifi were 17th and 18th, while Haas duo Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher completed the order.

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