After a very wet Friday at Spa last week, it was with relief that 24 drivers took to the track at Monza in bright sunshine this morning. It was a morning of firsts, with Jerome D’Ambrosio participating in his first timed session for Lotus in place of the banned Romain Grosjean, and Ma Qing Hua driving for HRT to become the first Chinese-born driver to take part in a Grand Prix weekend.
For Michael Schumacher, however, there were no firsts, but rather the familiar (yet recently unusual) experience of being the quickest driver on track. Schumacher lapped the Autodromo three tenths faster than Jenson Button, with Nico Rosberg third in the second Mercedes. Interestingly, the top six in the session contained both Mercedes, both McLarens and both Ferraris, suggesting that over a single lap the advantage is held by those with the most horsepower. What remains to be seen throughout the rest of the weekend is the extent to which tyre degradation will impact race pace.
Felipe Massa’s weekend has got off to a good start. The Brazilian is under pressure to perform if he wants to keep his seat at Ferrari, and he has delivered so far, with a time just six hundredths of a second slower than team-mate Fernando Alonso.
At Lotus, Jerome D’Ambrosio is getting acclimatised in Romain Grosjean’s car. Having not raced since 2011, and then in an uncompetitive Virgin, D’Ambrosio faces a steep learning curve in a car that appears capable of victory, particularly alongside the extremely quick Kimi Raikkonen. D’Ambrosio ended the first practice session 1.1 seconds behind his team-mate, which is a fair start to the weekend given the circumstances. That gap can be expected to close as through today and tomorrow.
HRT’s Ma Qing Hua made history by becoming the first Chinese-born driver to take part in a Grand Prix weekend as he took over Narain Karthikeyan’s car for the session. Ma was just under two seconds slower than Pedro de la Rosa in the sister car, which is completely understandable given his lack of experience in Formula One.
This afternoon’s FP2 session will feature the option tyre for the first time this weekend, which should provide a better indication of the relative pace of the cars in advance of tomorrow’s qualifying. FP2 starts at 14:00 local time.