Lewis Hamilton topped the times ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in Friday’s opening free practice for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix. REUTERS Photo

MONZA: Lewis Hamilton topped the times ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in Friday’s opening free practice for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.

The three-time world champion Briton clocked a best lap time of one minute and 21.537 seconds on a damp and overcast morning at the old royal park as the Mercedes men outpaced the Ferraris by more than a second.

Hamilton was 0.435 seconds clear of his Finnish team-mate as he delivered the pace to suggest he may be able to dominate the weekend, win Sunday’s race and take the championship lead from Vettel for the first time this year.

Vettel, who was third for Ferrari ahead of his Finnish team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, has a seven-point lead ahead of Ferrari’s ‘home’ race, but there was little for the tifosi to celebrate in the opening skirmishes.

With rain looming throughout the session, most of the field were out early to take advantage of the initially dry, if cool, conditions.

Bottas was fastest first, on soft tyres, before Mercedes switched to super-soft compounds on which Hamilton swept to supremacy with a series of ever-faster laps.

A brief spell of light rain changed the conditions and interrupted the session which saw Red Bull running fifth and sixth, their Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo ahead of Dutchman Max Verstappen, despite their upcoming grid penalties.

The Australian is expected to be given a 20-place penalty and Verstappen 15 after Red Bull changed many of their Renault engine components.

The Force India pairing of Sergio Perez of Mexico and Frenchman Esteban Ocon, who agreed a peaceful end to their series of personal clashes on Thursday, were seventh and eighth ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne of McLaren Honda and Brazilian Felipe Massa in his Williams.

The Belgian’s team-mate, two-time champion Fernando Alonso, was 15th after an overnight change of his Honda power unit. Alonso is expected to take a 35-place grid penalty, another setback in his long run of disappointments with the team.

Somewhat unexpectedly, he stopped running early with that unit and the team switched him back to an older engine, which he used in last Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix. He is due to continue with that engine.

Honda suggested this was a planned procedure so that the ‘tested’ updated engine can be saved for the Singapore Grand Prix where McLaren hope to enjoy a much-improved performance.

str/gj

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