Lewis Hamilton did little to dampen speculation that McLaren will be the team to beat at Monza this weekend, although both Red Bull Racing and Ferrari showed that they will be forces to reckon with, regardless of what the experts say.
Hamilton, who had to watch as McLaren team-mate Jenson Button topped the opening session on Friday and then trailed Vettel in the afternoon, posted the fastest lap of the weekend so far, clocking 1min 22.498secs after fitting a low downforce set-up to his MP4-25, and setting a benchmark that his rivals came close to, but ultimately could not match.
Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel came closest of all, both posting late laps that appeared to threaten Hamilton's mark until they crossed the line, Alonso getting to within 0.146secs, before Vettel then slotted in between them with a lap just 0.047secs shy of the Briton.
The top three teams filled six of the top seven spots, with Felipe Massa, Jenson Button and Mark Webber split only by sixth-placed Nico Rosberg, who pushed his Mercedes into the reckoning. Webber, in seventh, was fully half a second adrift of his main championship protagonist after having his car quit on him for the second time this weekend, while Nico Hulkenberg was eighth fastest for Williams, ahead of Renault's Robert Kubica and Force India's Adrian Sutil.
Sebastien Buemi gave Toro Rosso reason to hope on home soil with eleventh place overall, ahead of Michael Schumacher, while team-mate Jaime Alguersuari took 15th spot, between Kamui Kobayashi and Vitaly Petrov, as Pedro de la Rosa and Tonio Liuzzi took the final spots ahead of the six 'newcomer' cars, headed by Lotus duo Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen.