Lewis Hamilton reckons McLaren will be able to challenge Red Bull Racing this weekend at the Italian Grand Prix and after setting the quickest time of the day today in opening practice, the Englishman said his car is 'going really well'.
Hamilton blitzed the opposition in FP1 and he was the only runner to get below the 1m 24s bracket, with a 1 minute 23.865 second lap, which put him almost a second up on his team-mate, Jenson Button. Hamilton was also strong in FP2 and while it was Sebastian Vettel that topped the times this afternoon, Lewis was only 0.036s slower - his time from FP1 also remained the marker for the day too.
“We spent today working on wing set-ups – it looked like some teams may have been running lower downforce than us - but once we used DRS we were looking pretty good,” Hamilton said. “It's interesting to see the different downforce levels - some teams are faster along the straights - but we're faster through the middle sector. It's always a compromise, but our long-run pace doesn't look at all bad.
“We were pretty strong in both sessions and, on heavier fuel, I think we're slightly stronger than the Ferraris. At the end of P2, the Red Bulls were looking pretty strong, but I'm pretty sure they weren't on the same fuel load as us, which is encouraging.
“Jenson and I are both running the same wing set-up as each other, and I feel really happy with it. We'll make some small changes overnight, but I think we can challenge the Red Bulls this weekend. The car is going really well, and we're continuing to make small improvements, but it's going to be a hard race.”
Button meanwhile was less pleased and slipped from second in the opening session to seventh in FP2. His best effort of the day was a 1m 24.508s.
“Some of the things we tried on my car throughout the day worked better than others, so we're not really where I feel we ought to be yet, and we haven't yet determined what downforce level to run,” Button explained.
“I don't yet feel totally at one with the car, but we're working on it. In fact, I think there's going to be quite a lot of data to look over tonight before we choose a direction for the rest of the weekend.”
“Monza is always a very challenging circuit: obviously, you want to be as fast as you possibly can along the straights, but it's actually a very delicate trade-off between drag and downforce through the corners,” added McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh. “You don't want to damage the tyres too much by running too little wing and allowing the car to slide excessively – but if you run too much, you risk struggling along the straights.
“To make it even harder, we need to further balance the set-up for an end-of-straight speed with and without DRS, and, furthermore, to optimise the car for more extensive use of DRS during qualifying. Consequently, today was very much about analysing our downforce levels to ensure that both Lewis and Jenson felt comfortable with the car, and that our engineers were happy with our pace. There's still some more work to be done, but we're encouraged by our initial pace today and feel confident that we can make good progress before tomorrow's sessions.
“Lewis was particularly happy with his car's balance today, Jenson perhaps a little less so. Nonetheless, we are still comfortable with both drivers' pace and we are looking forward to another encouragingly constructive day tomorrow,” Whitmarsh summed-up.