Lewis Hamilton shrugged off the latest speculation over his future to put current employer McLaren
at the top of the timesheets on the opening day of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
The Briton, who has been linked with a possible move to Mercedes in the past 48 hours, vaulted to the top of the times midway through the second 90-minute session of the day, and remained there as the field turned its attention to high fuel running as part of its preparation for Sunday's final European round of 2012. On what turned out to be a promising day for McLaren
- which has won the two most recent races in Hungary and Belgium - Hamilton was backed up by team-mate Jenson Button, who ended the day just 0.038secs shy of top spot.
The Woking team did not have things all its own way, however, as Fernando Alonso
was just another couple of hundredths adrift, despite missing just under half the session after his Ferrari
ran into gearbox problems. After an engine failure in FP1, the points leader has not had as much running as he would have liked on the opening day, and could yet face the spectre of a grid penalty should his gearbox be one that cannot be replaced without sanction.
Although the second Ferrari
of a fired-up Felipe Massa
occupied fourth spot in FP2, he was bumped back a spot by former team-mate Michael Schumacher's FP1 benchmark when the two sessions were combined. In fairness, Schumacher would likely have matched his previous best had it not been for a DRS problems that affected both Mercedes cars, although, with team-mate Nico Rosberg
slotting in to fifth in session and sixth overall, it did not appear to be too big an issue for the Brackley operation.
Behind Rosberg, Kimi Raikkonen, Paul di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg
and Sergio Perez rounded out the combined top ten, with the field behind the Mexican proving as closely matched as their quicker counterparts, as Mark Webber, in eleventh, and Vitaly Petrov in 20th being split by a fraction over a second. Neither Red Bull
driver appeared too concerned with their relatively lowly positions, despite admitting that short run pace needed to be looked at, as their longer runs had suggested they would again be competitive on race day.
Jerome d'Ambrosio, returning to F1 this weekend in place of the suspended Romain Grosjean
improved by a second to close the gap on Lotus team-mate Raikkonen and move up to twelfth overall, sandwiched by the RB8s of Webber and Vettel. Williams, meanwhile, slipped back, despite Pastor Maldonado improving during the session. Bruno Senna joined the fray in place of reserve driver Valtteri Bottas, but trailed the Finn's best effort by a tenth when the flag fell.
Caterham's Heikki Kovalainen
finished the day a couple of hundredths ahead of Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne in what could be a portent for qualifying, where the Frenchman has frequently been a victim in the opening session. Petrov was a little further away from Vergne, in 22nd overall, as Sahara Force India
reserve Jules Bianchi saw his FP1 time prove enough to slot in ahead of the Russian.
Right at the back, Narain Karthikeyan's return to the cockpit after seeing Chinese hopeful Ma Qing Hua take over in the morning session ended a little prematurely, restricting the Indian to the foot of the FP2 times, albeit only a couple of tenths off HRT team-mate Pedro de la Rosa, and still ahead of his stand-in in the overall picture.