Fernando Alonso may have received the loudest cheers of the morning, but it was Lewis Hamilton who came out on top of the timesheets in the first of two Friday practice sessions at the Italian Grand Prix.
The Briton disappointed the tifosi
by pipping Alonso by less than a tenth of a second to give Mercedes early bragging rights at Monza, posting a 1min 25.565secs benchmark that only the Spaniard got close to challenging. Third-placed Nico Rosberg, in the second Mercedes, was 0.139secs adrift, with Sebastian Vettel fourth (+0.188s) and Kimi Raikkonen fifth (+0.376s).
A slow start ensured that nearly a quarter of the session passed before anyone set a time, and some of the lesser lights took the opportunity to enjoy a brief moment at the top of the times, but, in the end, it was the usual suspects who dominated, with Hamilton and Rosberg confirming that Mercedes will again a be a threat for pole position.
With McLaren sixth and seventh, courtesy of Sergio Perez and Jenson Button, ahead of Mark Webber, Pastor Maldonado and Jean-Eric Vergne, perhaps the only surprise was that Force India was not better placed, having generally been a contender at the Italian circuit.
The British team, however, did have a new face in one of its cockpits, having promoted James Calado to the role of reserve for the remainder of the season. The GP2 Series frontrunner did not disgrace himself either, taking 17th spot, but just half a second off regular Paul di Resta.
Calado's time also put him ahead of former Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg, who saw his session curtailed by a gearbox problem that Sauber failed to fix despite a lengthy pit-stop. The German, who remains in the mix for Ferrari's second seat, ended the morning just ahead of the expected backmarkers, where Charles Pic headed Max Chilton as Caterham and Marussia drafted in Heikki Kovalainen and Rodolfo Gonzalez for the 90-minute session.
The first session of the weekend saw the inevitable excursions as drivers for to grips with the lower levels of downforce prevalent at Monza. Both Williams drivers had moments taking to the margins beyond the white lines, while others, including Calado, had to negotiate the slalom in the run-off at the opening chicane.
Both Mercedes and Sauber conducted some of the session with larger-than-expected rear wings as they trialled developments on their respective 'passive DRS' systems, but neither is expected to run the technology all weekend. Lotus has already confirmed that it will not be using its own system at this event, but have brought a longer wheelbase version of its E21. Just one of the cars was in action during the opening session as the Enstone team attempt to make back-to-back comparisons with its shorter predecessor.