Lewis Hamilton says he found the small deficit to Mercedes’ chief Formula 1 rival Ferrari in Italian Grand Prix practice “surprising”.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc topped both practice sessions at Monza on Friday, but Hamilton was able to get within 0.068s of the Monegasque’s effort to finish second and split the Scuderia duo.

Mercedes had expected to struggle around the power-sensitive Monza circuit with Ferrari tipped as the pre-race favourites following its strong performance and first victory of the season in Belgium, but Hamilton was left encouraged by Friday’s showing.

“Practice was a bit of a challenge today, obviously with the weather, and it’s a bit of a pointless exercise when it’s raining because it’s all risk and no real reward,” Hamilton said.

“You are not really learning a lot. We didn’t do a huge amount of practice in that session, and then obviously with it being dry in FP2, it was much, much better for everyone.

“There’s not a massive amount different to how it was in the last race. They’re [Ferrari] quite quick in a straight line, we’re quite strong I think on race pace.

“But actually perhaps a little bit closer on single lap pace. It looks like we’re going to have a fight.

“It definitely is surprising,” he added. “I didn’t know what to expect this weekend. I expected them to be quick on the straight, which they are, but there’s enough corners where we’re able to gain it back.

“They’re not really that quick through the corners, so it kind of balances us out.”

Asked if the small gap gives him confidence going into qualifying, Hamilton replied: “Definitely. I still think it’s going to be a really hard race, but we are on a similar level, which is really quite nice. I don’t know where the Red Bulls are, but I’m sure they’ll tell me.”