Lewis Hamilton fastest during FP1 for the fastest race on the F1 calendar at the Italian Grand Prix.
Monza is the temple of speed, a power circuit where the long straights reward the best power units and downforce is very low. For Mercedes and Ferrari, they used this race as a chance to bring in a new, upgraded power unit into the system. For Mercedes this worked well as their man, Hamilton, topped the time sheet and the Silver Arrows were miles ahead of the competition.
Before any times had even been set at the Italian Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso was complaining about a lack of power from his Honda power unit bolted into his McLaren. But the theme of the season for them was more of a worry for Mercedes when Rosberg radioed back in from his installation lap to report “no power”.
Luckily for both, they continued on in the session after pitting from their installation laps. But while their engineers checked over the cars, Carlos Sainz was on his radio reporting a gearbox issue that kept forcing a false neutral on different parts of the track and cutting the gearbox out. This issue caused Sainz the occasional lock up and he struggled to get heat into his tyres while the team kept him out. His team-mate meanwhile set the opening time of the weekend with a 1:31.817 that he quickly improved by 1.5 seconds.
After Verstappen’s improved lap time, drivers flocked to the time sheet which was led by Kvyat with Vettel third, then Maldonado on top before Hamilton hit the hammer on the head to demote the Venezuelan to second by seven tenths of a second.
Like Verstappen, Hamilton improved over quickly to bring the benchmark down to the 1:26’s while Vettel and Rosberg slotted in behind. Nico incidentally set a faster first sector to Lewis’ but Hamilton had the upper hand over the rest of the lap. This did not last long however, as Hamilton set the fastest time again to breach into the 1:25’s with the new fastest sector in all three parts of the Autodromo di Monza.
But after Hamilton set his latest time, Rosberg set purple times in sector one and two but a poor final sector saw Nico fail to improve before the red flag came out. The first red flag of the weekend came out after Sainz beached his Toro Rosso in the Parabolica gravel trap after the rear of his car snapped viciously under braking.
After the red flags were put away and the teams handed their first set of Pirelli tyres back to the Italian manufacturer, the usual lull in action continued for a little while longer than usual. But one car on track was Kvyat who, like Rosberg, set personal best times in the first two sectors but his lap crumbled away from the Ascari chicane to the finish line.
But when Rosberg retook to the Monza tarmac, he finally managed to master the final sector to improve on his best time and even move Hamilton down into second place. Albeit for a few seconds as Hamilton crossed the line moments later to go three tenths faster than his team-mate.
Mercedes’ upgraded engine clearly was far superior to Ferrari as the Italian outfit’s time just kept falling into the abyss as both Silver Arrows improved again. First Rosberg improved on his best, but remained behind Hamilton, who was flat out storming away to go half a second clear of Rosberg after a few more laps around Monza.
When Lewis set his 1:24.670, he was two seconds clear of Vettel, with the German now in fourth behind Hulkenberg and the Mercs. Lewis’ time was also one and a half seconds faster than his best, and the session best, in FP1 this time last year.
By the time the chequered flag was waved, Hamilton’s blistering time was too much for even Rosberg to handle. But jumping back a second and a half, Vettel had managed to move back into third, even after a spin at turn one when he lost the rear mid-corner.
FP1 was a strong session for Force India as they locked down fourth and fifth place, with Raikkonen tucking in behind. Contrastingly, McLaren had yet another poor session with one car receiving a lot of care and attention while the team also swapped out their brand new Honda power units for another brand new power unit each.