DEFENDING champion Sebastian Vettel bounced back after a disappointing morning to top the times in Friday’s second free practice session for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.
The 24-year-old Red Bull driver and runaway leader of this year’s title race clocked a best time of 1min 24.010sec to outpace nearest rival Lewis Hamilton of McLaren by 0.036sec.
“It was an interesting day on a track that usually doesn’t suit us, but today I think we were pretty happy with the car,” said the German.
“It’s difficult to judge because Friday is always a bit of a mess here with traffic so hard to judge.
“The raw lap time you see at the end of the day is on a piece of paper, but the car felt good and we have had no problems so I am quite satisfied.”
“The car feels good but it looks like McLaren are the ones to beat,” he added. “I think, obviously everyone’s (rear wing) is more-or-less the same, except McLaren’s, so we’ll have to take a deeper look at things and see how quick they are – and then make a decision.”
Hamilton was fastest in the morning session with a lap in 1:23.865, when Vettel was left in third place, 1.366sec adrift.
“I think we are set pretty good,” he said. “I’m not too worried about Red Bull.
“We were very strong in P1 and in P2 again. Both me and Jenson (Button) are very happy with the car. I think we are in a strong position.
“The Red Bulls looked very quick in the end, but I’m pretty sure that they are not on the same fuel levels as we are. I feel optimistic about tomorrow. We’ll make some small changes overnight, but I think we can challenge Red Bull.”
Looking ahead when asked about the race, he added: “The car was really, really great. The car was feeling great. Our long-run pace doesn’t look bad at all, so I think we are going to be competitive, but it’s going to be a very hard race in these conditions.
“I think we are strong and in a good position, but I don’t know what the Red Bulls are doing. They were very fast in the last session, so to beat them is going to be tough, but I don’t think it’s impossible.”
Michael Schumacher, 42, proved that he knows his way round the famous old Autodromo Nazionale Monza better than anyone – after five wins at the track and seven world titles overall – by winding up third in his Mercedes.
Felipe Massa of Ferrari was fourth, behind his former team-mate but ahead of his current partner with the scarlet scuderia, two-time champion Fernando Alonso.
This left Mark Webber down in sixth in the second Red Bull, with Jenson Button seventh in the second McLaren on a warm, sunny afternoon on which the top seven were all within half a second of the fastest man.
Webber, however, was on a very different programme of work for the team. He said: “I think we’ve got of information to go through – obviously down-force levels, gear ratios – it’s a pretty tricky venue in that regard.
“The two (tyre) compounds are behaving pretty well at the moment. We did most of our work in the more important session (P2) on the option, so yeah, overall, a pretty good day.
“The tyres look pretty happy around here, too. It’s not a normal Pirelli situation, I would say. It’s still hurting a bit, but not as much as normal. We will see on Sunday.
“Obviously Seb and I ran different programmes today, so we will put all the information together tonight and go from there.”
Sergio Perez was eighth for Sauber ahead of his Japanese team-mate Kamui Kobayashi and 10th-placed Bruno Senna, who recovered from a poor morning to outpace his Renault team-mate Vitaly Petrov, who was 11th.
Adrian Sutil was down in 12th place for Force India.