Mercedes dominates opening Italian GP practice; Vettel spins
MONZA, Italy (AP) With Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg dominating practice for the Italian Grand Prix, Mercedes is on track for its 23rd consecutive pole position Saturday.
Hamilton and Rosberg finished 1-2 in both of Friday's practice sessions.
In the afternoon, championship leader Hamilton clocked the day's best time of 1 minute, 24.279 seconds around the Monza circuit, which features the highest speeds in Formula One.
Rosberg, the top challenger who became a father for the first time last weekend, was a narrow 0.021 seconds behind.
''It always makes it easier when there is less people involved but it's still very intense out there,'' Hamilton said, deflecting discussion about increased speed from a new power unit. ''It's still a massive challenge regardless of how fast we are.''
Williams holds the Formula One record of 24 straight poles, set in 1992 and 1993.
The last time Mercedes didn't take pole came at last year's Austrian GP, when Felipe Massa of Williams took the first spot on the grid.
Hamilton has taken 10 of 11 poles this year, with Rosberg beating him only in Spain.
Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, competing in a Ferrari for the first time at Monza, finished third in both practice sessions - narrowing his gap from more than 1.5 seconds in the morning to under a second in the afternoon.
''We need binoculars to see Mercedes,'' Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene said. ''Our pace was not bad ... But Mercedes is still far from us.''
Force India drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez flip-flopped between fourth and fifth over the two trainings.
Kimi Raikkonen in the other Ferrari placed sixth in both sessions, while Romain Grosjean of Lotus was seventh in the afternoon.
Grosjean sat out the morning to give Jolyon Palmer a chance behind the wheel amid speculation that the cash-strapped Lotus team could be taken over by Renault.
Mercedes-powered cars took eight of the top 10 spots in both practices, with only the Ferraris preventing a sweep.
Toro Rosso continued to have problems. After Carlos Sainz spun out in the morning and had to abandon his car on the gravel, Max Verstappen ended up on the gravel in the afternoon, just barely avoiding the barriers.
After frightening tire deterioration incidents for Rosberg and Vettel in Belgium two weeks ago and an ensuing investigation from sole supplier Pirelli, there was more worry from Verstappen in the morning.
After the Dutchman wobbled through the 180-degree Parabolica turn following only four laps on a set of medium rubber, he radioed his team, ''I have no rear tires left. I'm having a lot of trouble with traction now.''
A day after releasing a detailed report that blamed track debris and prolonged usage for the problems in Spa, Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery confirmed that tire pressure has been increased for this race.
Hamilton had warned that a pressure increase of 5 psi or more would be a ''disaster.''
But Hembery said that the pressure has been set at 21 psi for front tires and 19.5 for the rears, a 1 psi increase for both sets from Spa.
''It appears to be working for the vast majority of people,'' Hembery said. ''The fallout is rather exaggerated.''
Still, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner seemed perplexed.
''I don't know what the pressures are. They seem to go up and down like a fiddler's elbow,'' Horner said.
Meanwhile, Vettel was among several drivers who put a sticker on their helmet to commemorate the death of IndyCar driver Justin Wilson. The sticker contained an image of Wilson's helmet with the words, ''Rest in peace, Justin.''
Andrew Dampf can be followed at www.twitter.com/asdampf