By Alan Baldwin
MONZA, Italy (Reuters) – Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz set the pace in practice for Ferrari’s home Italian Grand Prix on Friday after a sombre start to the schedule with Formula One mourning the death of Queen Elizabeth.
Leclerc had the ever-passionate fans on their feet by lapping Monza’s ‘Temple of Speed’, celebrating its 100th anniversary, in one minute 22.410 seconds on soft tyres in the first session.
Sainz, who will start Sunday’s race from the back of the grid after engine penalties, lowered the benchmark to 1:21.664 in the later stint with Red Bull’s runaway championship leader Max Verstappen second.
Leclerc was third and McLaren’s Lando Norris fourth.
“Our race pace looked stronger than our qualifying pace, so if we put it all together there is quite good potential to have a solid weekend,” said Leclerc.
The Mercedes pair of George Russell and seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton were third and fourth fastest respectively in session one and then fifth and seventh.
Hamilton, a five times winner at Monza, will also start from the back — less of a disadvantage than at other tracks because overtaking opportunities are good — due to a raft of engine-related penalties.
“We made some setup changes in between FP1 and FP2 and went a lot slower, or the other guys went a lot quicker — we just didn’t feel as fast in the later session,” said Hamilton.
Russell said Mercedes were lacking some electrical deployment.
“We’re similar to Red Bull but Ferrari seem to have the upper hand on deployment which might be tricky in a race scenario,” he said.
Verstappen, 109 points clear of Leclerc with seven races remaining, has a five place penalty due to exceeding his engine allocation but sounded unconcerned.
“If you look at the long runs we look good and of course that’s most important for the race,” he said. “We did more long run practice knowing that we have the five place grid penalty on Sunday.”
Verstappen’s Mexican team mate Sergio Perez will drop 10 places while AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda also goes to the back of the grid for accumulated reprimands and engine penalties.
Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas has a 15-place drop and Haas’s Mick Schumacher also faces a penalty after stopping on track with a power unit problem.
At the bottom end of the timesheets Dutch driver Nyck de Vries stood in for Sebastian Vettel at Aston Martin in the first session — the third team he has represented in practice this season after Mercedes and Williams.
Ferrari’s Italian reserve Antonio Giovinazzi, dropped by Alfa Romeo at the end of last season, replaced Mick Schumacher at Haas for the same session and was 18th.
The teams — a majority based in England — stood in the pit lane outside their garages to observe a minute’s silence before the session started with the drivers wearing black armbands.
A photograph of the Queen, whose parents attended Formula One’s first world championship grand prix at Silverstone in 1950, appeared on a big screen over the podium.
World championship leaders Red Bull pared back social media and silenced the music usually playing in the garage while mechanics are working.
Teams also carried messages of respect on the cars for Britain’s longest reigning monarch, who died aged 96 on Thursday.
Hamilton, who received an honour from the Queen after his first championship in 2008 and was knighted last December by the now King Charles III, posted a message on Instagram.
“She was a symbol of hope for so many and she served her country with dignity, dedication and kindness,” he said. “She was truly like no other and I’m grateful to have lived during her time.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis and Ken Ferris)