Valtteri Bottas kept Mercedes top of the pile in second practice for the Italian Grand Prix, a session which saw Ferrari and championship leader Sebastian Vettel close to within 0.140s.
Mercedes had been a full second ahead of Ferrari in FP1 but that gap came down dramatically for the afternoon’s qualifying simulations. Bottas’ 1:21.406 was 0.056s quicker than teammate Lewis Hamilton, who had topped FP1, and only a tenth up on Vettel’s best time.
The gap between the front runners is much closer to what people were expecting from this weekend after Ferrari ran Mercedes close at the Belgian Grand Prix weekend. That display prompted Vettel to declare Ferrari should fear none of the remaining races on the calendar, despite several which would (on paper) appear to suit Mercedes.
None of the top three appeared to hook up a perfect lap, with Hamilton looking especially ragged at the Roggia chicane. Ferrari’s performance sets up the mouth-watering prospect of Ferrari being in the hunt for a first pole position at its home circuit since Fernando Alonso in 2010.
Behind the lead three was Kimi Raikkonen, who was 0.2s down on teammate Vettel. As with FP1, the Red Bulls occupied the next two spots, albeit this time with Max Verstappen ahead of Daniel Ricciardo. With big engine penalties incoming Red Bull will be focusing on finding a set-up which negates some of its power deficit in the grand prix, as both will be looking to fight their way back up the field.
Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso finished a surprise seventh and eighth for McLaren. The two drivers spent much of the session giving each other a tow in a bid to give a performance gain — a tactic which nearly catapulted Alonso into Q3 at the Belgian GP. Though such a performance is likely to encourage McLaren fans, Sunday promises to be 53 laps of frustration for a team still suffering a significant deficit to its main rivals.
Esteban Ocon and Felipe Massa took their respective Mercedes-powered cars to ninth and tenth. Both Force Indias and Williams will sense a strong result is on the cards for Sunday, especially with Red Bull effectively taken out of the hunt with grid penalties.
Carlos Sainz finished 11th but his session did not last long, with the Spaniard pulling his Toro Rosso over to one side of the circuit in the final 30 minutes. Renault showed some encouragement from FP1, with Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer climbing up to 12th and 13th respectively. Sergio Perez was 14th in the other Force India, just ahead of Williams’ Lance Stroll.
Haas pair Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen finished 17th and 18th as the American team slipped down the pecking order. Magnussen’s session ended abruptly when he hit a kerb at the second Lesmo chicane, with the impact breaking his front suspension and forcing him to crawl back to the pits. Haas was confident coming into the Italian Grand Prix weekend and will hope the incident is not too much of a setback for Magnussen’s weekend.
Finishing at the bottom of the order was the Saubers, with Marcus Ericsson 3.4s behind. Teammate Pascal Wehrlein was another 0.4s down on that time as the Swiss team continues to tread water before returning to an up-to-date engine deal with Ferrari for 2018.