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Hamilton paces first Monza F1 practice for Mercedes

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Lewis Hamilton set the pace through the opening Formula 1 practice session for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza on Friday, heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes on Ferrari home soil.

Hamilton is looking to become the first driver to win back-to-back races in 2017 this weekend at Monza, having cut the gap to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at the top of the drivers’ championship down to just seven points with victory at Spa last Sunday.

Hamilton started as he will mean to go on in FP1 by setting the pace in the Mercedes W08, posting a fastest lap time of 1:21.537 to finish four-tenths of a second clear of teammate Valtteri Bottas.

With the high-speed nature of Monza’s layout tipped to favor Mercedes, the German marque’s display was ominous as title rival Ferrari could not get within a second of Hamilton’s time, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen finishing third and fourth respectively.

Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen wound up fifth and sixth overall, a further one-tenth of a second back from the Ferraris, while Force India’s warring duo of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon took seventh and eighth place.

Stoffel Vandoorne led McLaren’s charge through FP1 in ninth, while Felipe Massa rounded out the top 10 for Williams, two seconds off Hamilton’s time.

The session went by without major incident, with the threatening clouds over Monza only producing light spits of rain from time-to-time that were not heavy enough to limit running or warrant the use of the intermediate tire.

With heavier rain expected for FP2 later this afternoon, though, the majority of teams aimed to include some of their long-run program in their FP1 running.

Second practice for the Italian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Sunday.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.