Hamilton heads field in first practice at Monza

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Lewis Hamilton has ended his run of poor performances during Friday’s practice sessions by finishing quickest in FP1 at Monza this morning.

The British driver posted a fastest time of 1:25.565 to finish just a fraction ahead of home favorite Fernando Alonso, with the Ferrari driver trailing by 0.035 seconds. Capping off a good morning for Mercedes was Nico Rosberg in third, who put in some good times on the hard tire late on to move ahead of two-time Italian GP winner Sebastian Vettel. The Red Bull driver was forced to settle for fourth come the checkered flag.

McLaren showed signs of a resurgence by finishing in sixth and seventh with Sergio Perez leading Jenson Button, whilst Pastor Maldonado and Esteban Gutierrez also impressed to end up ninth and eleventh respectively. Sauber have gambled on using the passive DRS device on their car this weekend, despite the low downforce nature of Monza appearing to eradicate any advantage that could be gained by using it.

James Calado, Heikki Kovalainen and Rodolfo Gonzalez all enjoyed run-outs as part of their reserve driver duties on Friday morning. Calado put in a very strong performance, finishing seventeenth and ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, who suffered a gearbox failure late on. Kovalainen and Gonzalez could not match the pace of their colleagues, with the 1.6 second gap between Chilton and Gonzalez being cause for concern at Marussia.

The session ended with a strange incident for Ferrari. Fernando Alonso was attempting a practice start at the end of the pit-lane and teammate Felipe Massa looked to pass him with a few seconds remaining. However, the red light came on, thus closing the pit lane and forcing the Brazilian driver to hit the brakes and take evasive action. Although Alonso managed to continue, Massa was forced to leave his Ferrari at the end of the pit lane and walk back on foot.

Mercedes will be pleased to have begun the weekend in such impressive fashion, but with the soft tire running yet to take place, it is hard to tell just whether or not Hamilton will be able to secure his fifth consecutive pole position at Monza on Saturday.

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”