Italian GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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When it comes to the classic circuits in Formula 1, few are as famous as Monza. The track has hosted all but one Italian Grand Prix since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and has a firm place in the heart of the sport.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a favorite for the drivers and teams, making this weekend’s race a hotly-anticipated one. Throw in some tension at Mercedes at the height of the championship battle, and you have the ingredients for a superb F1 weekend.

The on-track action got underway today with the first two practice sessions. Unsurprisingly, Mercedes dominated proceedings once again, with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton each topping one session. However, Hamilton did come unstuck in FP2 when an electrical problem sidelined him for over an hour. He eventually rallied to finish second to his teammate at the top of the timesheets.

Away from the track, it was a busy day. The F1 Strategy Group team principals met with Bernie Ecclestone for a meeting, the FIA press conference saw hot topics such as Russia and fan engagement come up, and IndyCar racer Juan Pablo Montoya even made an appearance.

Montoya, Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella all at Monza? Is it 2001 again?

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Practice is always something of a double-edged sword. Teams can be encouraged by the pace that they show, but it is of course not entirely representative.

Take Ferrari’s pace today. The Italian team went into this weekend fearing the worst, but practice has been more encouraging today as both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen flirted with the top five positions. However, just as the team has done on many occasions this year, this pace could yet fade away when it matters in qualifying. Nevertheless, the Tifosi was happy; the grandstands always go crazy when the red cars tear past.

Mercedes is once again the team to beat, and after the spat in Spa, all eyes will be on Lewis and Nico to keep it clean. Both drivers will know that anything other than a one-two finish will be a disappointing result, given that the circuit is perfectly suited to the W05 car. However, if Hamilton hits more trouble like he did during practice today, the team could be left ruing its luck yet again.

As for the other pretenders? It’s a very fine battle. Williams, Red Bull, McLaren and Force India should all be in the mix on Sunday for some good points, with Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa the favorites to trail the Silver Arrows home. It could be a big weekend for Williams in the race for third place in the constructors’.

We must also give a big pat on the back to Caterham’s Roberto Merhi, who enjoyed his first outing in an F1 car today. Despite having never driven one before, he still managed to finish ahead of Marcus Ericsson in FP1. Surely the Swede’s days are number at the end of the season? For the second weekend in a row, someone who has never driven the car before has immediately bested him.

The team principals’ press conference was an interesting affair. Despite the apathy that questions about the Russian Grand Prix met last time they were asked in Hungary, there were more questions today. One about the possibility of sporting sanctions from the EU and NATO left them stumped, but the group line remains the same: if F1 goes to Russia, we go to Russia.

Sitting in the media centre, you cannot help but marvel at the passionate Ferrari fans sitting in the stands. However, among the flags cheering on Kimi and Fernando (and even Stefano Domenicali!), there was one that really stood out.

The irony is that this was put up in the best seats in the house; they were angry enough to give the sport they appear to hate money so they could moan about it.

Pirelli’s Paul Hembery made a very good point in the press conference, scoffing at the fact that the banner moaned about “ugly new circuits” at Monza of all places.

General consensus is that Formula 1 is putting on one hell of a show this year. Long may that continue.

Join us tomorrow for final practice (Live Extra, 5am ET) and qualifying (NBCSN, 8am) for the Italian Grand Prix.