Lewis Hamilton continued his domination of Formula One by topping the times ahead of Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in Friday’s second free practice ahead of this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.

The newly-blond defending two-time world champion, in his 50th Grand Prix for Mercedes, clocked a best lap in one minute and 24.279 seconds on a warm, if overcast, afternoon at the high-speed Autodromo Nazional where Mercedes’ new engines reigned supreme.

Hamilton had been fastest in the morning’s opening free session ahead of Rosberg as the Mercedes pair took early control and demonstrated their speed advantage.

Hamilton’s best time was 0.021 seconds faster than that of his German partner, who became a father for the first time last weekend and who lies 28 points adrift in the drivers’ title race.

Both men were satisfied with Rosberg adding that he was surprised at Mercedes continuing ascendancy and the performance of their new engine.

Hamilton said: “It has been a good day, a day of testing – with a lot of things to try. The car has been feeling good so far this weekend and it’s given great pace to the team so we just need to keep it together.”

Although Mercedes has introduced an updated engine after having used all its remaining development tokens, Hamilton said it felt the same as before.

“It just feels the same. It is more reliability changes to improve reliability,” he said. 

“The engine feels fantastic because it is a fantastic engine. It still feels the same.”

Rosberg said: “Yes, we are surprised by this margin of advantage here. We look really quick here at the moment and I am pleased with that. Lewis has been quick up until now, but it got very close at the end as we were trying the qualifying runs.

“That is okay so we know we’re going in the right direction. It has not gone my way up until now, but of course I will try and try again and tomorrow is another shot.

“It has been very close today and for sure there is a good opportunity tomorrow.”

Four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel was third for Ferrari, unable to close a gap of 0.759 seconds on the two ‘silver arrows’ much to the disappointment of the tifosi gathered within the old royal park where the circuit, dubbed by some as ‘the temple of speed’, plays host to their home event for what may be the penultimate time.

– Monza setback –

Negotiations to extend Monza’s contract to host the historic Italian event beyond next year (2016) have not progressed smoothly.

On Friday, F1’s veteran commercial ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone said a renewal was “unlikely” because the Monza management “don’t want to pay” to host the race.

He told reporters that it was clear “at the moment, that a renewal is unlikely on the basis of the fact that they don’t want to pay for it”.

As local motor racing fans digested that setback, Vettel offered more disappointment when he said he was not surprised by Mercedes’ opening day dominance.

“It is always to say what people are doing on a Friday, but they are very strong,” said Vettel. “They do look very, very quick. No surprise, I would say.

“And if they’re not in front tomorrow — that would be a surprise, but we like surprises. So, we’ll do our utmost to turn things around.”

He added that he had enjoyed the experience of being a Ferrari driver in front of home fans at Monza.

Behind Vettel, two more Mercedes-powered cars filled the fourth and fifth places with Mexican Sergio Perez narrowly outpacing his Force India team-mate German Nico Hulkenberg ahead of Finn Kimi Raikkonen, who was sixth in the second Ferrari.

Frenchman Romain Grosjean was seventh ahead of his Lotus team-mate Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado and the two Williams of Finn Valtteri Bottas and Brazilian Felipe Massa.

The session was without serious incidents, but Dutch teenager Max Verstappen survived one frightening incident when he had a ‘moment’ and recovered control of his car at high speed.

Briton Jenson Button’s car had a water leak as he struggled to 19th place for McLaren Honda ahead of the equally desultory Russian Daniil Kvyat whose Red Bull, fitted with an ‘old’ Renault engine, left him relatively powerless and in 20th.

Two-time world champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso was, by contrast, in good form as he climbed to 16 th in the second McLaren while Australian Daniel Ricciardo was 13 in the other Red Bull. For both teams, and their drivers, however, it was a day without much joy. – Agence France-Presse

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