Torrential rain reduced final free practice for the Italian Grand Prix to a near-farcical washout on Saturday morning, Felipe Massa topping the times for Williams in the 16 minutes of running permitted at the end of the session.
The Brazilian was one of only seven drivers to venture out and clock a lap time once race director Charlie Whiting, who had delayed the proceedings indefinitely, finally — like the rain — relented.
In four laps of the high-speed Autodromo Nazionale, which sweeps through a heavily wooded former royal park, Massa managed a best lap in one minute and 40.660 seconds, topping the times ahead of his Williams team-mate, Canadian rookie Lance Stroll.
The others to clock times were the two Renault men, both Toro Rossos and Sauber’s Swede Marcus Ericsson, hardly a meaningful pointer to the outcome of qualifying later Saturday or to Sunday’s race.
It was little comfort to the many Ferrari fans, in plastic anoraks and other makeshift rainwear, queuing to enter the circuit that the weather forecast for Sunday is warm, sunny and dry.
As the tifosi slithered alongside cars on puddle-strewn entry roads, there was little to help the celebrations of Ferrari’s 70th anniversary.
Whiting, the International Motoring Federation (FIA)’s official decision-maker, had decided the risk of aquaplaning on the fastest track in current use was “high” and unacceptable.
The safety car was sent out to assess conditions several times as the surface of the circuit drained rapidly and, finally, with only 16 minutes remaining, Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull led a tentative group of bold drivers into the fray.
This was itself richly ironic as Ricciardo, an Australian of Italian descent, is from Perth in Western Australia, a dry and sun-parched state. Understandably, he withdrew without clocking a time on his only lap.
In dry conditions on Friday, Finn Valtteri Bottas had led his Mercedes team-mate Briton Lewis Hamilton ahead of championship leader German Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari in the opening practice sessions. – Agence France-Presse