Hamilton flies in Monza first practice

Monza: Lewis Hamilton put recent controversy behind him with the fastest lap in an Italian Grand Prix free practice session dominated by his McLaren team on Friday.

The 2008 champion, who faced strong criticism after crashing out of the previous race in Belgium, roared around the fastest track on the calendar with a best time of one minute 23.865 seconds.

His team mate Jenson Button, the 2009 champion for Brawn, was second fastest on a sunny morning with a lap 0.921 seconds slower.

Red Bull`s world champion Sebastian Vettel, winner of seven of the 12 races so far and 92 points clear of closest rival and team mate Mark Webber in the standings, was third on the timesheets.

Webber, still without a win this year, was fourth with Red Bull looking immediately competitive despite declaring the circuit their worst of the season, while Germany`s Adrian Sutil was fifth for Force India.

Red Bull have never finished on the Monza podium, although Vettel won with sister team Toro Rosso in 2008.

With the battle lines seemingly drawn between McLaren and Red Bull, Ferrari made a slow start to the last Friday practice of the European season.

Fernando Alonso, who delighted the home fans with a win from pole last year, was only seventh fastest with Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa eighth.

Former Ferrari ace Michael Schumacher, still a favourite of the tifosi despite now racing for Mercedes at the age of 42, was 11th on the timesheets after going off at Parabolica without hitting the wall.

His enduring popularity was evident from the banners around the circuit, however.

"Michael, we always wish you well," declared one sheet, written in Ferrari red lettering, festooned from the railings of the main grandstand.

Indian test and reserve driver Karun Chandhok replaced Italian Jarno Trulli at Team Lotus in the day`s opening session while Germany`s Nico Hulkenberg was in Paul Di Resta`s Force India.

Bureau Report

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