Lewis Hamilton fastest during practice at Monza for Italian Grand Prix


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The Independent Online

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton shut out the swirl of paddock speculation about his Formula One future and focused on lapping fastest in practice for the Italian Grand Prix today.

The 27-year-old led a team one-two at the top of the timesheets with a best lap of one minute 25.290 seconds in brilliant sunshine while Jenson Button, winner in Belgium last weekend, was 0.038 slower.

Hamilton has been the main talking point of the weekend with the rumour mill suggesting he could switch to Mercedes in place of Michael Schumacher.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, the championship leader, was third but the afternoon ended with worried faces after the Spaniard slowed on track and cruised back to the pitlane with an apparent gearbox problem.

He had also slowed and parked up in the morning session led by former Ferrari favourite Schumacher, still hailed by the partisan crowd as one of their all-time idols and showing he still also had plenty of pace in his Mercedes.

With the Monza grandstand festooned with banners hailing both the great German and Alonso in almost equal measure, Schumacher had lapped the fastest circuit on the calendar in 1:25.422.

He was slowed in the afternoon with problems with the DRS rear wing system.

Button, runner-up at Monza for the past three seasons, was also second fastest in that morning session.

"Michael we love you" and "Michael, we will always be with you" were among the banners, some in Italian, testifying to the continuing adoration of a driver who won five of his seven championships with Ferrari.

Alonso, who has a 24 point advantage over Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel after 12 of the 20 races, was fourth in the morning.

Williams driver Pastor Maldonado, who has a 10-place penalty for Sunday's final European race of the season, also stopped on track.

Belgian Jerome D'Ambrosio, who raced for tail-enders Virgin (Marussia) last year, was 15th and 12th fastest respectively on his first day in the Lotus as stand-in for banned Frenchman Romain Grosjean.

Grosjean was suspended for causing a pile-up at the start in Spa that ended the race for Alonso and Hamilton.

Ma Qing Hua tested for HRT as the first Chinese driver to take part in a Formula One Grand Prix weekend, replacing Indian Narain Karthikeyan for the first session. He was slowest of all with a time of 1:31.239.