Lewis Hamilton ignores speculation to hit top speed



If Lewis Hamilton were to use yesterday's form at Monza as an arbiter of whether to stay with McLaren or move to Mercedes next year, he would have got little further in settling his current dilemma.

Michael Schumacher dominated the morning session of practice for tomorrow's Italian Grand Prix with a best lap of the famed speedway just outside Milan of 1 minute, 25.422 seconds. In the afternoon Hamilton led the field from team-mate Jenson Button, with 1min 25.290sec to 1min 25.328sec. Decisions, decisions…

Where Schumacher used excellent straightline speed and Pirelli's hard tyre to set his best time in the first session, before suffering DRS problems in the second, Hamilton and Button both used the medium-compound tyres and the low downforce set-up which had worked so well for McLaren last week when Button won as he pleased in Belgium.

"Monza is an absolutely stunning place on which to drive," Hamilton said. "The speeds are incredible and, when you get the flow right, it feels simply amazing. It's very, very quick. It's somewhat deceptive, too: a map of the track makes it look quite simple, but it's actually incredibly technical. It's also bumpy, which means it's incredibly difficult to nail those final thousandths on a quick lap.

"And that's really what today has been all about: we're trying to fine-tune the balance and find the tiniest amounts of time. It's extremely tight. Overall, it's been quite productive, and everything has gone smoothly. Hopefully, we're not in a bad position, although there are still things we can improve on the car."

As he and Button hit straightline speeds of 322 kmh, their pace suggests they can be competitive tomorrow, though the times as ever were close and Ferrari and Mercedes will also compete. Red Bull, however, struggled over single laps. "We're working hard, but we're not there yet," admitted Mark Webber, 11th fastest. "We were a bit more competitive on the longer runs in practice today. We often find a good step ahead of qualifying."

Last year's dominant winner here, Sebastian Vettel, was only 13th, and said: "I think overall we are not as quick as we would like to be, so there's still work to do. I think we are more competitive in race trim, but we aren't where we want to be yet in terms of true pace. We ran through our entire programme, so we got a lot of information to go through and learn from."

At the back of the field Ma Qing Hua made a little bit of history as he became the first Chinese driver ever to participate in a Formula One grand prix session when he took over Narain Karthikeyan's HRT in the morning. He had a few adventures, in which he was definitely not alone as many drivers outbraked themselves into Monza's notorious chicanes, and acquitted himself well by getting within two seconds of team-mate Pedro de la Rosa who was making his 100th grand prix appearance. Though crowds habitually are low at the Chinese GP, the country is seen as a significant area of potential growth for the sport and an indigenous driver will help that.

"It was an extraordinary experience and I'm happy with my performance," Qing Hua said. "From the start I felt comfortable in the car and working with the team, and I accomplished all the targets we set. We started with quite a long stint on hard tyres and then we made changes to the set-up as I adapted to the F112.

"It was an important step for me, but also for motorsport in China since it's a very young sport there but with great potential".

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