Vettel quickest in Monza practice

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The Independent Online

Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel edged Fernando Alonso of Ferrari for the fastest time in today's Italian Grand Prix practice as the duo looks to maintain pressure on Formula One's championship leaders.

Vettel set a quickest lap of 1 minute, 22.839 seconds around the Monza circuit to deny Alonso the day's best time by less than one-tenth of a second.

Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa was third ahead of overall F1 leader Lewis Hamilton and McLaren teammate Jenson Button following the afternoon session.

Mark Webber retired early with a water pressure problem to set the day's sixth fastest lap for Red Bull.

Hamilton leads Webber by three points going into Sunday's 53-lap race, while third-place Vettel is 31 points behind the leader. Vettel, Button and Alonso are separated by only 10 points.

Vettel is looking to rebound from the Belgium GP, where he finished outside of the points after crashing into Button following a mistake that knocked the British driver out of the race.

"It looks better for us here than a year ago," said Vettel, who finished eighth here in 2009 after picking up his first ever victory one year earlier. "The gap between cars will be very small."

Button, who led the morning's 90-minute session, is looking to qualify on the front row for the first time since the Turkish GP in June 2009 — a span of 23 races. McLaren is one of the favorites on the low downforce, high-speed circuit after a strong performance in Spa, which offers similar track characteristics.

"I'm happy with the way the car feels, it's a good starting point and I think we're going to have a fun race and we need one," said the world champion, whose two victories came inside the season's first four races. "I need to have a good race here and challenge for a victory to pull some points back. It's not a must-win but that's obviously the aim. A podium is obviously important."

Alonso was also confident Ferrari could challenge only days after the sport's governing body let them off without a points penalty for breaking a ban against team orders in a previous race.

"We are confident, we are happy with the progress but we respect a lot our rivals," Alonso said. "We know how strong McLaren will be here, probably favorites for tomorrow's pole. We know Red Bull's potential (from) all season."

Red Bull has started from pole position in all but one of the season's 13 races. But it has managed to win only six races.

Practice continues through Saturday, when qualifying for the season's last European race is held.