Formula One: Hamilton on top again

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Newly-blond defending two-time world champion Lewis Hamilton topped the times ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in Friday morning's opening free practice session for Sunday's Italian Grand Prix.

On an initially overcast morning with the late summer sun gradually burning off the clouds, the 30-year-old Briton clocked a best lap of 1min 24.670sec to outpace his German partner by six-tenths of a second.

Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel gave the local tifosi some cheer by taking third spot, a full second adrift of his compatriot Rosberg, the two of them apparently running without complaints about the medium compound Pirelli tyres that were the subject of controversy following their high-speed punctures in last month's Belgian Grand Prix.

An intervention late Thursday by the sport's veteran ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone, who vigorously defended Pirelli after some outspoken criticism of their tyres, notably by Vettel, had taken the sting out of the row and prevented much further comment.

Nico Hulkenberg made it three Germans in a row by taking fourth place for his Force India team, having signed a new contract to stay with them earlier this week.

His team-mate, Mexican Sergio Perez, who is also expected to remain with the Silverstone-based outfit, was fifth ahead of Finn Kimi Raikkonen, in the second Ferrari.

Australian Daniel Ricciardo was seventh for Red Bull ahead of the two Williams of Brazilian Felipe Massa and Finn Valtteri Bottas with Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado completing the top 10 for Lotus, the team having arrived in Italy after their cars and transporters were released by bailiffs in Belgium following a legal dispute.


The session was interrupted by a red flag when Spaniard Carlos Sainz ran off the track and into a gravel trap at the final corner in his Toro Rosso. "We don't know what happened," he said. "I lost the car in the braking."

Hamilton and Rosberg were both running with upgraded Mercedes engines as the team took advantage of an opportunity to make use of 'development tokens' at the track where power is most imperative. Both drivers demonstrated that with speeds in excess of 350 kph.

Hulkenberg also showed power and speed in his Mercedes-powered car before he pitted during the session after asking the team to check for a fuel leak. "I have a wet bum," he told them on team radio. "It smells like petrol."

Much as expected, both of the struggling McLaren Honda drivers continued to deliver uncompetitive lap times.
Two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Spain was 17th and Britain's Jenson Button, the 2009 champion, 18th, beating only the perennial back row boys Marussia.

Both had, however, made notable comments about another of the rising issues in the sport on Thursday when asked about the prospect of safety in the wake of the death of Briton Justin Wilson from head injuries suffered during an Indycar race crash in August.
"If one closed cockpit saves one life, it is worth doing it," said Alonso, whose views were shared by Button, an early contemporary of Wilson in British motor sport.
Hamilton added: "I see closed cockpits as potentially the future. We've had too many fatalities."