2013 Italian GP Practice Two: Sebastian Vettel throws down the gauntlet at Monza
World Champion leaves rivals trailing in Friday's P2
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 07/09/13 11:06am
The German's increasingly distant championship challengers - and those hoping for a proper title scrap over the final seven flyaway races - have been clinging to the hope that the German's RB9 may not be suited to the challenge of Monza given the famous old track places an emphasis on out-right horsepower rather than aerodynamic prowess.
However, after finishing 'only' fourth on the P1 timesheet, Vettel's stunning pace in the afternoon acted as further evidence to suggest that Red Bull - tripped up for so long in the past by power circuits like Montreal and Monza - may have finally cracked the low-downforce conundrum.
Not only did Vettel lead a Red Bull 1-2 for the third consecutive P2 session, but his impressive best lap of 1:24.453 around the 5km lap was a full six tenths of a second faster than team-mate Mark Webber alone could manage.
Behind him little over two tenths of a second separated Webber in second to Lewis Hamilton in sixth, but it will be the large gap to the front that will be deeply concerning all of them overnight.
For all that though, and even if he may well typically just be keeping his feet on the ground, Vettel actually appeared more anxious afterwards than the timesheet suggested he should be.
"I'm sure it will be very tight," he told Sky Sports F1. "I think it will be close tomorrow in qualifying with many cars within a few hundredths.
"We will have to work, we have two or three things we have to find a step on. Even though the car was great, there were still two or three corners where the car was sliding."
Still, there will be far more work to do at both Ferrari and Mercedes overnight after both teams saw their P1 pace eclipsed not only by Red Bull, but also Lotus in the quicker second session.
Unusually, Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean set identical 1:25.116 times to take third and fourth positions respectively - despite the pair running different length wheelbases on their Lotuses.
Although in different cars, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton were respectively separated by a mere one hundredth of a second in fifth and sixth places but their near nine-tenths of a second deficits to Vettel came as a surprise.
Hamilton, aiming to become the first back-to-back Monza winner since Damon Hill nearly 20 years ago, was heard complaining over the Mercedes team radio that his W04 was both producing understeer and not quite fast enough down Monza's long straights.
Nonetheless, recent history has shown that the Hamilton/Mercedes combination can make swift light of any Friday struggles once Saturday's Q3 session comes around - while Vettel may have set the Friday pace at each of the last three GPs, Hamilton has claimed pole on each occasion.
Hamilton and Alonso's respective team-mates, Nico Rosberg and Felipe Massa, trailed Vettel by around a second in seventh and eighth places with the McLaren pair of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez completing the top ten.