MONZA, Italy (AP) — Mercedes again topped the leaderboard as Lewis Hamilton posted the fastest time ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas in second practice Friday for the Italian Grand Prix.
The championship leader finished .262 ahead of Bottas, who was quickest in first practice. McLaren driver Lando Norris was third, .897 slower than Hamilton.
“The car didn’t feel great in the first session but in the afternoon, it felt like we made some encouraging improvements and it was much better,” Hamilton said. "We have a few more steps to make overnight and then I think it’ll be where it needs to.
“The field is typically a lot closer here, compared to Spa, as it’s such a fast lap and there aren’t many corners. Valtteri’s quick here, too, so it’s going to be a fun battle.”
Ferrari improved slightly in the second session at its home track. Sebastian Vettel went from 19th in P1 to 12th, and Charles Leclerc moved from 11th to ninth, but both were more than a second slower than Hamilton.
Both Ferrari drivers ran off track and Leclerc was heard saying over team radio, "The car is so hard to drive.”
Hamilton has won five of the seven races and is 47 points ahead of Red Bull rival Max Verstappen and 50 ahead of Bottas.
Verstappen was fifth in the second session, 1.036 slower than Hamilton. He finished in the same position in first practice after spinning at the Ascari chicane, sidelining him for 25 minutes as his car was repaired.
“Not a good day struggling with grip and balance in general,” Verstappen said. “So quite a bit of work to do.”
Earlier, Bottas posted the fastest time in first practice. The Finnish driver’s best lap was .245 seconds quicker than Hamilton and .797 ahead of Red Bull driver Alexander Albon.
It was the fourth consecutive time that Bottas has been quickest in the first practice session but he has only won one race.
A third and final practice takes place Saturday ahead of qualifying in the afternoon.
“It’s going to be interesting in qualifying ... I think the last corner will be a bit of a nightmare with everyone trying to get a gap, so it’s going to be hard work,” Hamilton said.
There will be a smattering of spectators at Monza on Sunday with 250 health workers invited to attend in recognition of their efforts during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Friday, FIA President Jean Todt and Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, visited nearby Bergamo to pay tribute to the work carried out worldwide against COVID-19. Bergamo is one of the Italian cities hardest hit by the coronavirus.
“Bergamo is a symbol, in Italy and in the world, for the spirit with which doctors, nurses, hospital and Red Cross personnel have worked and are working in these difficult times,” said Angelo Sticchi Damiani, president of the Automobile Club of Italy.
“This is why ACI has decided to invite 250 of them to attend the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, so that institutions, ACI, FIA, drivers, teams and fans all over the world can give them the thanks and applause they deserve.”
Meanwhile, the FIA announced that two people had tested positive for the virus over the past week but did not add any details. All drivers were on track on Friday.
“The FIA and Formula 1 can today confirm that between Friday 28th August and Thursday 3rd September, 5,704 tests for COVID-19 have been performed on drivers, teams and personnel. Of these, 2 people tested positive,” read a brief announcement on Twitter.
“The FIA and Formula 1 are providing this aggregated information for the purposes of competition integrity and transparency. No specific details as to teams or individuals will be provided by the FIA or Formula 1 and results will be made public every 7 days.”
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports