Italian GP: Michael Schumacher leads first practice for Mercedes

Michael Schumacher set the fastest time for Mercedes in the first free practice session for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza

Italian GP: Michael Schumacher leads first practice for Mercedes

With speculation surrounding the German's future beyond 2012 continuing in the paddock, Schumacher came out firing with a 1m25.422s lap that no one could get within 0.3 seconds of.

Closest to him was Belgian GP winner Jenson Button (McLaren), who was sandwiched by the other Mercedes of Nico Rosberg in third position.

Fernando Alonso was fourth quickest, having stopped his Ferrari at the first chicane with five minutes to go after suffering a suspected engine failure.

Alonso's team-mate Felipe Massa was fifth ahead of Lewis Hamilton in sixth, Kimi Raikkonen seventh. Sergio Perez, Mark Webber and Pastor Maldonado completed the top 10.

The Williams man also stopped out on the circuit just prior to the first Lesmo in the final moments.

After the usual exploratory tracks early in the session to assess grip levels, it was Schumacher that remained fastest for much of the morning in the rapid-down-the-straights Mercedes once the session swung into action properly.

First Massa, and then Raikkonen, posted early fliers before Hamilton emerged from the pits to set what was probably the first leaf-free lap on a track that cleaned up through the first half of the session.

Hamilton's time was a 1m26.346s, and the McLaren man set it just after the halfway mark.

It was not long after that Schumacher posted his best time, and that would stand for the rest of the 90 minutes.

A lap later though and he was bouncing over the bumps at the Rettifilio. He was not the only man to do so during the session, with Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel, Webber, Massa and F1 rookie Ma Qing Hua among others to smash over the kerbs at the first and second chicanes.

Hua - the first Chinese-born driver to take part in an official F1 session as he stepped in for Narian Karthikeyan at HRT for this session - did a reasonable job. He shaved five seconds from his early times to get within two of team-mate Pedro de la Rosa by the end.

World champion Vettel could not quite break into the top 10, just four thousandths slower than Maldonado, while Lotus sub Jerome D'Ambrosio was 15th, just over a second slower than Raikkonen.

Pos Driver Car Time Gap Laps 1. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m25.422s 26 2. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m25.723s + 0.301s 29 3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m25.762s + 0.340s 26 4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m25.800s + 0.378s 22 5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m25.861s + 0.439s 27 6. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m25.944s + 0.522s 30 7. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m26.046s + 0.624s 25 8. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m26.323s + 0.901s 26 9. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m26.390s + 0.968s 24 10. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m26.504s + 1.082s 19 11. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m26.508s + 1.086s 18 12. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m26.518s + 1.096s 21 13. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1m26.641s + 1.219s 26 14. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m26.746s + 1.324s 23 15. Jerome d'Ambrosio Lotus-Renault 1m27.180s + 1.758s 29 16. Jules Bianchi Force India-Mercedes 1m27.192s + 1.770s 22 17. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m27.373s + 1.951s 25 18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m27.789s + 2.367s 24 19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m27.855s + 2.433s 27 20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m28.578s + 3.156s 20 21. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m28.751s + 3.329s 26 22. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m29.207s + 3.785s 21 23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m29.331s + 3.909s 21 24. Ma Qing Hua HRT-Cosworth 1m31.239s + 5.817s 26 All timing unofficial 
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Series Formula 1
Drivers Michael Schumacher
Teams Mercedes
Author Simon Strang
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