Italian GP: Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari struggle in rain-hit qualifying

Valtteri Bottas has been assured he will keep his seat at Mercedes for at least another year

Valtteri Bottas has been assured he will keep his seat at Mercedes for at least another year

Mercedes' Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas drives during the first practice session at the Autodromo Nazionale circuit in Monza on Saturday ahead of the Italian Formula One Grand Prix.

Running wide at the second chicane, Hamilton dropped his wheels onto the gravel and lost a chance to improve on Bottas' leading time.

The Finn, second quickest behind the three-time champion Briton in the morning, clocked a best lap in one minute and 21.406 to outpace him by 0.056 seconds.

"I think going into this weekend we need to be fair and say that the track layout suits Mercedes but the performance that we showed last week gives us hope", Vettel told reporters on Thursday. Vandoorne bumped Sergio Perez right at the end, the Mexican missing out on 10th place by two thousandths of a second to Force India team mate Esteban Ocon.

"Growing up watching the sport as we all have, and witnessing greatness in other individuals such as Michael and just dreaming one day of doing what he's doing or they're doing and then to actually be there years later, I am proof that dreams are something that can come true", Hamilton added.

Vettel has led the championship from the outset in Australia, arriving in Monza seven points clear of Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton after a knife-edge battle to the chequered flag in Belgium last weekend.

Schumacher won five of his record seven drivers' championships with Ferrari from 2000-04 and remains revered among the team's supporters - and in F1 in general. Except that he would have to roll up the sleeves by the qualifying session. "But we got our full plan done", Bottas said.

Team boss Toto Wolff said it was a'no brainer to retain the Finn at Italian Grand Prix practice
Team boss Toto Wolff said it was a'no brainer to retain the Finn at Italian Grand Prix practice

Bottas, in 1:35.716, topped Q1 ahead of Hamilton and Vettel and was soon back out for Q2.

The afternoon session was held in flawless conditions after rain fell in the morning. With the two Red Bulls hit by major grid penalties for taking new engine components, Stroll will start today's race, forecast to take place in dry conditions, from second on the grid alongside Hamilton.

Bottas led the field, two-tenths of a second faster than Hamilton - but perhaps most impressive was Lance Stroll, in P5 after that terrible qualifying for Williams last weekend. It was like a sprint race, no room for error or the smallest mistake. But I missed my flying lap because of a head-to-tail.

"I personally have not spoken to the team. Now it is what it is, we'll see what we can do tomorrow".

Kevin Magnussen, Haas, saw his vehicle stop at the same place as Stroll due to a broken suspension.

Further down, Carlos Sainz made Q2 with 1m 39.788s for Toro Rosso, leaving Haas's Kevin Magnussen 16th with a last-moment 1m 40.489s on inters, ahead of Renault's Jolyon Palmer on 1m 40.646s on wets, the Saubers of Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein on 1m 41.732s and 1m 41.875s, and Grosjean in 20th on the strength of his originally third-fastest lap of 1m 43.355s.

Engine trouble has left Red Bull Racing facing a uphill struggle to mount a credible challenge against Mercedes and Ferrari.

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