Carlos Sainz gave himself a welcome birthday present on Friday by finishing fastest for Ferrari in the second practice session at the Formula One Italian Grand Prix.
Spaniard Sainz, who turned 29 on Friday, clocked the top time of one minute, 21.355 seconds at Monza in a session which was bookended by two red flags after incidents involving Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll.
Sainz finished just 0.19sec ahead of Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll to give the Scuderia hope of a good weekend on home turf after another troubled season which has left them miles behind dominant Red Bull,
Sainz trails reigning champion and runaway leader Max Verstappen by a whopping 237 points in the drivers’ championship and is yet to claim a podium finish this season.
“It can’t get much better than that,” said Sainz.
“It doesn’t mean that we’re going to be P1 tomorrow and in the race, but at least the feeling is much better.”
‘Puzzles me more’
Sainz added: “We put the car on track, it’s the same car basically, but for some reason it just felt a lot better, which is what puzzles me more.”
His teammate Charles Leclerc is a further three points back and could only manage sixth position, 0.361sec off the pace.
Red Bull have won every one of this year’s 13 races with Verstappen claiming 11, including the last nine, and Perez winning the other two.
Verstappen, who is bidding for a record 10th straight GP win and was fastest in Friday’s first practice, finished 0.276sec back in fifth.
“We’ve been trying a few different wing levels and I think we still need to analyse a bit what way to go,” said Verstappen.
“It’s sometimes a bit of a tricky thing around Monza.”
The Dutchman equalled Sebastian Vettel’s record for consecutive wins with victory at his home Dutch GP last weekend.
Perez clocked a better time than Verstappen, 0.185sec behind Sainz in third, but will have to deal with the wrath of Red Bull’s engineers after sliding off the track at the final Parabolica corner and bumping into the barriers.
That mistake effectively ensured that Sainz would finish the session the fastest driver as it left the field with little time to challenge the Ferrari man.
“I understeered off at the exit and tried to keep it nailed. I thought I had it under control but then I touched a little bit the gravel and that was game over,” said the Mexican driver.
Lewis Hamilton finished 1.428sec back in 17th, a day after Mercedes announced that the seven-time F1 champion had signed a new deal until 2025 which will extend his career beyond his 40th birthday.
Hamilton, 38, said he had “unfinished business” with the sport and that he is convinced he can win more GPs and world championships with the Silver Arrows.
Hamilton relinquished his position as the number one driver in F1 in 2021 when he was controversially beaten to the drivers’ title by Verstappen on the final day of the season.
Last season Hamilton failed to win or claim pole position at any GP for the first time in his career, while this year he is yet to add to his record 103 race victories.
Hamilton, 183 points behind Verstappen in the driver’s standings, complained to his team about the pace of his car during the session and finished six hundredths of a second behind ninth-placed George Russell who will also stay with Mercedes until 2025.
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