Schumacher quickest in Italian practice


Formula 1:Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg proved there is potentially life in Mercedes yet this season as the German duo finished top and third on the timesheet for first practice ahead of Sunday's Italian Grand Prix.

The German manufacturing giant has suffered an alarming fall of late, with Rosberg in particular collecting two points from the last four races, whilst qualifying for both men recently has been awful.

But with Monza unique on the Formula One calendar as it requires a specific package to assist with downforce, Mercedes at least produced a start to suggest they will not be so woeful on this occasion.

Seven-times champion Schumacher, whose future is the cause of considerable speculation, notably with Lewis Hamilton rumoured to be taking his seat from 2013, conjured a lap around the track situated in Monza's park of one minute 25.422secs.

Belgian GP race-winner just five days ago, and runner-up at this circuit for the last three races, Jenson Button was second in his McLaren, three tenths of a second adrift.

Rosberg was in close attendance to the Briton, just 0.039secs down ahead of Ferrari pair Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.

There was a moment of concern for the home fans, however, when championship leader Alonso ground to a halt late on at the first chicane, with the suggested issue a transmission problem.

Alonso and Massa were both within half a second of Schumacher and followed by Hamilton, who finished 0.522secs down, with Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen a further tenth of a second adrift in seventh.

Sergio Perez in his Sauber was the best of the rest but some way off the pace as the Mexican was 0.9secs behind Schumacher, with Red Bull's Mark Webber and Williams' Pastor Maldonado completing the top 10.

Venezuelan Maldonado, who will start Sunday's race with a 10-place grid penalty - picking up two separate five-place demotions for incidents at Spa - also pulled up late on but with wisps of smoke coming from his car.

Reigning champion Sebastian Vettel was 11th, a fraction over a second down, followed by Force India's Nico Hulkenberg and Williams reserve Valtteri Bottas.

In 15th was Jerome D'Ambrosio, standing in for Romain Grosjean at Lotus this weekend, with the Frenchman the first driver to serve a race ban for 18 years after causing a first corner pile-up at Spa.

D'Ambrosio, who drove for Virgin Racing last year - now Marussia, was 1.758secs off the pace, with Force India reserve Jules Bianchi right behind him as he stepped in for Paul di Resta for first practice only.

At the bottom of the timesheet, but making history as the first driver from China to compete in a F1 weekend was Ma Qing Hua.

Standing in for Narain Karthikeyan in first practice, Ma was 5.8secs behind Schumacher, but more comparatively just 1.9secs off team-mate Pedro de la Rosa.

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