Monza, Italy, Sept 7, 2012 (AFP) - Michael Schumacher rolled back the years on Friday morning when he set the fastest time for Mercedes in the opening practice session for Sunday's Italian Grand Prix.
The 43-year-old German, seven times a world champion, clocked a best lap of one minute and 25.422 seconds to outpace his rivals by three-tenths of a second and remind his fans of his once-presumed total mastery of the old Autodromo Nazionale at Monza.
Schumacher's nearest challenger was in-form Briton Jenson Button of McLaren who was narrowly ahead of Schumacher's Mercedes team-mate and compatriot Nico Rosberg in third.
Fernando Alonso was fourth quickest, having stopped his Ferrari at the Variante Alta chicane with five minutes to go after suffering a suspected engine failure.
Alonso's Ferrari team-mate Brazilian Felipe Massa was fifth ahead of Briton Lewis Hamilton of McLaren.
Finn Kimi Raikkonen was seventh for Lotus ahead of Mexican Sergio Perez of Sauber, Australian Mark Webber of Red Bull and Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado of Williams.
Schumacher was one of a number of drivers who hit the bumps at the Variante Alta.
He was not the only man to do so during the session, with Raikkonen, Germany's defending drivers champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull, Webber, Massa and F1 rookie Ma Qing Hua of China, driving for the Hispania team, 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, had stepped in for Indian Narian Karthikeyan and made a solid effort in his first appearance, cutting five seconds from his early times to get within two of team-mate veteran Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa, taking part in his 100th Grand Prix, by the end.
Vettel could not quite break into the top 10. He was just four thousandths slower than Maldonado, while Lotus sub Belgian Jerome D'Ambrosio was 15th, just over a second slower than Raikkonen, as he made a cautious start as replacement this weekend for the suspended Frenchman Romain Grosjean.
.1. Michael Schumacher (GER/Mercedes F1 W03) 1:25.422
.2. Jenson Button (GBR/McLaren MP4-27) 1:25.723 .3. Nico Rosberg (GER/Mercedes F1 W03) 1:25.762 .4. Fernando Alonso (ESP/Ferrari F2012) 1:25:800 .5. Felipe Massa (BRA/Ferrari F2012) 1:25.861 .6. Lewis Hamilton (GBR/McLaren MP4-27) 1:25.944 .7. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN/Lotus E20) 1:26.046 .8. Sergio Pérez (MEX/Sauber C31) 1:26.623 .9. Mark Webber (AUS/Reb Bull RB8) 1:26.390 10. Pastor Maldonado (VEN/Williams FW34) 1:26.504 11. Sebastian Vettel (GER/Red Bull RB8) 1:26.508 12. Niko Hülkenberg (GER/Force India VJM05) 1:26.518 13. Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Williams FW34) 1:26.641 14. Kamui Kobayashi (JPN/Sauber C31) 1:26.746 15. Jerome D'Ambrossio (BEL/Lotus E20) 1:27.180 16. Jules Bianchi (FRA/Force India VJM05) 1:27.192 17. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/Toro Rosso STR7) 1:27.373 18. Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA/Toro Rosso STR7) 1:27.789 19. Heikki Kovalainen (FIN/Caterham CT01) 1:27.855 20. Vitaly Petrov (RUS/Caterhan CT01) 1:28.578 21. Charles Pic (FRA/Marussia MR01) 1:28.751 22. Timo Glock (GER/Marussia MR01) 1:29.207 23. Pedro de la Rosa (ESP/HRT 112) 2:19.546 24. Ma Qing Hua (CHI/HRT 112) 2:19.689