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Vettel sets the pace at Monza after big Ericsson crash

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel during practice.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel during practice.

Sebastian Vettel suffered a spin but still put Ferrari on top of the practice timesheets for their home Italian Grand Prix on Friday while Sauber's Marcus Ericsson walked away from a spectacular crash.

Vettel, hoping to make further inroads into Lewis Hamilton's 17-point Formula One championship lead this weekend, lapped the Monza circuit near Milan with a best time of one minute 21.105 seconds.

Finnish team mate Kimi Raikkonen gave the Ferrari fans a further boost with the second best time, 0.270 slower than Vettel.

He had also been second in the morning stint.

Mercedes' Hamilton -- last year's race winner -- was third quickest and 0.287 off the pace set by his fellow four times world champion in a damp and overcast afternoon session whose main drama was provided by Ericsson.

The Swede's car speared head-on into the barriers before anyone had set a timed lap and barrel-rolled spectacularly along the grass verge before coming to rest as a pile of mangled wreckage.

The session was halted for 20 minutes for a track cleanup while Ericsson went to the medical centre and was given a clean bill of health.

Vettel spun off at Parabolica later but without significant damage. He kept the engine running and returned to the pits before resuming.

Heavy rain just before the morning practice saw neither of the title contenders do many laps, with Force India's Sergio Perez leading the way through the spray with a best effort of 1:34.000.

That marked the first time this season that one of the Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull drivers had not led the practice timesheets.

Hamilton -- excused media engagements on Thursday due to a mystery personal commitment -- did six laps in that 90-minute session and was only 11th while Vettel, who was slowed by a problem with his car's Friday gearbox, was 17th.

Sauber's Marcus Ericsson crashes during practice.Sauber's Marcus Ericsson crashes during practice.

"The problem is we are limited on the wets and inters we have for the weekend, so there are no guarantees this weather won't hang around for tomorrow," Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told Sky Sports television.

Mexican Perez, whose team were rescued from administration this month and given a new lease of life as a new mid-season entry owned by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, was eighth in the afternoon as normal service was resumed in dry conditions.

Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, who is using an upgraded Renault engine, was fifth and sixth but is set to take penalties that will send him towards the back of the field on Sunday.

Dutch team mate Max Verstappen was fifth and faster in the afternoon with the older specification engine.

McLaren reserve driver Lando Norris had his second Friday practice outing, after Belgium, in the morning but clocked the slowest time after running when the rain was heavy.

The Briton's times were close to those of regular race driver Fernando Alonso when both were on track in similar conditions, however.

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