(Reuters) – Seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton was fastest for Mercedes in first practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza on Friday, comfortably ahead of Red Bull’s championship leader Max Verstappen.

The Briton lapped the super-fast circuit with a best time of one minute 20.926 seconds on the medium tyres, 0.452 quicker than his Dutch rival on the theoretically faster softs.

Hamilton’s team mate Valtteri Bottas was third on the timesheets.

Verstappen leads Hamilton by three points ahead of the weekend, but they could be level by Saturday evening if Hamilton wins a Saturday sprint race and Verstappen is not in the top three.

Red Bull are 12 points behind Mercedes in the constructors’ standings.

The grand prix is the second to be run to the experimental format, with qualifying on Friday to determine the grid for Saturday’s sprint. That in turn decides the starting order for Sunday’s grand prix.

Points are awarded to the top three on Saturday in a 3-2-1 system.

Canadian Lance Stroll was fourth fastest on softs for Aston Martin in the day’s sole practice seesion, with AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly — last year’s winner — fifth and Stroll’s team mate Sebastian Vettel sixth.

Carlos Sainz was the fastest Ferrari driver in seventh at the team’s home circuit, ahead of Alpine’s Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, whose fastest lap was deleted for exceeding track limits.

Ricciardo’s team mate Lando Norris also had what would have been the second fastest time deleted for the same reason, and he finished the session 12th.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Toby Davis)

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