Monza: Michael Schumacher rolled back the years and showed his enduring pace on Friday with the fastest time for Mercedes in free practice for Ferrari's home Italian Grand Prix.
With the Monza grandstand festooned with banners hailing both the great German and Ferrari's current idol Fernando Alonso, Schumacher blasted around the fastest circuit on the calendar with a best lap of one minute 25.422 seconds.
McLaren's Jenson Button, winner in Belgium last weekend and runner-up at Monza for the past three seasons, was second fastest with Schumacher's team mate Nico Rosberg third.
Schumacher's performance came with the Formula One paddock swept by speculation about his future and linking Button's team mate Lewis Hamilton to Mercedes for 2013.
"Michael we love you" and "Michael, we will always be with you" were among the banners, some in Italian, testifying to his continuing adoration of a driver who won five of his seven championships with Ferrari.
Alonso, the championship leader with a 24 point advantage over red Bull's Sebastian Vettel after 12 of the 20 races, was fourth on the timesheets but pulled up with a suspected engine problem six minutes before the end of the session.
Williams driver Pastor Maldonado, who has a 10-place penalty for the race, also stopped on track in the closing minutes.
Belgian Jerome D'Ambrosio, who raced for Virgin last year, was 15th fastest on his first day in the Lotus as stand-in for banned Frenchman Romain Grosjean and set a lap time of 1:27.180 compared to team mate Kimi Raikkonen's 1:26.046.
Ma Qing-Hua tested for HRT as the first Chinese driver to take part in a Formula One Grand Prix weekend. He was slowest of all with a time of 1:31.239.