As last week, tyre compounds are medium and hard (white and invisible silver). Grosjean serves his one race ban and is replaced by the Belgian Jerome d'Ambrosio. Ma Qing Hua becomes the first Chinese driver, as he replaces Karthikeyan in the HRT during P1. Maldonado serves a 10 place (well, two 5 place) grid penalty for jumping the start at Spa and hitting Glock in the race.
Degradation does appear to be low, suggesting a one-stopper as standard.
Lotus' DDRS, which I'm beginning to think is being tested by unicorns at the test track in Narnia, will not be appearing and won't before Suzuka.
Happily P1 was dry. Schumacher was fastest, ahead of Button, Rosberg, Alonso and Massa. Hamilton was sixth, and was followed by Raikkonen, Perez, Webber and Maldonado.
In P2 Schumacher's RFA (rear flap adjuster/DRS) was broken, so his pace will suffer accordingly (and the DRS is particularly handy around Monza). Rosberg also appeared to have a similar issue. Button's engineer reckoned that pace was good and that degradation for McLaren (his, at least) was excellent. Bodes well for the race.
The P2 running order was Hamilton, Button, Alonso and Massa. That top four were covered by barely a tenth of a second and the top three were covered by half a tenth. Rosberg was fifth, followed by Raikkonen, Di Resta, Hulkenberg, Perez and Schumacher.
After the first two practice sessions, of which I heard a little, it sounds like McLaren will be the team to beat with Alonso also in the mix. Red Bull seem to be a little off the pace at the end of Saturday. However, the margins generally are very tight.
Computer issues meant that I only got to hear about 10 minutes of P3, unfortunately. In the final few minutes Vettel suffered a battery failure, which seems similar to what happened (with the alternator) in Valencia, which also (then) afflicted a Lotus (both use Renault engines).
The top 10 of P3 were Hamilton, a thousandth ahead of Alonso, with Di Resta third then Massa, Button, Rosberg, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Perez and Maldonado. Vettel and Webber were 11th and 12th respectively.
The bets I had in mind after P3 were to lay Vettel or Webber for Q3 and perhaps Hamilton for pole. Very hard to tell whether Hamilton or Alonso will get pole.
Irritatingly, the odds to lay Vettel or Webber for Q3 are rubbish (evens). I'd waited a little while hoping the market might shift, but it hasn't.
So, what I'm counting as a single tip is as follows: Hamilton for pole at 2.54 and Alonso for pole at 4.7 (to get a roughly even profit split that's a third of a stake on Hamilton and two-thirds on Alonso). No hedging. If Alonso had been a bit longer (he was 5.2 not so long ago) I might've gone for a single bet with a hedge, but there we are.
No rain is forecast, and although Button could upset things I do expect a Hamilton-Alonso duel for pole.