When once Valtteri Bottas was the in-form man of the season and determined to insert himself into championship permutations, today his presence in the title race hangs by a thread.
Memories of seven-times Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher, a five-times victor with the Italian team at the circuit outside Milan, still have a powerful resonance.
Behind the lead three was Kimi Raikkonen, who was 0.2s down on teammate Vettel. "I anticipate it's going to be similar to the last race in that sense". Consistency on the weekends his better-decorated championship rivals struggled has been his commendable strength. But make sure you don't say that to Mercedes. Ferrari's performance sets up the mouth-watering prospect of Ferrari being in the hunt for a first pole position at its home circuit since Fernando Alonso in 2010.
Valtteri Bottas had an even tougher time in the second Mercedes, finishing fifth and ending his streak of five straight podiums that began at the Canadian Grand Prix in June.
(Image supplied by AMG Petronas Motorsport).
Hamilton, who has now won 5 races to Vettel's 4 this season, had one hard patch in the race when the two Force India drivers crashed forcing the safety vehicle to be deployed.
Both passing opportunities took place on the same piece of track on the same lap.
Hamilton led Bottas by 0.435secs in the morning, with Vettel a second slower. According to the 32-year-old Brit, he and team boss Toto Wolff are in no rush to get a deal signed, but the two fully expect to reach an agreement before next season. How it would feel with Ferrari I do not know. The race on Sunday is all but certain to be a Ferrari vs. Mercedes tussle.
Ted Kravitz gives his thoughts on Sunday's action packed Belgian Grand Prix, where Lewis Hamilton was victorious in his 200th GP.
Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen ended up in P5 and P6, respectively, and the latter will have been disappointed to only record 23 laps, the lowest tally of any driver to end first practice in the top 10.
The first overtaking point is down into turn 1, but it is far from easy.
So the question is: with just eight rounds remaining, is a 41-point gap irretrievable?
The Briton has been on pole for the past three years at "La Pista Magica".
It was another relatively uneventful session, missed chicanes apart, but Lance Stroll spun his Williams at Ascari, where Kevin Magnussen's Haas later rolled to a halt after a dramatic (and most likely kerb-induced) suspension breakage in the second Lesmo, and Hamilton complained of a hot seat. His tenure at Mercedes has exceeded many expectations and will nearly certainly guarantee the team the constructors championship.
Britain's Jolyon Palmer is one of only two drivers yet to score a point this season, and he was 13th here, one spot, and one tenth of a second behind his Renault team-mate Nico Hulkenberg.