Lewis Hamilton may have finished P1 in the only practice session for the Emilia Romagna GP but it does look as if Max Verstappen could be in the fight this weekend.
Hamilton set the pace in Saturday’s 90-minute practice session with a 1:14.726, 0.297s up on Verstappen with Valtteri Bottas P3.
However on the harder compound tyres, the gap was in Verstappen’s favour.
Formula 1’s revised 2020 schedule saw the sport arrive at the old-school Imola circuit on Saturday morning for a rather different two-day race weekend, kicking off with a 90-minute practice session, the only one of the weekend.
Needing to learn the circuit quickly, and set up their cars for both qualifying and the race, the drivers were immediately out on track and laying down the laps. As all 20 drivers laid down their first lap times of the weekend, it was Max Verstappen who was sitting on top with a 1:18.2.
— Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1) October 31, 2020
With track limits being monitored at Turn 9 and Turn 15, seven drivers exceeded the limits within the first 10 minutes of play!
Verstappen lowered the benchmark to a 1:17.0, half a second up on Carlos Sainz and a further three-tenths faster than Charles Leclerc. Pierre Gasly climbed to second only to have his time deleted for track limits.
Gasly’s next lap put him P1 but that didn’t last long as Verstappen went purple in the second and third sectors on his way to a 1:16.2. And then Gasly lost his time, again! Third time lucky was a 1:16.9 for the AlphaTauri driver and this time he kept it. Daniil Kvyat joined his team-mate in moving up the timesheet only to lose his time. Alex Albon did the same.
Valtteri Bottas, down in 15th place, swapped his hards for mediums and jumped to the top of the timesheets with a 1:15.7, 0.13s up on Verstappen. Kimi Raikkonen was the first to jump onto the softs, a 1:17.9 in the under-performing Alfa Romeo.
Our first ever shot on-track at Imola. 🙏 This one is going in the scrapbook. 📸❤️ pic.twitter.com/iM93Zk0c9H
— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) October 31, 2020
With laps on the board the drivers began to change to either the medium or soft tyres with Sebastian Vettel up 10 places on the soft tyres but still only fast enough for P8. And then he lost the time for track limits. Charles Leclerc came out, did one lap after a front wing change, and returned to the pits before going back out.
Carlos Sainz, up to P5, was the first to test the limits to the point of putting his car into the gravel. He clipped the inside kerb, lost the back end and ate dirt before returning to the track.
Esteban Ocon added his name to the drama list as he tried to pit at the McLaren box, almost took out a cameraman, did take out a cable and then realised he races for Renault. As for Nicholas Latifi, he “suddenly lost the brakes” and returned to the Williams garage.
Halfway through the session, Verstappen was quickest with a 1:15.3 on the soft tyres, Hamilton was 0.008s down on the mediums with Bottas doing a 1:15.78 on the mediums. Leclerc, soft tyres was fourth ahead of Gasly, mediums, and Albon.
— tami. (@Vetteleclerc) October 31, 2020
Daniel Ricciardo, Sainz, Sergio Perez and Ocon made up the rest of the top ten.
Shortly after Bottas left the pits on the soft tyres, upped his pace but remained third. Verstappen was the next to head out on the red Pirellis followed by Hamilton. Verstappen upped his pace at the front to a 1:15.0, Bottas improved to second, 0.2s down, and then came Hamilton… up to P2, 0.189s down on Verstappen and 0.006s up on Bottas as he made up a bit of time in the final sector. Hamilton’s second hot lap on the softs put him P1, a 1:14.7.
Lando Norris and Kevin Magnussen had a bit of a wheel-to-wheel tussle as the McLaren driver tried to stick one down the inside only for the Haas to hold position. And they call this practice.
Gasly led the midfield tussle with a 1:15.6 as he edged Leclerc with Ricciardo just under two-tenths further back with Ocon another tenth off the pace.
Kvyat, Albon and Stroll completed the top ten. P6 to P12 were separated by just over three-tenths.
Vettel spent the latter part of the session laying down in the laps on the hard tyres as he focused on race set up. Down in P20, he made a late swap to the softs to go 12th.
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:14.726s softs
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull 0.297s softs
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 0.492s softs
4 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 0.907s softs
5 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 0.962s softs
6 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 1.113s softs
7 Esteban Ocon Renault 1.219s softs
8 Daniil Kvyat AlphaTauri 1.240s softs
9 Alex Albon Red Bull 1.335s softs
10 Lance Stroll Racing Point 1.356s softs
11 Sergio Perez Racing Point 1.383s softs
12 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1.441s softs
13 Romain Grosjean Haas 1.824s softs
14 Carlos Sainz McLaren 1.834s mediums
15 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 1.838s softs
16 Lando Norris McLaren 1.945s mediums
17 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 1.958s softs
18 George Russell Williams 2.054s softs
19 Kevin Magnussen Haas 2.334s softs
20 Nicholas Latifi Williams 3.053s softs