Defending champion Lewis Hamilton was fastest in the one and only free practice session of the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari weekend.
The Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team racer set a best time of 1:14.726 to top the session ahead of Aston Martin Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen, with the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas third. The top three were separated by 0.492 seconds.
Formula 1 has made a welcome return to Imola after a fourteen-year absence, and conditions were ideal when the green light illuminated to get the session underway. It was a very busy start with nineteen of the twenty drivers coming out in the opening moments, with George Russell the last of those to join the track in his Williams Racing FW43.
The early laps were used to learn the track, with the majority of the drivers not having driven the circuit in Formula 1 machinery before. Only Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda drivers Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat had experienced the track in 2020 machinery before, with the team having used one of its filming days to run both drivers in the AT01 back in June.
It became clear that track limits were an issue, with the majority of drivers having lap times deleted for running too wide at either turn nine or turn fifteen. Alexander Albon was one of those who had multiple lap times deleted, with the Thai driver criticising the decision to use the white line as the track boundary rather than the kerbing.
It appeared Verstappen was going to be the man to beat during the session as he regularly set purple sector times, but Hamilton pulled a lap out of the bag to beat the Dutchman by just under three-tenths of a second.
Bottas in third made a few mistakes during the session, locking up his brakes on his first flying lap and running tyres through the gravel trap on the exit of the final turn on a number of occasions.
Gasly, free from the announcement of him being retained by AlphaTauri for 2021, was an impressive fourth after a late quick lap from the Frenchman, while another late lap saw Scuderia Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc jump up to fifth ahead of the two Renault DP World F1 Team drivers, Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon.
Despite complaining late in the session of something being loose in his cockpit, Kvyat was eight to round out a good session for AlphaTauri, with Albon down in ninth in the second Red Bull, 1.335 seconds off of Hamilton’s best and more than a second away from team-mate Verstappen.
The two BWT Racing Point Formula One Team drivers were tenth and eleventh, Lance Stroll ahead of Sergio Pérez, while the second Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel ended twelfth. Vettel had been bottom of the timing screens of most of the session before a couple of quick laps in the final five minutes moved him up the order. However, he will have his work cut out if he is to make it through to Q3 later this afternoon.
Romain Grosjean, who announced last week he would be leaving the Haas F1 Team at the end of 2021, ended thirteenth fastest ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr. in the leading McLaren F1 Team entry. Sainz and his team-mate Lando Norris (sixteenth) both set faster times that were ultimately deleted due to track limits. Both McLaren drivers will have the belief that they have the pace to make it into Q3 in Qualifying.
In between the McLaren’s was the leading Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN entry of Antonio Giovinazzi, with the only Italian on the grid ending just over a tenth of a second and two places ahead of team-mate Kimi Räikkönen. Both drivers will be relaxed knowing their future with the team is confirmed after Alfa Romeo announced an unchanged driver line-up for 2021 on Friday.
Russell ended eighteenth in his Williams ahead of the second Haas of Kevin Magnussen, while Nicholas Latifi’s session was affected by a brake-by-wire issue in the second Williams. This left him stuck in the pit lane for the majority of the session and left him down at the back of the field.
Qualifying will start in just two hours-time, and it appears it will be a battle between Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas for pole position. Mercedes have taken pole in every race so far in 2020, so Verstappen will have it all to do to break that run at Imola.
|1||44||Lewis Hamilton||GBR||Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team||1:14.726||45|
|2||33||Max Verstappen||NED||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing||1:15.023||38|
|3||77||Valtteri Bottas||FIN||Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team||1:15.218||46|
|4||10||Pierre Gasly||FRA||Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda||1:15.633||45|
|5||16||Charles Leclerc||MON||Scuderia Ferrari||1:15.688||39|
|6||3||Daniel Ricciardo||AUS||Renault DP World F1 Team||1:15.839||31|
|7||31||Esteban Ocon||FRA||Renault DP World F1 Team||1:15.945||43|
|8||26||Daniil Kvyat||RUS||Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda||1:15.966||46|
|9||23||Alexander Albon||THA||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing||1:16.061||40|
|10||18||Lance Stroll||CAN||BWT Racing Point Formula One Team||1:16.082||41|
|11||11||Sergio Pérez||MEX||BWT Racing Point Formula One Team||1:16.109||41|
|12||5||Sebastian Vettel||GER||Scuderia Ferrari||1:16.167||39|
|13||8||Romain Grosjean||FRA||Haas F1 Team||1:16.550||41|
|14||55||Carlos Sainz Jr.||ESP||McLaren F1 Team||1:16.560||41|
|15||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||ITA||Alfa Romeo Racing||1:16.564||32|
|16||4||Lando Norris||GBR||McLaren F1 Team||1:16.671||44|
|17||7||Kimi Räikkönen||FIN||Alfa Romeo Racing||1:16.684||42|
|18||63||George Russell||GBR||Williams Racing||1:16.780||42|
|19||20||Kevin Magnussen||DEN||Haas F1 Team||1:17.060||44|
|20||6||Nicholas Latifi||CAN||Williams Racing||1:17.779||28|