Hamilton takes single practice honours on F1's long-awaited return to Imola
Lewis Hamilton took control of the Emilia Romagna's sole practice session to emerge again as favourite to clinch what would be the 98th pole position of his Formula 1 career.
On F1's return to Imola for the first time in 14 years, and at the start of a two-day weekend, Hamilton finished almost three-tenths of a second clear of Red Bull's Max Verstappen.
Hamilton clocked a lap of one minute 14.726secs around one of the most-beautifully situated tracks in the world in his Mercedes, underpinned by clear blue skies.
Without the usual three hours of fine-tuning on a Friday, the teams and drivers were forced to cram in as much action as possible across the 90 minutes.
Understandably there was a mix of runs across the three different compounds and on varying fuel loads, but when it mattered most, on a soft-tyre, lower-fuel blast, the six-time F1 champion had the edge.
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Red Bull team principal Christian Horner described the session as "encouragingly tight" as Verstappen initially went quickest on the soft compound, and later improved, only to be usurped by Hamilton.
The Dutchman at least split the Mercedes duo as Valtteri Bottas, currently 77 points adrift of Hamilton in the drivers' standings, was a further two-tenths of a second down.
As has become customary this year, the gap between the leading trio and the remainder of the field was considerable, with AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly leading the 'best of the rest', with the Frenchman 0.907s adrift, followed by Ferrari's Charles Leclerc.
Renault, however, seemingly appear to be leading the midfield pack as Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon were sixth and seventh quickest.
While just a tenth of a second separated the duo, and with Fernando Alonso looking on in the garage as he improves his knowledge of the team ahead of his return next season, the Australian was six-tenths of a second adrift of third-placed Bottas.
AlphaTauri's Daniil Kvyat was in close attendance to the Renault pair, with the Russian 1.240s off of Hamilton's pace.
On a seemingly pivotal weekend for Alex Albon, under pressure to secure his seat for 2021, the Thai-British driver was ninth on the timesheet, a staggering 1.1s behind Verstappen. Albon was one of many who consistently exceeded track limits.
Vettel had been sat at the bottom of the timsheet for a lengthy period due to a deleted time on soft tyres, but had saved a set of the red-striped rubber for late on to elevate himself up to 12th by the close, half-a-second behind Leclerc.
McLaren duo Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll were down in 14th and 16th, the latter having a lap time deleted late on for exceeding track limits that had propelled him up to fifth.
Nicolas Latifi was slowest in his Williams, three seconds back, albeit due to his car suffering a brake-by-wire issue that confined him to the garage for half of the session.
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