Emilia-Romagna GP: Lewis Hamilton tops only practice session at Imola

31 October 2020, 10:24 | Updated: 31 October 2020, 12:09

Lewis Hamilton started F1's condensed Emilia-Romagna GP weekend fastest by setting the pace from Max Verstappen in the weekend's only practice session ahead of qualifying later on Saturday.

F1's return to historic Imola in northern Italy after a 14-year absence is being run over just two days and drivers had just 90 minutes of practice running to get up to speed and hone their cars' set-ups for the remainder of the weekend on a unusually busy Saturday morning.

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Qualifying begins at 1pm, with build-up on Sky Sports F1 from midday. Sunday's race is at 12.10pm.

Hamilton, who last drove the circuit in 2006 in GP2, took time to work his way up the timesheet but ended up with a session-topping fastest time on the soft tyres of 1:14.726.

But, in early encouragement for Red Bull, Max Verstappen split the Mercedes to finish just 0.297s back on the world champion.

Verstappen had led the timesheet for most of the first half of the session and set his best time on the soft compound earlier than either Mercedes, when the track was not as rubbered in.

Valtteri Bottas, who ran wide through the gravel at the second Rivazza on his first qualifying simulation, was third, nearly half a second back on Hamilton in the sister Mercedes. The Finn has regularly topped practice sessions ahead of Hamilton this year, including the previous seven P1s, but appears to be playing catch-up here.

Pierre Gasly was one of the session's impressive performers and the on-form Frenchman took fourth for AlphaTauri, whose factory is located 25 minutes from Imola.

Ferrari, Italy's marque team, were fifth with Charles Leclerc but Sebastian Vettel was yet again outside the top 10. Despite being one of F1's oldest drivers, Vettel is one of the few on the grid never to have driven at Imola before.

Renault were sixth and seventh with Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon respectively, with Daniil Kvyat eighth in the second AlphaTauri.

Meanwhile, facing potentially the decisive weekend for his Red Bull future, Alex Albon has work to do for qualifying after only going ninth fastest in practice. His gap to team-mate Verstappen was over one second.