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Bottas edges out Hamilton for Imola pole

NEWS STORY
31/10/2020

While Lewis Hamilton finished this morning's practice session in his customary place atop the timesheets, for much of the session it was Max Verstappen who occupied that most coveted position.

As ever, it's early days, but Mercedes really does appear to have a fight on its hands this weekend.

As was the case in Portugal, there is a question mark over the soft tyres, with the mediums appearing to have better pace, though it remains to be seen if that will continue.

Adding to the conundrum is that fact that Verstappen has yet to try the mediums, opting to run just the hard and soft earlier.

Valtteri Bottas was third quickest, while newly re-signed Pierre Gasly was fourth in the AlphaTauri.

It was a good morning for the Faenza-based outfit which saw both of its cars in the Top Eight, Daniil Kvyat out-pacing under-pressure Alex Albon.

As has been the case at recent races Charles Leclerc dug deep, while the Renaults of Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon were sixth and seventh.

Again, like Portugal, track limits are proving to be an issue, with countless times deleted this morning, also, certainly in Q1, traffic is likely to be a problem.

Talking of track limits, while the stewards were cracking down on drivers exceeding the limits at Turns 9 and 15, over the lunch break Turn 13 has been added to the list.

However, Michael Masi has relaxed the rules in terms of the fact that the clause stating that drivers "will be judged to have left the track if no part of the car remains in contact with the track" has been scrapped, albeit in Turn 15 only.

This morning's session saw no less than 80 times deleted.

Ahead of Q1, the air temperature is 19 degrees C, while the track temperature has risen to 26 degrees. It remains bright and sunny.

The lights go green and in no time at all there are 10... 11... 12... cars on track.

Magnussen is first out, the Dane going on to post the first time of the afternoon, a 17.186.

Latifi posts 17.830 to go second, the red softs very much the order of the day.

Kvyat goes quickest (15.412), ahead of Gasly, Leclerc, Stroll and Vettel.

A 16.227 sees Perez go fourth as Verstappen and the Mercedes pair head out.

Verstappen can only manage second (15.473), while Hamilton subsequently posts a 15.144 and Bottas a 19.034 after backing off in S3 when he encountered a slow Perez.

As Russell goes 8th (16.213), Albon can only manage 15th (16.710).

A 15.793 sees Norris go fifth, only to be demoted when Leclerc goes top with a 15.123.

As was the case last week, the softs are clearly good enough for more than one flying lap.

As if to prove the point, Verstappen raises the bar with a 15.034.

Hamilton retakes the top spot with a 14.574, as Gasly reports that his steering is "bent".

With 8:10 remaining, Ricciardo is the last to head out.

Albon goes 7th with a 15.539, only to have his time deleted, as does Bottas, who slips to 19th! The Finn had just gone second with a 14.626.

Ricciardo's first flying lap sees the Australian go 11th with a 16.056.

With under 4 minutes remaining, Hamilton is one of the first to head our for the final assault.

Vettel improves from 15th to 7th with a 15.703, as a 14.634 sees Bottas go second.

Perez goes seventh, as Albon posts 15.402 to go seventh.

With 00:36 remaining, Ricciardo starts his final flying lap. He is currently 19th.

Magnussen goes very wide in the final corner, as Russell goes 12th and Sainz 10th.

Ocon goes 7th, as a 14.221 sees Bottas go top as Hamilton's 14.321 is deleted.

Ricciardo posts 15.474 to go 11th.

Quickest is Bottas, ahead of Hamilton, Verstappen, Leclerc, Gasly, Norris, Ocon, Albon, Perez and Kvyat.

We lose Grosjean, Magnussen, Raikkonen, Latifi and Giovinazzi.

Q2 gets underway, and unusually within moments there are cars on track.

The Ferrari pair are on mediums, as are the Mercedes and Bulls.

Vettel gets proceedings underway with a 16.302 but this is soon beaten by Kvyat and then Gasly, as Verstappen complains of "no power".

A 15.552 sees Russell go third, as Verstappen continues to complain that he has no power.

"It's not f****** working," he shouts when told to "keep pushing".

Bottas goes top with a 14.585 and Hamilton second (14.643) as Verstappen pits.

The Red Bull's engine cover is quickly removed, which is never a good sign.

Meanwhile, Albon goes sixth with a 15.371.

Gasly goes third, ahead of Ricciardo, Norris, Kvyat and Ocon.

A spin for Albon in the Variante Alta as Perez goes 6th (15.143).

With 07:10 remaining, both Red Bulls are in the drop zone, along with Stroll, Russell and Vettel.

Having flat-spotted his front-left, Albon has to switch to the softs. Meanwhile work continues on Verstappen's car which has encountered an electrical issue.

Vettel runs wide at the Variante Alta and helpfully dumps a load of gravel on the track on his return.

Ocon is among the first out for the final run. He is joined by Gasly, Kvyat and the Ferraris.

With 3:05 remaining, Verstappen's engine fires up and he heads out, the team having detected an issue with a spark plug.

Now on softs, Vettel can only manage 12th, while Leclerc goes fourth with a 15.017.

Verstappen begins his all-important flying lap, the Dutchman still on the mediums.

Russell goes quickest in S1, as Sainz goes seventh (15.027).

Russell can only manage 11th (15.323), as Verstappen posts 14.974 to go fourth.

Moments later he is leapfrogged by his teammate, who is on the softs.

Bottas is quickest, ahead of Hamilton, Gasly, Albon, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Leclerc, Kvyat, Sainz and Norris.

We lose Perez, Ocon, Vettel, Russell and Stroll.

To add insult to injury, Vettel's final time is deleted, dropping the German to 14th behind Russell.

Going into Q3, both AlphaTauris are still in there, along with two McLarens, one Ferrari, one Renault, two Bulls and two Mercedes.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Imola, here.

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