Not afforded the usual time to settle into a rhythm this weekend, Lewis Hamilton made sure he was immediately on the pace by topping the only practice session for the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix on Saturday.
Trialing a two-day format at Imola, the entire Formula 1 grid had to condense their practice programs into a single one-and-a-half hour session, from which the six-time world champion emerged fastest with a time of 1:14.726.
In what is hopefully an indication of a three-way qualifying battle to come, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was 0.297 seconds behind in P2, whilst Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas – who has generally been the better of the two Black Arrows drivers in practice this season – had to settle for third, 0.492s back from the lead.
Behind the top three, AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly was a surprise P4, 0.415s adrift of Bottas, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc seemingly maintaining his good form on Saturdays having finished only 0.055s further back.
The Renault pairing of Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon were sixth and seventh respectively, 0.106s separating the two in what would be a valuable haul of points should it translate to Sunday.
Daniil Kvyat was P8 in the second AlphaTauri, whilst Alexander Albon, who struggled with car balance, could only manage P9.
Racing Point’s Lance Stroll rounded-out the top ten, just ahead of teammate Sergio Perez in P11.
Looking for a proper sendoff in his last Italian race in red, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel clearly still has work to do as he could only manage P12, while Romain Grosjean will be far more pleased having got his underwhelming Haas as high as he did in 13th.
Expected to be in the fight with Renault and Racing Point this weekend, McLaren instead saw themselves tussling with the Alfa Romeos in the session, Carlos Sainz leading Antonio Giovinazzi, followed by Lando Norris ahead of Kimi Raikkonen with only 0.124s separating the four of them.
Outperforming his car as usual, George Russell managed 18th with the last lap in the 1:16s, whilst Kevin Magnussen and Nicholas Latifi languished behind him in 19th and 20th respectively.