Formula One is back at Imola for the first time since 2006 and drivers have been raving over the “old-school” layout of the Enzo and Dino Ferrari circuit.
After all, the track situated in Italy's auto racing heartland will forever hold a place in F1 history as the site of Ayrton Senna's death from a high-speed crash in 1994. Not to mention happier memories such as victories by the likes of Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso.
The narrow track and quick chicanes, however, don't appear to be suited for modern-day F1 racing — especially compared to the far-flung newer circuits with exceedingly long straights and intricate series of mind-boggling turns.
Just ask Lewis Hamilton, who only last weekend eclipsed Schumacher by winning a record 92nd F1 race in Portugal.
“I’m pretty certain you’ll see a boring race tomorrow,” Hamilton said after qualifying second Saturday at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix behind Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas. “After Turn 1 it is going to be a train as there is nowhere else to pass.
“I would be really surprised if it’s a great race to watch," Hamilton added. "I hope I’m wrong.”
Hamilton suggested that the two keys to victory come in qualifying and the start.
“It’s perhaps a little bit like Monaco in that sense," he said. “I think strategy is going to be interesting tomorrow. But there’s usually only a couple of options.”
Formerly the site of the San Marino GP, Imola returned to F1 when the season was rescheduled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Bottas clocked 1 minute, 13.609 seconds and was a slim 0.097 faster than Hamilton.
While Bottas had the last word, he acknowledged that “no one had a perfect lap” on a circuit that nearly all of the drivers hadn't raced in F1 before — especially considering that there was only one practice session in the abbreviated weekend.
“For sure there’s question marks but at least the starting point for the race is good,” Bottas said after claiming his 15th career pole position. “Flat out on this track it’s really beautiful. It’s really enjoyable to drive. Proper old-school track; that’s what we all like.”
In a sign of F1’s progress, Bottas was more than nine seconds faster than Schumacher’s pole time for the 2006 San Marino GP at Imola.
Max Verstappen of Red Bull qualified third, 0.567 back.
Hamilton has taken pole in nine of the 13 races this season, with Bottas grabbing the other four. Hamilton also has eight wins this season to Bottas’ two.
“In Q3 I didn’t do both laps that great. The first one was OK and the second one was pretty poor,” Hamilton said. “It’s really intense … just non-stop medium-high speed. The grip is very, very high. So naturally the faster you’re going the harder it is to be inch-perfect.”
Mercedes can clinch a record seventh straight constructors’ title in Sunday’s race unless Red Bull outscores it by 34 points — something that hasn’t happened in more than four years.
It was a wild session for Red Bull.
Verstappen was second to Hamilton in the abbreviated weekend’s only practice session earlier Saturday but the Dutch driver reported that he had “no power” during Q2 and returned to the pits without setting a time.
Alexander Albon then spun off track in the other Red Bull.
Red Bull was able to repair what it reported as a spark plug issue for Verstappen and he returned just in time to reach Q3, as did Albon, who qualified sixth.
“The mechanics did a very good job to fix my car,” Verstappen said. “We just managed to go through.”
Pierre Gasly of AlphaTauri qualified fourth and Daniel Ricciardo of Renault was fifth.
Ferrari struggled again with Charles Leclerc placing seventh and Sebastian Vettel eliminated in Q2.
Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen, the only current driver to have raced here in 2006, was dropped in Q1.
Due to rising coronavirus infections in Italy, no fans are allowed in this weekend.
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Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf