'We are not too far away' says Verstappen after splitting Mercedes in Imola practice

IMOLA, ITALY - OCTOBER 31: Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing prepares to drive in

Can Max Verstappen threaten Mercedes in the fight for pole position at Imola? The Red Bull driver split the Silver Arrows in the only free practice session on Saturday morning and says he is getting close to their pace.

Verstappen was fastest straight out of the gate in free practice on hard tyres, but lost out once he and Lewis Hamilton bolted softs on. He was eventually 0.297s slower than Hamilton on the red-walled tyre.

FP1: Hamilton quickest as Verstappen splits the Mercedes in sole Imola practice session

But he did finish ahead of Hamilton's team mate Valtteri Bottas in second, and after the session he said: “It’s hard to beat them [Mercedes] but we are not too far away. Hopefully it will be the same in qualifying.

“It was alright, [a] good start, car felt good, so that helps a lot. And the track is very enjoyable to drive so very happy with that. So we have to see what we have to do for quali, but no major problems.”

Emilia-Romagna 2020

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Verstappen was complimentary about the circuit itself, which last hosted a Grand Prix in 2006. He said Imola's narrow boundaries were surprisingly accommodating for his RB16.

“Yeah it’s really nice, I really enjoy it,” said the Dutchman. “I thought it was going to be a bit too narrow for F1 but it’s fine once you drive it – it’s good to be back.”

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Team mate Alex Albon didn’t fare so well in practice having finished ninth, but said he didn’t need to make sweeping changes ahead of qualifying.

“It’s a bit more fine tuning – you don’t want to do anything crazy – there’s definitnely some things I want to sort out, but yeah, it wont be drastic,” he explained. “The car feels good; it will be interesting to see what happens.

IMOLA, ITALY - OCTOBER 31: Alexander Albon of Thailand driving the (23) Aston Martin Red Bull

Albon finished ninth but was unfazed, and said he was more concerned about tyre selection than set-up

Pirelli have brought C2, C3 and C4 compounds to the track, but the teams have only had 90 minutes to test them out. Albon explained that Red Bull will have their work cut out to decide which tyres to qualify on – much like they did at the Portuguese Grand Prix.

“The car feels good. [But] it will be interesting to see what happens. It feels like Portimao. It will be interesting to see, soft or mediums, what comes out on top,” he said.

Qualifying begins at 1400 local time and Red Bull are hunting their first pole position of the season.

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