Emilia Romagna GP: Verstappen splits two Mercedes as Hamilton top

Lewis Hamilton topped the field in free practice ahead of a racy Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas in an incident-free but busy session at Imola.

Verstappen was top for a significant chunk of the session as yet again the top three look to be well clear of the field.

Behind Bottas there was a gap of nearly half a second to fourth-placed Pierre Gasly while Charles Leclerc rounded out the top five with both drivers jumping up the board in the last ten minutes.

Ricciardo was sixth (although he had been fourth ahead of the late flurry of times) and led a very tight midfield battle which featured seven drivers within four-tenths of a second.

Carlos Sainz went into the gravel but was fine and undamaged, the Spaniard laughed it off as ‘just finding the limit’ and no other drivers ran off.

His McLaren team had probably the most underwhelming morning as they ran 13th and 14th and outside that midfield group but Norris would’ve jumped up the board were it not for a late laptime deletion.

There was absolute chaos at the end with the cars three-wide going into turn one, creating effectively a safety car restart as the field bunched up behind.

The soft tyres appeared to be wearing more quickly than expected so that’ll give teams food for thought in the tight turnaround before qualifying.

In the (shorter than usual) long runs, Verstappen looked to be on similar pace Bottas which could provide an interesting race but that didn’t stop Hamilton being half a second clear in his first weekend on the circuit since 2006 GP2.

Esteban Ocon looked to have rounded out a double-Renault top five but was pushed down by Gasly’s late lap and then Leclerc, finished seventh.

He had a more eventful session than most as he ran into McLaren’s pit box early

Gasly’s teammate Kvyat also improved at the end to be just 0.021s behind Ocon – the same gap between Alex Albon and Lance Stroll in ninth and tenth.

Albon had a tough morning with track limits but not as bad as Nicolas Latifi – the Williams driver suffering a brake-by-wire issue and could only complete 29 laps.